Helmets for Heroes

Meet Chibinda Ilunga: warrior, hunter, explorer. He was a powerful ruler in the central African savanna and revered as an ancestral hero for hundreds of years.

On Kimbell tours, this sculpture is a favorite with all ages. When discussing this artwork with children, the subject of heroes inevitably comes up. “Who are our heroes? What makes someone a hero?”

During a recent Kimbell Kids Drop-In Studio program, with Chibinda as our guide, we explored these questions. Here are just a few of the great answers we received:

                “My mom is a hero, because she is in the military.”                                 

                “The garbage man is a hero, because he keeps things clean.”

                “Someone that is strong is a hero, because they have big muscles and they never give up.”

(And Batman deserves an honorable mention. He came up a lot too.) 

According to our experts, heroes can be many things. We were also curious to know what a hero might wear. What type of hat would best represent our heroes? 

Chibinda—with his elaborate headdress—provided a stunning model. With its rolled sides and regal decoration, it identifies Chibinda as a chieftain and alludes to his spiritual responsibilities. Details and patterns carved into the wood suggest that the chieftain’s actual headdress was made of basketry, other fibers and fabrics, colored beads, and strips of metal. This impressive crown would have been worn during important ceremonies. 

Next, children and adults created their own hero-inspired helmet, hat, or headdress.




1. Assorted colored construction paper
2. Stapler
3. Shape cutters for paper
4. Markers
5. Tape
6. Scissors
7. Three strips of construction paper in assorted colors (2 x 12 inches)

Optional odds and ends: 

This project is a great opportunity to use odds and ends from around the house. Here are a few more “optional” supplies we found in the Kimbell studios:


1. Magazines
2. Crazy scissors
3. Stamps
4. Stamp Ink
5. Pipe cleaners 

The basic shape for the helmet can be created in two simple steps.


Take the short end of one precut construction paper strip (2 x 12 inches) and staple it to another construction paper strip end (same size). Wrap the stapled construction paper slips around child’s head and pinch together the overlapping parts of the strips. While holding the overlapping strips together tightly, remove them from the child’s head. Then, staple the overlapping strips. Either staple the excess strips together or cut off with scissors.


Take the third precut strip of colored construction paper and create the basic shape of the top of the helmet. Take the two-inch side of your strip and staple to one side of the circular helmet shape you created in step 1. The third strip should be perpendicular to the rest of the helmet. Then, take the other end of the strip you just attached and staple it to the opposite side of the circular helmet–shaped strips.

The rest is up to the individual artist, and whatever ideas and images they associate with their favorite hero. For more inspiration, explore the interesting helmets found in artworks in the Kimbell’s permanent collection. Experiment with the many possibilities in paper—folding, tearing, cutting, stapling for different effects. Markers, stamps, and other decoration will produce a helmet that is as unique as its hero. Check out some of our results!