Van Allsburg was born in East Grand Rapids, Michigan, the second child of Doris Christianen and Richard Van Allsburg. Van Allsburg's older sister was born in 1947. When Chris was born, his family lived in an old farm house. His family then moved to a new house at the edge of Grand Rapids when Chris was three years old. His new house was located close enough to his elementary school that he could walk there for class. His family later moved again to East Grand Rapids. He attended middle school and high school at East Grand Rapids. Van Allsburg attended the College of Architecture and Design at the University of Michigan, which at that time included the art school. He majored in sculpture, learning bronze casting, wood carving, resin molding, and other techniques. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1972 and continued his education at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), graduating with a master's degree in sculpture in 1975. After graduation, Van Allsburg set up a sculpture studio.