Skip to content

For Kids and Others        

Phenakistoscope, by Martha Glowacki
Martha Glowacki, Phenakistoscope, 2005, cast iron, brass, wood, paper, 57-1/2 inches high x 19 inches long x 16 inches deep.
Show a larger view of this picture

Try making a phenakistoscope [feen a kis toe scope].
Invented in 1830, this instrument was an ancestor of motion picture projectors. Materials needed: paper dinner plates or lightweight cardboard discs used by bakeries to separate layers of cakes; wood shish kabob skewers; a mirror; a lamp.

  1. Starting with a plain white inexpensive paper plate or cardboard disc and a ruler, draw lines dividing your plate into 8 equal pie wedge segments. Then, carefully cut small slots between each of the segments, extending about one inch toward the center, making each slot 1/8 to 1/4 inch wide.
  2. Think of an object that has parts that move, such as an animal, bird, insect, a machine, a person such as a juggler, acrobat, or a runner or walker. Before you start drawing, think about how the motion will start and how it will end. You will have 4 segments on the plate for drawing the object in small segments to the midpoint of its movement, and then 4 more segments to arrive back at the starting point in the circle.
  3. Begin by drawing the first and last pictures. Then, each drawing should move the action from the beginning to the end. (You might need to try some practice drawings on a sheet of paper before you make your final drawings.)
  4. Carefully push the wood skewer into the very center of the plate so that the plate will spin around the skewer. (As an alternate axle, you may push a thumbtack or pushpin through the center of the disc into the side of the eraser on a pencil, holding the pencil vertically.)
  5. Hold your phenakistoscope up to a mirror at about eye level, the side with images facing the mirror. You should look through the slits as you spin your disk on the axle and watch the moving figures reflected in the mirror. It will help to shine a lamp toward the images to increase their visibility.

For further instructions for making phenakistoscopes, see:

Here are some other things you can do:

  • Migrating birds are fairly easy to see in the spring if you take time to look, listen, and go to places where they stop on their travels north, such as wooded parks and pathways or shores of lakes and rivers. You can also play an online game and watch a migrating bird, Wanda the Wood Thrush, travel from her winter home in Costa Rica to her summer home Maryland at:
  • Invent your own constellations by looking for patterns of stars on a star chart and create some stories for your constellations. Use the following website for a printable star map: Printable Page option at bottom of screen.)
  • Become familiar with stargazing maps found in books and on the internet, particularly showing the eight constellations represented in the exhibition. You can request maps of the sky from your viewing location at:
  • Make a sketch of one of the sculptures that you have seen on this website. Show your sketch to someone else and tell them what you have learned by reading about and drawing this object.
  • Find some friends or family members who would be willing to help you create a poem about watching birds arrive each year, or about looking at constellations. Use the Exquisite Corpse game in which your group will take turns writing a seven-to-twelve word sentence about birds or constellations onto a sheet of paper, folding up each sentence to hide it before passing the paper along to the next person. (You may need to turn away from each other so you won't see what each person is writing.) When all of you have written your sentences, unfold the paper and read the group of sentences aloud to each other. Together, you may decide on some ways to edit some of the lines to help them fit more gracefully into a "poem."