Monday, February 6, 2017

How to Make Greco-Roman Columns

Dayspring Baptist Church, Waco, TX

Several years back for Vacation Bible School our church took our children on a trip through the 1st Century city of Rome where we learned about Paul and the Underground Church." In the process we created a lot of Greco-Roman Décor, and found a lot of inspiration both from groups who had done this program and the similarly decorated Athens Holy Land Adventure.

I wanted to pass on the great ideas we learned about for others who might be doing the same programs, a piece of Greek or Roman theater, or a wedding or party with this theme. You will find some creative and inexpensive decorating ideas below.

3 Dimensional Columns

Columns are essential to Greco-Roman décor, and three dimensional columns are, I think, the most stunning way to go.

Where to Buy 3D Columns
We invested in two large 12' cardboard columns (pictured above) and have used them over and over for different Holy Land VBS (not just Rome, but for Pharoah's palace in Egypt, and the Synagogue in Nazareth and Galilee).  Large columns like these can make for a very dramatic effect.  You can find similar ones at Stumps Party Supply.  For shorter columns you can find a nice selection at Oriental Traders for a good price, but be warned to leave lots of time for delivery (shorter columns are also not difficult to make, which of course is even cheaper...see below for various methods).  If you do not have a good place to store columns for use in future years, you may want to consider renting columns from a local wedding/event service.

Poster Board

Use Poster Board and Pizza Boxes
This one seems super simple and inexpensive! A pizza place might be willing to donate some clean, unused boxes (especially if you also bought lunch for volunteers there)!  You could use corregated cardboard for a ribbed texture and a little more support  (our columns for our intro picture were made like this, with foam "crests" in stead of pizza boxes. 

Make them With Cardboard Tubing
You can use carpet tubes (what  carpet comes rolled around) for thin columns.  Places which sell carpet are often happy to donate these.  For thicker columns you can buy construction tubes (also known as building tubes, cardboard concrete forms, and Sonotubes).  You can find these individually at home improvement stores,  but from what I've seen they only smaller ones (48" long or shorter).  There are several manufacturers that sell longer full column length ones, but generally only in bulk.  You could possibly contact a local construction company and see if they would sell or donate some in smaller quantities.

Use Building Tubes, Pots, and Plaster
Decorative Faux-Stone Column - Shorter but very realistic. I've seem people use plastic pots with molded edges for some very decorative molding...same idea though.

Use Building Tubes, Pool Noodles, and Foam Board
DIY Network shows you how to make faux stone columns...very realistic looking.  Pool noodles are a more pricey material, but if you can buy them out of season (at the end of summer, early fall clearance sales) they cost less.

Very Realistic, Structural Method With Tall Building Tubes
The blog Tootsie Time shows how she made permanent columns for her home. They are beautiful.

Use Textured Wallpaper to Add Ridges
Once you have a base (see above) you can use textured wallpaper to add ridges.  I got this idea from Jennifer Hosler.

She used Easy Textures Paintable Wallpaper (Pattern No 99424F) to cover a carpet tube column.   I didn't find that exact one but I found a similar style by another brand here.

"Warren" Method of Constructing Columns

Kate Taylor Warren and her husband shared the following method they came up with to make columns like you see above.

Inside each column is a 90" heavy cardboard carpet tube. Each has a 2-3 foot wooden fence post fit snugly inside and screwed to a 20" board as a horizontal base. The part of the column you see is five sheets of under-wallpaper insulation cut in lengths that circle around to make a 20" diameter cylinder. A construction stapler was used to staple them to the carpet tube in the back.

The material they use,  found in a DIY store where wallpaper is sold, consists of a very thin layer of polystyrene bonded to a layer of heavy brown paper. It pops out easily to hold its shape when circled and stapled, and is easy to paint. Kate Warren and her husband are in England, so I'm not sure whether the same material is available here in the States, but it would be worth checking into.

They measured the "stripes" on the individual sheets and marked them so they could be painted before assembly on the carpet tube. This was an easier and safer way to paint--no climbing ladders and trying to get straight lines painted.

The columns are set on squares of stryofoam (called polystyrene in the UK). The cornice is not resting on the columns but is suspended from the ceiling. Otherwise it would be rather unstable.

Pool Noodle Columns

 Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Houston, TX
Photo by Marian Seidel

You can find full step by step instructions on how to make pool noodle columns here also (though it was for a more permanent feature, so had some steps you could skip for VBS).   Here's some in-process pics shared by Marian Seidel of Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Houston, TX.  (She's still in the in process phase so I don't have final pics right now).

1.  You start with cardbord carpet roll tubes for a base.

2.  Cute pool noodles in half lengthwise with exacto knife (to make two parts like celery sticks, not two shorter pool noodles).

3.  Put foam into noodle like you would put cheeze whiz on the celery stick, and press onto roll.

4.  Use 3 nails, one at the bottom, top and middle to secure.

5.  Trim as necessary. (Save pieces...see #6)

6.  Make a stand (sorry, I don't have instructions on how to make stands, but you can see some examples there).  Use extra pool noodle pieces and/or foam to stuff into carpet tubes to stabilize.

7.  Paint

TIP:  If you're planning this long in advace you can save money if you buy pool noodles out of season (at the end of summer, early fall clearance sales).

Corrugated Plastic Columns

You can use sheets of corrugated plastic either to make freestanding columns, or to wrap around posts and other features.   While pricey, this method has the benefit of being weather resistant, so is great for outdoor features.  You can find this type of sheeting at most hardware stores.

You can see one of these types of columns in the background of picture to the right. Thanks to Rebecca Edwards for this picture.

Dayspring Baptist Church, Waco, TX

TIP:  How to Create Depth

If you are making a colonnade on a stage you can create depth and and add an illusion of a larger scene by starting with taller columns and then using descending smaller columns, set at an angle like the picture on the right...continuing the colonnade with a backdrop with painted columns at the back.  You can see how that works in the example below...

(I got this idea and the drawing in this section from cdevries, who writes a number of wonderful articles on theater design. It was from a section on 3 More Ways to Improve Your Theater Set about creating depth. The picture above is from Faith Baptist Church. Used with permission.)

2D Colums

Picture by Mindy Love Harper

Flat paper columns are simple and inexpensive. You can draw them on butcher paper or posterboard (for thicker, more reusable affect) or order pre-made ones online.

I love how Trinity Presbyterian Church of McKinney, Texas used simple paper columns and a roof to frame the doorway to "Paul's House." While it takes a little drawing skill, it doesn't look unreasonably hard, and yet is very effective in transforming this from just another room to a house in Athens.

And, if you prefer to avoid drawing/painting it yourself, here are several paper column options I found online (click pictures to find on Amazon)...

Semi-3D Columns

For a semi-three dimensional look try one of the techniques below.

Foam Board Columns

Dayspring Baptist Church, Waco, TX

We carved foam board with a hot knife and I believe painted the indentations grey to make these columns. Then we put them up in front of some pretty party paper to cover up a wall sculpture you see peeking out of the top there. I believe the paper we used was flat, but the only paper with the same design I was able to find now online was this corrugated version (which is probably more expensive than what we used, but would offer more stability).

Cardboard Column "House"

Photo by Michelle Robeson La Flamme

This structure was made out of a VERY LARGE box. It has plaster on it which gives it the column texture.  I like that a person could actually get IN this columned house.

See More Rome VBS Posts

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