The sculpture of Figure 1 is located over a doorway on the Wheelock College campus, 200 Riverway, Boston, Massachusetts. Wheelock College is an institution specializing in the education of teachers. This sculpture depicts Friedrich Froebel, the founder of the kindergarten movement and a founder of Wheelock College. The sculpture shows the teacher surrounded by a group of his pupils of the ages before, during, and after kindergarten. A number of the children are playing with blocks and balls, indicative of the Froebel’s philosophy of the role of creative play in the education of young children (Bultman, 2008). In particular, the ball and the blocks in the lower left, right, and in Froebel’s hand are a specifically chosen playthings, which Froebel called “the gifts.” The gifts are reflective of his German heritage and desire to teach mathematical order through design. In particular, the ball one of the children is holding is gift #1, while the divided cube that another one of the children is playing with is gift #3 (Froebel Gifts, 2011).
The sculpture is located over a doorway of the school and it is there for both decorative and commemorative purposes. The sculpture itself is a combination of high and low relief, as the heads of the majority of the figures are all separated entirely from the background, while the bodies are, for the most part, still connected to the background. As decoration it provides an interesting accent in the otherwise relatively flat face of a brick building. It also draws interest up above the door in a space that would otherwise not be utilized. The sculpture of a teacher surrounded by pupils is also highly appropriate decoration for a teacher’s college.
The sculpture is also very good at being a commemorative piece. It is a reminder of a founder of the school and his role in working with children and developing appropriate learning methods. It depicts the teacher, with a kindly look on his face, surrounded by adoring children who obviously enjoy and seek out his company – even when they are beyond the kindergarten age. Showing the older children could also be symbolic of the role of skills taught in kindergarten to the work of older pupils. As mentioned above, the props within the subjects’ hands are more than just mere balls and blocks but specific tools within the Frobel teaching method. Also, having the children playing, rather than statically reading or sitting at a desk is expressive of the Frobel philosophy which includes the tenet that “[p]lay is the engine that drives true learning” (Bultman, 2008). The piece also commemorates the role of Frobel in the founding of the school where this sculpture is located. His dress and those of the children place the time depicted as firmly in the past. As with many sculptures, having a stone representation of an important person in the history of a location is a way of keeping the memory alive of that person even after they are gone.
A final question is my personal opinion as to whether the sculpture succeeds as decoration and as a commemoration. My opinion is that it succeeds at both. The sculpture’s look is well balanced within the arch and contains many details without being too busy. As commemoration, the kindly and happy expressions on the faces of the figures are the best reflection of the beloved role of Froebel in the founding of his kindergarten philosophy and the founding of Wheelock College in Boston.
Bultman, S. “The Froebel Kindergarten Philosophy.” Frobel Foundation USA. Version 2008. Created 2001. Web. 11 July 2013.
“Froebel Gifts.” Frobel USA. Version 2011. Created 2003. Web. 11 July 2013.
Figure 1. Library relief – Wheelock College, 200 Riverway, Boston, MA; Wikimedia Commons; http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category: Statues_in_Boston.