Education has always played an important role in the mission of the Cleveland Museum of Art. When the museum opened in 1916 one of the two spaces on the museum's ground floor, dedicated to work with children, was the Children's Museum. The goals of the Children's Museum were to foster a "love and knowledge of art,"1 stimulate children's imaginations, and provide visual representations of school lessons in design, history and geography.2 The space was filled with child-sized tables and chairs and stocked with paper and crayons to encourage drawing.
The most popular sources of inspiration for drawings in the Children's Room were the natural history collections and ethnological models. A display of moths and butterflies attracted crowds of children with their vibrant colors. The butterfly collection, donated by Mrs. E.T.C. Miller, was arranged for beauty and design, not scientific significance.
Nature models by Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Thayer depicted insects, birds and mammals in their natural environment and interpreted the colors and patterns as protective devices of nature. The Thayer models were transferred to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in 1935.
Ethnological models by Dwight Franklin also inspired many drawings. One series of three models showed life in three remote regions of the earth: Eskimos attacking a polar bear, Arabs and camels at an oasis in the desert, and a primitive home in the tropical jungle. A second series of six models depicted the evolution of man through the Stone Age, dynasties of Egypt, classical antiquity, middle ages, and the present. The Franklin models, which were donated by Mrs. R. Henry Norweb and Mrs. J. K. McDowell, were also transferred to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in 1949.
In addition to the models, the Children's Museum also held small art exhibitions. Some of the exhibitions were in connection with the ethnological models, showing the forms of art produced by people living in the regions depicted. Others were rotating exhibitions of art that would be of special interest to children, such as animal sculptures, dolls, children's book illustrations, and musical instruments.
The Children's Museum was a favorite project of Frederic A. Whiting, the museum's first director. As the number of education programs and their attendance continued to expand and outgrow the space available, Whiting was committed to the idea of building a separate building on the west side of the museum to house the Children's Museum. The new Children's Museum would include classrooms, exhibition gallery for the education collection, auditorium with stage and property rooms, a children's art library, room for filing children's drawings, lunch room, conservatory, and an outdoor natural amphitheater for plays and musical performances.3 He was ultimately unsuccessful in raising the required funds for the building project and by 1926 the plans were shelved.
Due to ever increasing demand for education space the Children's Museum was converted to classrooms by 1952. The need for more space was finally alleviated when the Breuer wing opened in 1971 and was dedicated to arts education. The Breuer wing was renovated and re-dedicated as the Center for Arts Education in 2006.
1. "Educational Work of the Cleveland Museum of Art," April 1927.
2. "Opening of the Museum: Children's Museum," The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art. February 1916, p 3.
3. Records of the Director's Office: Frederic Allen Whiting, "Children's Museum, 1921-1926" Memo Mrs. Dunn to the Director, 8 February 1924