Since 1998, Spiral Workshop has been experimenting with cast concrete as a medium for making sculptures. Sculpture is often one of the most difficult subjects for art teachers because of space, time, and expense issues. Another problem with teaching sculpture is the uncomfortable sense that time-consuming and beautiful projects may be discarded at the end of the school year because students do not have a place to store or display such works.

The Concrete Guardians group began by teaching students the basic mechanics of moldmaking and casting through a plaster/sandcasting project in which students created personal fossils by impressing the shapes of now unused childhood objects into trays of sand. This project also served as a brief and effective introduction to the principles of design. Each student painlessly and quickly illustrated each principle by stamping designs into sand. After a (sand-based) test for understanding, students were free to use their new formal visual vocabulary as they wished to create their fossilized childhood reliefs.

As a final project, students created concrete guardians (yard sculptures) for their homes and families. In order to encourage students to be playful in the design of their figures, the groups collaboratively created fanciful figures by playing the Surrealist game, Exquisite Corpse. Students also used fragments of images from magazines to create Goddesses or Patron Saints for a particular aspect of life.

After studying artworks such as Yoruba sculpture, Kwakiuti totem poles, and Medieval cathedral sculptures as well as contemporary works by such artists as Claus Oldenberg, Allison Saar, and Kiki Smith, the students developed drawings, sculpted clay forms, made plaster molds, and then cast the final pieces in cement. The flat backs of the relief sculptures were embellished with glass tile mosaic.

This work points to interesting new possibilities for conceiving of the role art teachers can play in community culture. Imagine an area of a city or a town in which art students make concrete guardian sculptures as part of the art curriculum. After a few years, when traveling through the area one might notice a number of whimsical concrete yard art pieces. As more students graduated who were familiar with using concrete and mosaic as an art medium, there might be a number of adult community residents who chose to make more outdoor artworks around their homes. In this scenario the art teacher functions as a community artist, using basic art projects made in school to effect the visual environment in the community and to give residents skills to use everyday lumberyard materials to make permanent artworks.

Spiral Workshop concrete projects were developed in 1998, 1999, and 2000 by Kate Banjak, Sari Breslin, Teresa Cantero, Phil Friberg, Jon Pounds, Jessica Zayat, and Spiral Workshop Director Olivia Gude.