A Spirited Space

Waynflete School: Lower Grades Art Studio
Waynflete School: Lower Grades Art Studio

“A spirited place satisfies [our] souls. It possesses a wholeness that makes the heart sing, the soul rejoice, the body feel safe… It is the spirit of place…that expands our sense of possibility and puts us in touch with what is most loving, creative,  and human about ourselves.” ~ Anita Olds 

Anita Rui Olds was a passionate woman, teacher, and designer of spaces, who taught me that the foundation of all learning must be a

Parker River Pre-School: Rowley, MA
Parker River Pre-School: Rowley, MA

“rich environment for the wild spirit to flourish.” A psychologist by training, Olds became one of the world’s most significant contributors in the field of “space use” for children. It has been decades since I sat, as a grad school student, in her classes. Yet how clear it is that the parameters she set for designing kids’ spaces then, are consistent with what humans need now, regardless of our age.

Last week I visited Rockland, ME’s evolving Steel House.

Steel House: Rockland, ME
Steel House: Rockland, ME

Steel House light source
A place where artists (and teens and adults who can learn from them) will also flourish,Steel House view to the sea studio spaces are open, yet defined. Even on a gray day when only its founder was on site, light filled spaces on every level. Here whitewashed walls, ceilings that seem to reach the sky, and windows that look to the sea could make any one of our spirits dance. What I saw in these Steel House: studiospaces was all that I had Steel House wood shoplearned from Dr. Olds and gleaned most recently fromSteel House: work in progress Reggio -inspired classrooms.

“Space is an element that generates contact, along with evolution and transformation” writes Lella Gandini in The Hundred Languages of Children. Recognizing that social exchange, communication, cooperation, and even conflict, arise when learners share ideas or explore new directions,

Parker River's Entry
Parker River’s Entry

Gandini, like Olds, believes that

Steel House's entry
Steel House’s entry

small spaces must exist within larger ones. And an open “piazza,” or common space, whether in a school or shared studio, brings us together.

Ochre Musee Shop: Roussillon France
Ochre Museum Shop: Roussillon France

“The more (we) meet, the more ideas circulate. We might say that the ‘piazza’ is a place where ideas arrive and depart.” – Loris Malaguzzi

Girls shoes on displayBoys' shoesIn all spaces – their design, organization, and aesthetic appearance teach us. Materials, how we classify them and contain them, convey expectations, or at the very least, send a message  (how tempting it was to touch both girls’ shoes and boys’ shoes for sale in wheelbarrows outside a footwear shop.)Steel House: artist's studio space

Our spaces empower us. Relax us. Connect us. Focus us. Instruct us. They can satisfy our souls.

Thank you, Tom Weis, for taking me through Steel House and for helping me better understand the power of a creative space.


Steel House toolsNancy Harris FrohlichStudio: Bonnieux, France

Antique marche: Isle sur la Sorgue, France

One thought on “A Spirited Space

  1. Great photos, Nancy! Your post makes me want to go and see for myself. And it also makes me want to work in that space.

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