From a playground in a state of disrepair, to a living sculpture for children to play on.

Once there was a playground in a state of disrepair. Flat, dusty, narrow areas, lacking color and life-–a barren place, having only one set of swings, a circular slide, and one functional parallel bar. But this yard was home for a part of each day to many children with urgent needs. When funds became available for a new school building, it was decided that the yard should be an intrinsic part of the total school environment. 

Caring, loving and far-sighted people are the decision-makers at the Dubnoff School. These are the people who wisely chose a very special type of person to create a play-yard, which would emphasize life, freedom and learning and would foster an illusion of space. Mrs. Belle Dubnoff, Director and Mrs. Irene Chambers, Assistant Director of the Dubnoff School, asked sculptor Natalie Krol to undertake planning, designing and full responsibility for a unique playground. Ms. Krol was told that there must be no tunnels or nesting places in which children could retreat or withdraw. Everything had to be open and airy. Swings were discouraged. It was important that the yard equipment help children learn the concepts of: up and down, high and higher, side to side, the idea of left to right, back, front and behind. Also to be emphasized was overcoming fears of height and a fear of crossing from one bench to another. In addition stimuli were needed for tactile sensations—i.e. hardness, softness, toughness, smoothness, warmth, and cold. There was a need for visual stimulation. Could Ms. Krol fulfill all of these needs on a limited budget? Not only could she, but she did! 

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Studying the needs of the children and the actual site of the play area Ms. Krol was able to formulate her plans, she had kept in mind that the playground must not only be attractive, but that it must really work for the children in terms of enhancing body development and motor skills, a very important part of the Dubnoff program.

When work was finally ready to start, there was a feeling of enthusiasm, excitement and a sense of dedication not often found on work sites. Ms. Krol felt that the old equipment should be relocated and the grounds bulldozed into sculptured mounds. With the help of Larry Moline, landscape architect, areas began to emerge. Mr. Moline worked with Ms. Krol to create the necessary textural changes.

Concrete, steel, sand, grass, stones, wood, and the use of color (in plants and flowering trees as well as murals along outdoor walls) were lovingly interwoven into the school’s total environment, resulting in a harmonious and delightful tying together of the entire plant. Two abstract families were envisioned to serve various functions. The families were formed, one in concrete and one in steel, using ramps and angles as aids for climbing.

A highly unusual 25 foot circular, sand play area, was designed by Ms. Krol to surround the 8 foot concrete sculpture, “Ring Around The Rosy”, depicting family life. Sculptural holes and angles give this work of art the lure that all specially designed climbing equipment has for children.

But it is different because now the children will be climbing up a mommy’s arm, sitting in the hole in daddy’s tummy, standing side by side with the baby, or climbing from baby sibling to mother to father and finally jumping off. And children are jumping off…children whose previous phobias prevented them from being free!

Also included in this play area were 7 tons of ocean washed stones, personally selected by the artist to be placed so that children could sit, stand, slide, and play on them without the danger of jagged edges.

Around this area, and all the areas that followed, are grass and round, wooden stepping stones, carefully placed so that children may skip along on them with ease.

Ms. Krol feels that by translating the human form into a plaything, she has created a living sculpture. In this, she has succeeded! Norman Gonzales did the concrete work on the school and the concrete sculpture.

playground1The second family sculpture was welded out of steel, with the help of donated labor by Mr. Bill Singlehurst, who also installed all of the steel sculptures. This “London Bridge” sculpture continues the theme of family. Like it’s predecessor, it is abstract, but is painted a bright fuchsia having been incorporated into the vivid color scheme of the school itself. This sculpture stands on grass. Ms. Krol has created massive sculpture with a delicate look allowing space throughout. The narrow corridor sprang to life. A third piece, designed to meet special needs, was a large welded climber, painted in bright colors with numerous body building challenges built in. A tall bar tower has two ropes suspended from the top. One is knotted at pre-measured intervals for ease in climbing. The final piece to go into the yard was again a first, designed by Ms. Krol. A crow’s nest adorns the top of the structure, which is rectangular in form with an internal ladder to climb up and two poles to slide down. The platform on top of the crow’s nest invites much imaginative play.

The final touches to the yard were again unique. Ms. Krol outlined flowers, birds, bees, insects, etc. on the outdoor walls and the staff enthusiastically filled them in, painting the walls with all the colors used inside the new building. The objects are simple and draw many a child’s eye.

Also along these walls, she placed low balancing bars made from I-beams and again, painted in vivid colors. The I-beams are placed at varying heights to encourage children to try one step further. The yard’s environment, due to the design of sculpture, the placement of grass and trees, and the interest in total design and effect, has created an exceptionally inviting and tranquil atmosphere. Teachers at the Dubnoff School were unanimous in saying that this had been the most peaceful and productive summer ever. A great deal of the credit must go to Natalie Krol.

 

 

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Written by Dr. Barbara Bogen Lovell

Certified teacher in Early Childhood Education

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I created a total of four sculpture playgrounds in California,
some of which is still being used today. This one was
in Westwood Park, Los Angeles.