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.
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.
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.