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Gallery 360 exhibit returns to kindergarten

Photo by Mariah Tauger
Gallery 360 is cur­rently filled with wooden blocks, paper snowflakes, and lesson books fea­turing drawing, sewing, and paper weaving. It looks like your old kinder­garten classroom—and that’s the point.

Learning by Design, an exhibit curated by archi­tect and col­lector Norman Brosterman, traces the influ­ence that the kinder­garten movement—the rev­o­lu­tionary edu­ca­tional system devel­oped by Friedrich Frobel in Ger­many in the 1830s—had on cul­ture and the impact it had in laying the grounds for mod­ernist art, archi­tec­ture, and design.

On dis­play through April 19, the exhibit is pre­sented by the Depart­ment of Art + DesignGallery 360, and the North­eastern Center for the Arts.

Brosterman first became inter­ested in the his­tory of kinder­garten while assem­bling the world’s finest col­lec­tion of antique building block and con­struc­tion toys, later acquired by the Cana­dian Centre for Archi­tec­ture in Montreal.

“I went from archi­tec­ture to flea mar­kets,” Brosterman, an antique dealer, recalled at the exhibit’s opening recep­tion last month. “Along the way, I began to col­lect these building blocks and con­struc­tion sets. I won­dered if I was going to find the Frobel Blocks. It was the begin­ning of a gigantic search for kindergarten’s history.”

Dis­cov­ering that these famed Froebel Blocks were merely part of a much larger system of ele­gant, nature-​​based, ped­a­gog­ical toys, Brosterman embarked on years of research into the his­tory of this lost world, cul­mi­nating in the pub­li­ca­tion in 1997 of his award-​​winning book, Inventing Kinder­garten.

MFA Graduate student Rania Masri '15, takes a moment to look over a portion of the paper weaving display as part of the exhibit. Photo by Mariah Tauger.

MFA grad­uate stu­dent Rania Masri takes a moment to look over the paper weaving dis­play as part of the Gallery 360 exhibit. Photo by Mariah Tauger.

Kindergarten’s uni­versal lan­guage of geo­metric form was intended to cul­ti­vate chil­drens’ innate abil­i­ties to observe, reason, create, and com­mu­ni­cate, and it’s expressed in Brosterman’s exhibit through artistic, edu­ca­tional toys and materials—known as “gifts”—that he’s col­lected over the years.Brosterman noted that archi­tect and writer Frank Lloyd Wright often lec­tured about Froe­be­lian geom­etry, which was inte­grated into every project he did. Charles-​​Edouard Jean­neret spent more than seven years in Froebel-​​based schools in Switzer­land before growing up to become Le Corbusier—one of the 20th century’s most influ­en­tial architects.Nathan Felde, chair of the Depart­ment of Art + Design, dubbed Brosterman “the cus­to­dian steward of the legacy of kinder­garten,” and noted that the cre­ativity of his work aligns with the Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design’s efforts to sus­tain the cre­ative impulses of its fac­ulty and students.
Norman Brosterman, curator of the new Gallery 360 exhibit Learning by Design, speaks to students, faculty, and staff during the opening reception last month. Photo by Mariah Tauger.

Norman Brosterman, curator of the new Gallery 360 exhibit Learning by Design, speaks to stu­dents, fac­ulty, and staff during the opening recep­tion last month. Photo by Mariah Tauger.