Autumn school break is over which means that for the past two days I have been binging on Harry Potter and Kambly biberli and taking long baths…in the bathtub. While our vacations have been getting easier because FriBoy has grown into a collaborative, easygoing and fun kid to be around, I still find it hard to manage his activities all by myself. We haven’t had grandparents here to help out in a long while, and those couple of hours a day, while they were in charge and I got to sit and do nothing, really mattered.

Nana sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle
Coco sculpture by FriBoy


This is my favorite activity of this vacation because it turned from something of which I had little expectations to a great artsy experience. I had originally planned a trip to the ArchéoLab in Lausanne but I was too tired and instead chose something local. We went to the Jean Tinguely – Niki de Saint Phalle Art Museum because FriBoy hadn’t seen it before, as I didn’t think it was age appropriate nor that he would like it.  Moreover, there are not many child friendly museums in Fribourg. Apart from the Natural History Museum, the cultural offer for children is very sad. But now, we have added a 2nd kid friendly museum to our list.

I assumed he would be more attracted to the colorful art of Niki de Saint Phalle but he took more interest in Jean Tinguely’s contraptions. And I understand the fascination, his moving sculptures look like giant STEM challenges that you want to solve.  He did find them weird but he couldn’t stop looking.

Additionally, Atomic Bazar – the temporary exhibition of Swiss artist Francois Burland was a very nice surprise. The museum exhibits a series of vehicles labeled as toys and made of recycled material by the artist in collaboration with more than 50 unaccompanied refugee minors, opposing the theme of western consumerism (also explored by Tinguley) to that of soviet Russia and communism. The whole concept (recycled art, migrants and consumerism) is very anchored in contemporary Swiss realities, which makes it is very easy to relate to and also to explain to a child. The toys are expressive and absolutely magnificent.

Although FriBoy asked to build a submarine like the one above, I was unprepared and decided to put it on a waiting list…instead we made a sculpture inspired by Niki de Saint Phalle’s Nanas (nana – the french word for  broad or chick ).  The Nanas are a series of sculptures exploring her relationship to womanhood and the different roles society assigns to women. Friboy did not want to make a nana, he wanted a guy (mec/gars/coco in french). So he made a coco, because every nana needs a coco, although sometimes nanas only need nanas.

Here is what we used:

  • electrical wire (or aluminium gauge)
  • pliers
  • a piece of wood for the base
  • aluminium foil
  • paper tape
  • cotton pads
  • paper and glue for papier maché layer
  • air dry clay
  • paint (we used Caran d’Ache solid  gouache colors)
  • black oil pencil
  • nail polish
  • sealing agent

First step make the armature which will be the base of the sculpture. Aluminium gauge works best but we didn’t have any so we used electric wire. Shape the form of the body the way you want it and secure it to the wooden base.

Now you need to put some meat on the bones :), we used aluminium foil which I had stuffed with cotton balls to make the body larger. The Nanas are plus size models. Niki de Saint Phalle loved round shapes, she thought the world was a large breast.

Secure the aluminium foil with paper tape and an additional layer of papier maché. It makes your life easier when adding and molding the clay. After the papier maché has dried add the clay, step by step until you cover the whole body. You might need to wet it a little bit to make it more workable.

I let it dry for a couple of days before painting.  We used gouache paint but watercolors or acrylics also work well. He added black details with a soft oil pencil and some touches of shine with my nail polish.

After the paint has dried, you can fix the colors with a sealing spray and an extra coat of transparent nail polish.

We were both thrilled about Coco.  It was actually the most rewarding and gratifying artsy experience we ever did. I find sculpture an excellent way to make science meet creativity and whimsy.





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