Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

Beg, borrow and reclaim: sustainable materials in sculpture

In this article, Dr Maddie Boden discusses sustainable materials sculptors use in their work.
A photograph of Sandworm by Marco Casagrande in Belgium. Sea in background.
© University of York

In the last article, we heard several sculptors call attention to the impact of climate change.

Many of these environmentally-conscious artists use sustainable materials in their work. These include second-hand items, biodegradable materials that can break down back into the earth or organic materials which don’t require any manufacturing processes such as leaves and dirt.

At this point, we’ve travelled the globe to find examples of Environmental Art. It might feel like we’re quite far from the University of York campus and its sculpture. However, think back to our discussion of the materials of modern sculpture.

Many of the campus sculptures are made from man-made materials such as concrete or steel – during their creation used energy-consuming processes to such as bronze casting or welding. Up until the late twentieth century, most modern sculptors did not consider the environmental impact of the materials they worked with. We read Barbara Hepworth’s poetic thoughts about the importance of the Yorkshire landscape, but she never considered that it could be threatened by a fracking site.

In the last activity, we looked at Aspiration by Bill Hodgson. Aspiration is made from two dead oak trees that had been rotting near the Quiet Place for some time. Hodgson described the project as an opportunity to create


“A sculpture from the remains of this lovely oak tree is intended to perpetuate its lifespan.”

This is an example of a sustainable material used in sculpture. The meaning of the work, which reflects on the immediate scenery and waterfowl, is also enhanced by the material which comes from the immediate environment and won’t have a negative impact on it.

Take a look through this article which lists a range of sculptures made from sustainable materials. Which unusual material surprised or interested you the most? Can you think of any other second-hand, biodegradable or organic materials that could be used for making sculpture?

© University of York
This article is from the free online

Modern Sculpture: An Introduction to Art History

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education