Rex Brodie Takes Harkness to the Next Level

Hired to oversee the development of Lawrenceville’s new maker space as Director of Design and Fabrication, this is not Rex Brodie’s first rodeo. Brodie brings more than 30 years of experience in art and design to Lawrenceville, including 20 years of instructional experience in independent schools, with specialties in fine woodworking, metal sculpting, digital fabrication, and robotics. He was most recently involved in the development of a maker space at University School in Ohio, then under the leadership of Head Master Steve Murray H’54 ’55 ’65 ’16 P’16 ’21.

This is a new position for Lawrenceville as the School prepares for the opening of the Gruss Center for Art and Design (GCAD) in January 2020, following the expansion of the Gruss Center of Visual Arts to incorporate a 15,000-square-foot creative design center and maker space. Brodie is working closely with the project staff to ensure that the form of the new center will support its intended function. Ultimately he will direct the GCAD fabrication labs, guiding student projects and collaborating with faculty on curricular initiatives incorporating GCAD’s capabilities.

“The Gruss Center for Art and Design will be a hub for creative activity on campus,” says Murray. “I watched Rex bring to life the creative design center at my previous school with a combination of engaging projects in his courses and compelling co-curricular programming. I look forward to seeing how he approaches this in such a remarkable new facility!”

“When the building is up and running, the majority of my time will be spent overseeing [the maker space] and keeping the doors open, which is going to be really important,” Brodie says, noting that he will be available to guide students on how to use the equipment and technology.

Brodie got his start in the art and design world as a child living in Nebraska. His father, who was a commercial artist for the University of Nebraska, would bring the young boy to his office, where Rex played with page layout and paste-up tools, the wax machine, and art materials.

“It was interesting to see the changes over time,” he recalls. “I watched computer desktop publishing technology totally disrupt that whole industry.”

Pursuing his interest in architecture and drafting, Brodie went on to study architecture at the University of Nebraska. In sculpture classes, he discovered a love for working with wood and moved east to study at Leeds Design Workshops, a school for the study of design and making of fine furniture, in Easthampton, Massachusetts.

“That was a transformative experience for me,” he says. “I can’t overstate how much it changed my life. There are indelible moments embedded in my sense memory – walking down the hall, into the bench room, all that activity. The open studio model of education that enabled us to learn by doing is what I still use in my teaching today.”

It was at Leeds that Brodie first learned about Lawrenceville. Furniture artist Silas W. Kopf ’68 was an instructor at Leeds, and Brodie says a number of his classmates were graduates of Lawrenceville and other prep schools.

“We learned traditional woodworking techniques and how to utilize machinery as we developed a high level of craftsmanship,” he says.

After working as a studio furniture maker for a number of years, Brodie and several other Leeds graduates opened a woodworking company. Interested in the design aspects of the business, Brodie, seeking to improve his design skills, enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, where he combined his interests by double-majoring in interior design and computer graphics. He later received a Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture from Savannah College of Art and Design.

Brodie began teaching after a friend working at Suffield Academy in Suffield, Connecticut, mentioned that the school was looking for a woodworking instructor. Rex welcomed the opportunity to teach at the high school level, paying forward the influence of his experience at Leeds.

“If I could offer to younger students something I wish I had experienced at their age as opposed to later in life, I thought that would be wonderful,” he says. “I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to share my passions for design and making with students and to see their pride in their accomplishments. When they walk out of the studio with a finished piece they conceived of, designed, and fabricated, it doesn’t get any better.”

Now, Brodie says, new technologies are bringing these opportunities to a wider audience than ever before.

“Today, you don’t have to spend half a year learning how to do traditional joinery before you can begin to construct something,” he says. “We live in an incredible time. With information at our fingertips and new fabrication equipment, students can learn how to make just about anything. I’ll be teaching them how to best utilize the information and machinery available to see their design ideas through to fruition.”

Brodie says his goal is for students to become literate in the technologies and know how to use them creatively to solve real-world problems.

“I see Gruss as a community center for innovation, collaboration and creativity, a hands-on extension of the Harkness table,” he says. “It’s not just about making digitally fabricated things. It’s about getting people from all disciplines to come together and do things that are creative. It’s really about bringing all the various disciplines together to use the technology in project-based, open-ended, student-driven learning experiences.”

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