Design Tree

A few days ago I got to spend some time at the Portland Art Museum on my birthday.  I hadn’t been there in awhile and was really inspired by the Native American exhibits.  Dance wands, totem poles, jewelry. So I came home and dreamt up the idea for this toy.  A kind of interactive art sculpture that can be assembled many different ways.  It’s like a cross between building a mobile and decorating a Christmas tree.  The kids are loving it.  It’s kind of challenging for them too which is good.  I purposefully made some of the hook rings on the “tree” swivel and spin around, so you almost have to use two hands to hang the object.

After putting all the objects on, my son keeps asking, “Can I do it again daddy?” and I keep telling him, “Yeah, as many times as you want.”

I painted different designs on the fronts and backs of the blocks so there could be more variation.

Here is the midnight sketch I made on my iPod Touch while lying in bed. I ended up following it pretty closely.


  1. l0k1
    February 18, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    brilliant. we need to move forward on the modern christmas tree idea, now.

  2. Sarah
    February 18, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    Brilliant! I wouldn't mind a go myself!

  3. Andrea
    February 18, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    I love the idea that the kids are challenged! New to your site and I loove picking into your brain. You have fantastic, simple yet marvelous ideas. Thank you for the inspiration!

  4. Andrea
    February 18, 2010 at 11:51 pm

    Do you jigsaw your wood pieces?

  5. Joel Henriques
    February 18, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    Thanks everybody. And I use an old scroll saw for cutting my wood pieces. It's very handy. I actually used to have one in my bedroom when I was a kid. Good thing I was pretty clean, cause that could have gotten very messy.

  6. Dolores
    February 18, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    kind of a Calder movile... love it!
    I have to go to the PAM! I love their exhibition on native american art... maybe next week.. we´ll see.. thanks

  7. Ivana
    February 18, 2010 at 11:58 pm

    That's wonderful, Joel! Every one of your posts is such a treat...
    p.s. Love how the little one is using her tongue for help with concentration in one of the photos... I still do that myself! : )

  8. Joel Henriques
    February 18, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    Ha, I know. You can really see the gears turning in their brains. I love that.

  9. Miggy
    February 19, 2010 at 12:03 am

    that's pretty sweet.
    I think Haba should contact you...or another cool toy company.

  10. evie s.
    February 19, 2010 at 12:06 am

    This is awesome! I'm new to your blog and I think it's incredible what you are doing for/with your kids to expose them to art and creativity. Very inspiring!

  11. recovergirl
    February 19, 2010 at 12:50 am

    I want one.

  12. Golubka
    February 19, 2010 at 1:30 am

    Perfection! Definitely reminds me of Calder's stuff as well. How cool it must be to have a dad like you, what lucky little ones.

  13. Samone Bos
    February 19, 2010 at 2:29 am

    Hi Joel,
    This is awesome.
    Absolutely love your posts - I am also a parent of boy/girl twins (Saffron and Jasper are almost 18 months) and your posts totally have my partner Tim and I inspired. Your art and activities are amazing, and we're also enjoying a glimpse at what life might be like when our tiny toddler whirlwinds (though loads of fun) settle a little to enjoying projects.

  14. Amy
    February 19, 2010 at 2:55 am

    Wonderful! Man, you are amazing...I would love one of these too--not only is it an amazingly original and engaging toy, but it's beautiful. I think you are an incredible artist and dad. Really.

  15. amberlee
    February 19, 2010 at 3:05 am

    I can see MYSELF playing with this all day! My little girl is only 13 months (and we live just down the road from you in Salem) so I find myself starring a lot of your posts in my reader for later. Your posts are all so inspiring!

  16. Three Owls
    February 19, 2010 at 4:35 am

    fantastic. and fantastical.

  17. Joel Henriques
    February 19, 2010 at 4:38 am

    Thanks everybody. And yes, Samone, it gets way easier when the twins turn two, so you're almost there. Now that Jack and Tess are 3 it's even better. They have a blast playing together.

  18. Tina
    February 19, 2010 at 5:45 am

    WOW Joel, I love it!! I reckon you can start making retirement plans, 'cause if this gets out, you are sitting on a fortune! I love your creativity and find it so inspiring! Congrats on a great interactive sculpture, love it!! Hope you have a great weekend ~ Tina

  19. Isa
    February 19, 2010 at 7:42 am

    WOW! You should sell this idea to HABA. I want one!

  20. Kickcan and Conkers
    February 19, 2010 at 7:59 am

    Oh, I want one too! This is brilliant - reminds me of Calder a bit. My kids would love playing with this and so would I. "Bravo" for so much inspiration !)

  21. meg
    February 19, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Very cool blog Joel! thanks for sharing all your wicked art here.

  22. Lisa
    February 19, 2010 at 10:09 am

    I'm very impressed by your work. I agree with Isa you should sell the idea to HABA so every one could get one (me included)

  23. Passelig dose
    February 19, 2010 at 10:21 am

    Wow! Again.

  24. Paula
    February 19, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    Goodness -- you must get that shop open quickly. I must have one.

  25. Mary Poppins
    February 19, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Looks great!

  26. cintia
    February 19, 2010 at 10:57 pm

    Me encanta tu trabajo para tus niños y me siento identificada con él. Un abrazo desde españa y desde mi blog

  27. Farmgirl Susan
    February 20, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    That is so cool. I want one (and I'm 41)! ; )

  28. Nikole Sarvay
    February 20, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    How fantastic - really, really amazing! What kind of wire did you use?

  29. Joel Henriques
    February 20, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    Thanks. I used steel welding rod. You can find it at any welding supply store, and it's very inexpensive.

  30. Aline
    February 21, 2010 at 7:28 am

    Wow, fantastic idea! It's beautiful!

  31. Minna
    February 21, 2010 at 9:51 am

    I love the idea, it´s like some 60´s design object.

  32. collie
    February 21, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    j aime tout

  33. Anonymous
    February 21, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Where did you get your daughter's dress?

  34. Joel Henriques
    February 22, 2010 at 5:32 am

    The dress is from Hanna Andersson.

  35. Claire - Craft Schmaft
    February 23, 2010 at 3:57 am

    Genius. Pure genius.

  36. orngpikkle
    February 24, 2010 at 3:17 am

    LOVE this!!!. I would love to make something similar for my daughter Finley if you don't mind.

    What gauge wire did you use?

  37. jokemijn
    February 24, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    beautiful! i love the concentration in their eyes. You make amazing things!

  38. Holly
    February 25, 2010 at 6:56 am

    Brilliance, once again. Did you use reclaimed wood? The base is interesting.

  39. Joel Henriques
    February 25, 2010 at 4:37 pm


    orngpikkle - the welding rod I used is ER 308L. It's pretty sturdy stuff. You could use whatever you felt like bending. It's so cheap you could get a couple different gauges.

    Holly - Yes, the whole thing is from wood scrap and reclaimed wood. Pretty much everything I make is from scrap. Sometimes you can find great bargains on ebay for nice pieces of solid wood leftover from furniture builders etc...

  40. Marta
    February 26, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    Gracias!!! Hemos hecho algo muy similar en la escuela con los niños con tu idea. Puedes verlo aquí:

  41. Joel Henriques
    February 26, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    Marta, your design trees are fantastic! Your students did a really great job. Thank you for showing me!

  42. Joel Henriques
    February 27, 2010 at 12:03 am

    Marta, ¿Puedo publicar fotos de árbol de su estudiante de diseño en mi blog? Por favor, hágamelo saber si eso está bien. Gracias.

  43. Marta
    February 28, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    Sí, puedes publicarlas, claro. Mañana voy a poner más fotos del proceso con los niños.

  44. neomig
    March 14, 2010 at 5:03 am

    Hi Joes
    Your design tree reminds me of kalder work! Awsome!

  45. September 9, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    [...]  I just got an email from Marta, who is a teacher in Spain.  She told me her students just made design trees!  This was probably the most difficult toy I’ve ever made, and these kids are cranking them [...]

  46. Stephan
    July 30, 2014 at 12:15 am

    Hi Joel, congrats on a superb sculpture. Your work has inspired me to get my year 8 (grade 8) students to create their own 'Design Tree'. We hope to take it a step further by "living out" a school goal that asks student to seek ways of caring for our environment. There'll be a "Dump ur junk" box into which could include anything that would usually end up in the rubbish bin. I request your permission copy images from the blog into a PowerPoint. Thanks in anticipation

    1. July 30, 2014 at 8:45 am

      Hi Stephan. What a great project! Yes, you're very welcome to use the images in your powerpoint. Thanks!

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