A Stitch in Time

The Things I Have To Do To Maintain Myself
Roxanne Swentzell, United States

Children will use their bodies and faces to express feelings and states of mind in order to prepare them to look at and talk about how Roxanne Swentzell’s sculpture The Things I Have To Do To Maintain Myself shows emotion and focus. They will then talk about things they do to take care of themselves and ”mend” two pieces of fabric by sewing them together with yarn.

Intended Age Group
Early childhood (ages 3-5)
Standards Area
Visual Arts
Lesson Length
One 30 minute lesson

Students will be able to:

  • understand that people express feelings and states of mind with their faces and bodies;
  • state at least one way the sculpture expresses an emotion or a state of mind; and
  • use a plastic needle and yarn to sew at least eight stitches.


  1. Warm-up: Have the children use their bodies and faces to express the following emotions/states: happy, sad, frustrated, silly, scared, daydreaming, and serious. Tell them to look around the classroom to see each other’s expressions. You may even have the students come up one at a time and have everyone guess what he/she is expressing.
  2. Show students the picture of Swentzell’s sculpture. Discuss the following questions about the picture:
    1. What is the figure is doing?
    2. What does the expression on his face tell you? What about his body?
    3. Is it hard or easy for him to thread the needle?
    4. Why is he threading the needle? What do you think he’s going to sew? Why?
  3. Tell the children that he is mending himself, taking care of himself. Talk about things the children do to take care of themselves. For example: brushing their teeth, wearing shoes to avoid stickers, taking swimming lessons, etc. Ask the students: do you need to sew yourself together? Be ready for some stitches stories!
  4. For younger children, have needles pre-threaded; for older children, have them thread yarn through the plastic needles after first demonstrating.
  5. Match up the holes on the two pieces of felt, one piece lying on top of the other, and help children knot their yarn to the felt (tying a knot around the edge by one of the holes).
  6. Demonstrate how to move the needle down one hole and up the next, sewing the two pieces of felt together. Children can sew together as many sides of felt as there is time for. If three edges are sewn together, children can create a pocket. If you have a digital camera, it would be great to take pictures of their facial expressions while they’re working (even earlier when threading the needle as well). Share and talk about the pictures when they finish sewing. Do their facial expressions resemble the sculpture’s expression?
  7. Have students show their “mended” pieces of fabric and allow them to talk about what it was like to sew them together. Was it hard? What was their favorite part of sewing the fabric?


  • Two 6 x 6 inch felt pieces or foam sheets with holes punched around the edges (about ½” apart) for each student
  • One large plastic needle for each student
  • Enough yarn for each student to sew around their pieces of felt/foam (about 28”)
  • About the Art section on The Things I Have To Do To Maintain Myself (included with the lesson plan)
  • One color copy of the sculpture for every four children, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards
  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
21st Century Skills
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

The Things I Have To Do To Maintain Myself


Height: 15.5 in. Width: 13 in. Depth: 15 in.

Funds from Polly and Mark Addison, 1994.540

Photograph © Denver Art Museum 2009. All Rights Reserved.

About the Artist

Roxanne Swentzell was born in Taos, New Mexico in 1962. Her mother was a potter, writer, and scholar from Santa Clara Pueblo, and her father was a New Jersey native of German descent who was a philosophy professor in Santa Fe. Growing up in Santa Fe, in a household that was filled with clay and artwork, Roxanne took to art-making at an early age. As a child, she struggled to express herself verbally. In order to let others know how she was feeling, she would sculpt small figures that represented her emotions.

Roxanne attributes much of her success to guidance from her family, particularly her mother, Rina, and her uncle, Michael Naranjo, a blind sculptor. From 1978-1980, before graduating high school, she attended the Institute of American Indian Arts.

Today, she spends much of her time at Tower Studio, twelve miles north of Santa Fe. Continuing her interests in nature and preserving the earth, Swentzell founded the Flowering Tree Permaculture Institute, “a research and education organization that relates to permaculture…a way of looking at the world based on the laws of nature.”

Swentzell believes that it is extremely important for her work to have a direct connection with reality. Her art must be a full expression of herself and her experiences and observations of life. She says, “I learned to listen to myself and not be so influenced by what other people wanted me to make. I am going to present the world through my eyes—and not as somebody told me I was supposed to.” She also aims to communicate with all people through her artwork—both Native and non-Native—about the things we share as humans. “With my sculptures I try to reach people’s emotions so they can remember themselves,” says Swentzell.

What Inspired It

This sculpture is a representation of a clown, called a kosha in Tewa [TAY-wah], the language of Santa Clara Pueblo. In the Pueblo creation story, the kosha were the first to emerge onto the surface of the earth, climbing up from the underworld and out of the womb of Mother Earth. As they surfaced, each was facing one of the four cardinal directions. The people of the earth followed, dispersing to all parts of the world and becoming the different races. Kosha continue to play a part in Santa Clara ceremonies and stories. One of their main roles is to teach lessons about life. Kosha teach by imitating human behaviors; it is then up to us to recognize when those behaviors are flawed.

This kosha sits deep in concentration, mending his broken ear. With this sculpture, Swentzell references the idea that humans are in a constant state of development. An individual makes choices as he/she creates him/herself. Swentzell is also asking us to consider the importance of a seemingly mundane act. “I like to make the mundane significant, because that’s the way we go throughout days. This piece is about all the little things we do to make things possible. It’s an appreciation of something that’s not always acknowledged,” says Swentzell.



The black and white stripes on the body of the kosha represent balance, one of the important life lessons that are taught by kosha.


The kosha is deep in concentration. Notice how he carefully threads the needle with an extra-thick piece of yarn. His eyes are focused, his lips are pursed, and even his toes are curled tightly together.


Swentzell makes her sculptures out of clay, using the techniques of a potter. Unlike other potters in her family, she uses purchased clay, in part due to the large amounts that she uses. She uses coils to create the body and makes cuts where she will add limbs, which are made with coils as well. The body and limbs are hollow, while the toes and fingers are solid. She sculpts the face. The figure must dry for about two weeks before it is ready to be fired in a kiln.

Funding for object education resources provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.

The images on this page are intended for classroom use only and may not be reproduced for other reasons without the permission of the Denver Art Museum. This object may not currently be on display at the museum.