Most of us today experienced kindergarten as a loose assortment of playful activities – a kind of preparatory ground for school proper. But in its original incarnation kindergarten was a formalized system that drew its inspiration from the science of crystallography. During its early years in the nineteenth century, kindergarten was based around a system of abstract exercises that aimed to instill in young children an understanding of the mathematically generated logic underlying the ebb and flow of creation. This revolutionary system was developed by the German scientist Friedrich Froebel whose vision of childhood education changed the course of our culture laying the grounds for modernist art, architecture and design. Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller are all documented attendees of kindergarten. Other “form-givers” of the modern era – including Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky and Georges Braque – were educated in an environment permeated with Frobelian influence.
Froebel believed that education of the very young would enable the flowering of human potential. “By education,” he declared, “the divine essence of man should be unfolded, brought out, lifted into consciousness.” Froebel’s insights would expand the minds not just of children, but also of their teachers. Denied access to universities, women of intellect were also yearning for mental stimulation and Froebel’s system provided an outlet of expression for hundreds of thousands of women around the world who flocked to become kindergarten teachers. Among them was Anna Wright, mother of the future architect. From the world of early kindergarten it is largely the teacher’s output that has been preserved and in this remarkable body of work we witness the stirrings of a new era. Mostly created in the late nineteenth century, the objects on displayed in this exhibition prefigure the aesthetic upheavals of the following century. As kindergarten scholar and collector Norman Brosterman has proposed, in the work undertaken by “kindergartners” we may locate the seed-bed of modern art.
Inventing Kindergarten surveys rare objects and artifacts from the
collection of Norman Brosterman, Froebel scholar and author of the book