Monday, October 31, 2011

An Interview with Bonnie Schultz Platzer

Meet Bonnie Schultz Platzer, a former Museum AmeriCorps member who curated the selection of handmade toys now on display from ChildFund International's exhibit "The Power to Play: From Trash to Treasure."

What’s your background? 
I served with the Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa from 1969 to 1971, after graduating from college, then again in Morocco from 2006 to 2008.  Before Morocco, I had been working with seniors, doing activities in nursing homes and assisted living.  In the Peace Corps, I was working more with mothers and young children and I thought it would be interesting to see if I could do something more with children. When I came back, I wanted to continue working for a non-profit organization and Providence Children’s Museum intrigued and impressed me.

Describe your year of AmeriCorps service.
I was on the team that created activities for preschool children at Head Start centers, led them on field trips to the Museum, and organized family nights to encourage parents to bring children back to the Museum throughout the year.  Everything in the classroom was wonderful: having children looking at you with excitement and concentration as you lead an activity and tell a story; their attention to and delight in everything we brought to them.  On field trips, they were so excited to be at the Museum, they could hardly contain themselves.

It was satisfying to see children who were given a chance to enjoy a school setting in preparation for kindergarten, interesting to see the situation teachers face in preparing them for school, and wonderful to meet the parents who were giving their children opportunities for the future.

Talk about your weaving that hangs in Discovery Studio.
In West Africa, I was fascinated by the beauty of textiles and started taking classes in spinning and weaving.  I studied Gobelin tapestry weaving techniques that enabled me to produce woven portraits, including so many images that had affected me during my travels that I wanted to convey.

When I returned to Rhode Island, I wove portraits including a little girl at the Hope Street farmer’s market, which took about a year. Children have always caught my eye, and I was struck by the diversity of the people who came to the farmer’s market.  This weaving brings together my interests in children and Rhode Island-grown food.

The Museum is a place of discovery, and I love having it hang here and having people respond to the image.  I love the connection to something that women have done from the beginning of time; it makes me proud to continue that tradition.

What inspired you to bring The Power to Play exhibit to the Museum?
When I saw the Museum’s ramp boxes, I thought about a toy exhibit my late brother initiated when he worked for ChildFund International.  My brother and I lived in Kenya for a few years and, on a later trip, a child gave him a boat made from a flip-flop.  He was struck that, in the midst of a traumatic situation, this child still had the need to play.  [ChildFund] put out a request for toys made by children around the globe and they started pouring in.

Bonnie's brother, John Schultz, with children and their toys in Sri Lanka, 2005.

I was struck by how similar the goals of ChildFund’s exhibit were to the Museum’s: helping children thrive, meeting the needs of children in the community, giving kids a safe environment to play and learn.  And for all children to feel welcome in that environment.

How did the project progress?
We weren’t able to see the toys first, so we selected 20 that would fit in the cases and also represented diversity of cultures and of purpose – plus some larger toys to display in the lobby.  Then we thought about how to show them off using materials that are either recycled – since all of the toys are made from bits and pieces kids found around them – or that kids might find in their countries, like raffia, jute or bamboo.

RISD intern Jessica Kleinman worked with Bonnie to make bases for some of the toys from recycled materials.

I’m very pleased that the Museum was open to the idea and that ChildFund International was excited to have the exhibit here.  I hope the international community in Providence will come to see it and feel this is a place for them.

1 comment:

Amy Dickinson said...

Great interview and a great exhibit. It's amazing to see what people can create with a little imagination, and it gives me a number of practical ideas for parents and educators who often tell me they don't have the resources to create rich opportunities for play. Making toys like these is play itself!