The Art of Puzzling: A Collaborative Experience

It was Pablo Picasso who said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” For the past week and a half I have shared my artistic process with over a dozen intelligent, creative, and unique young people. I have witnessed the uninhibited imagination of children and their ability to work in a carefree manner.

8 year old Lillian Kleemeier sitting in her puzzle.

8 year old Lillian Kleemeier sitting in her puzzle.

Being a resident at Franconia Sculpture Park allows artists to work in large scale and public formats. This often unfamiliar style challenges artists to work outside of their comfort zones, allowing new ideas to percolate through the process, expanding the end results. While living and working here has given me the opportunity to organize and work on my first ever collaborative project, I think it is most important to note that it was the experiences that I had during my first months at Franconia that initially inspired me to work this way. Living and working here has done just that for me. My first two months here were spent working on a large-scale installation entitled Imprint. In making this piece I had the opportunity to refine a process I had been working with on a smaller scale. During this process I sliced many tree trunks and dissected each into small ring parts. The act of fitting pieces back together is something that I find extremely calming in its repetitiveness. The creation of Imprint was both challenging and fun; educational and inspirational; and helped me grow and think in new ways as a sculptor.


Imprint, 2014, wood, glue, insulation foam, 1′ x 10′ x 10′


For me the most enjoyable part of creating Imprint was what came afterwards. Working in an environment where there is constant conversation surrounding art, both with fellow artists and with the public, is very stimulating. From leading tours, to workshops like Kids Make Sculpture, to answering visitor’s questions when they come to explore the artists work area, I am often interacting with the community. This unique setting is what inspired my first ever collaborative project and gave me the idea to share my artistic process with others. It was during a workshop with the Osceola Bench Youth Project that the light bulb turned on. After finishing the project I was working on with the students, I suggested that we place a few pieces in Imprint. I was surprised by the amount of enthusiasm my students showed. We only working on Imprint for about fifteen minutes, but the different ways the children placed the pieces and they made while constructing quickly intrigued me. This generated an interest in observing the variations of this creative process among many individuals.

Osceola youth working on Imprint

Osceola youth working on Imprint.

Since bringing the idea of a collaborative puzzle piece into fruition, I have learned a great deal and have continued to be inspired on how to shape this new project entitled The Art of Puzzling. My helpers are much more free than my perfectionism allows me to be in the way that they place their pieces. It is interesting to see the differences in styles among each individual. Some create shapes within the larger shape, while others prefer to create by lining up their pieces more linearly. Whereas Imprint looks very uniform throughout, there is an added element to this piece in that you can see where one individual stopped working and another started. This way of working speaks to Picasso’s quote and these differences in style seem to give the child a sense of accomplishment; they step away and can visually see what they just added to the project.

18 year old Mitchell Tillges and 8 year old Bronte Tillges working on The Art of Puzzling

18 year old Mitchell Tillges and 8 year old Bronte Tillges working on The Art of Puzzling.

The piece, originally envisioned as a single open ring, has evolved into many rings as a result of the eagerness that the children bring to art making. This change in visual composition in turn has the potential to change the conceptual idea of the piece. One personal childhood pastime that this project reminds me of is creating paper chains out of construction paper. Perhaps working on this project will elicit similar reminiscent feelings from the participants as they grow. I am now thinking of ways to incorporate color and my own childhood memories with the memories my helpers and I are currently creating.

10 year old Shane Hollander placing a piece

10 year old Shane Hollander placing a piece.

As I continue this collaborative work, and as children share their knowledge, imagination, and creativity with me, I imagine that the piece will continue to evolve. Being a resident here at Franconia has given me the space to pursue this idea and continues to support me throughout. I look forward to working with, and learning from, more and more people both here at Franconia during the completion of this project and moving forward in my career. Working collaboratively has been an enriching experience and is a method of working that I plan to continue and explore in greater depth.

Working collaboratively with 6 year old Lillian Kleemeier and 10 year old Ella Kleemeier.

Working collaboratively with 6 year old Lillian Kleemeier and 10 year old Ella Kleemeier.

Workshops are continuing until July 27, 2014. If you are interested in participating email artist Sarah Langsam at To view more work, please visit



  1. Amy Klein · · Reply

    Sarah, I’m so happy for your light bulb moment care of the Osceola Bench Kids. The kids were profoundly moved by their experience at Franconia…and from my experience working with kids and art, kids NEVER fail. Imagination at that age is just too powerful. Congratulations on your awesome work!

    Amy Klein
    Osceola Middle School

  2. I love the look of your website. I recently built mine and I was looking for some ideas for my site and you gave me a few. May I ask you whether you developed the website by youself?

    1. Hi Ethyl!

      Were you referencing the FSP website!? Thank you! I do most of the work on our Franconia website in collaboration with a lady named Susan Seltz! For my own professional artist website I use SquareSpace which is very user friendly and visually forward! If you have any questions or are looking for recommendations please feel free to email me

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