Arnold Prince, 1925–2014

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Artist, author and former RISD faculty member Arnold Prince died peacefully in his Connecticut home on April 5 at the age of 89. An assistant professor in the Sculpture department from 1972–80, he was best known for his large-scale carvings in wood and stone and for his internationally distributed textbook Carving Wood and Stone: An Illustrated Manual (Prentice Hall, 1981). Prince immigrated to New York City in the 1950s from the island of Saint Kitts in the British West Indies, studied sculpture at the Art Students League of New York and began his teaching career at a Harlem high school.

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photos courtesy of RISD Archives

Although his tenure at RISD was short, his impact was lasting. “I had considered Ceramics as my major until I took a carving course with Arnold Prince,” writes alumna Betsy Weiss van Die 80 SC. “I was so taken with his Caribbean charm and teaching techniques that I changed my major to Sculpture. He was not only a great teacher and incredibly talented sculptor, but we became fast friends. I consider Arnold to be my most influential mentor at RISD.”

Prince went on to teach at North Adams State College in Massachusetts and earned a Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of Rhode Island (URI) in 2000. His bronze sculpture of Civil Rights leader Arthur Hardge is on permanent display in front of URI’s Multicultural Building.

A memorial celebration honoring Prince’s life will be held at Eastern Connecticut State University on Friday, June 6. 

Board Conducts Listening Tour

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Last week RISD Board of Trustees Chair Michael Spalter (center in the photo above) joined students in the Tap Room for the monthly Student Alliance meeting, as one of several stops on a “listening tour” the Board is conducting to inform its developing plans for the search for RISD’s 17th president. Seated next to student leaders Rosa Glenn 14 TX, head of the undergraduate Student Alliance, and Diana Wagner MID 14, head of the Graduate Student Alliance, he gave students an overview of the Board’s work to date and then asked for their input.

To get the conversation rolling, Spalter pointed to a young man in the audience and asked, “What qualities would you like to see in RISD’s next president?” The student responded that the ideal president would be “radically honest” and “unafraid of expressing a unique vision.” A lively, extended conversation with students followed as the Board chair drew out a long list of desired qualities.

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Spalter went on to explain that the Board has been engaging in similar conversations with all facets of the RISD community. In addition to seeking input from students, this month he met with members of RISD’s Staff Council, the Alumni Council, the Parents’ Council and the Part-Time Faculty Association. Earlier he had gathered input at a regular Faculty Meeting, as well as at a meeting of the Museum Board of Governors. The Board has also surveyed alumni and parents to receive additional feedback.

In the meantime, a small working group of trustees has been reviewing potential search firms RISD may wish to engage and will make recommendations to the full Board for final approval. “[Board members] are taking these steps because we are committed to the principles of transparency of process, open communication and inclusivity in conducting the search,” Spalter told students. “We hope to make this search a true model for how presidential searches should be operated.” Next steps include hiring the search firm and appointing a search committee representative of all members of the RISD community. 

New Perspective on Cosmic Questions

If you want to put things in perspective, tune in to Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the new science series Seth MacFarlane 95 FAV helped revive this spring. And maybe you already have.

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Since it got off the ground with a ton of hype last month, MacFarlane’s new Cosmos seems to be hitting a chord with viewers in all 181 countries where it currently airs. While it’s a lot glitzier than its predecessor – the late Carl Sagan’s popular 13-part PBS series from 1980 – the show does a great job of reminding us of our relative insignificance living on this “small speck of dust” we call earth.

As executive producer and prime mover, MacFarlane (second from right above) got the blessing of Fox – home base for his animated sitcom Family Guy – and teamed up with Sagan’s original creative collaborators: his wife and writer/executive producer Ann Druyan and co-writer/astronomer Steven Soter, who invited astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to stand in for Sagan.

As Forbes points out in this video made prior to the launch of the new Cosmos, MacFarlane is known more for the raunchy humor of his TV shows and movies like Ted than for his true interest in science. But he says the motivation for co-producing this impressive new take on the Cosmos concept stems from his reverence for the series he loved as a kid. 

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Carl Sagan hosting Cosmos in 1980

Cosmos addressed questions that every human being has, whether they think about them on a mathematical level or just as a layman,” MacFarlane said in an interview quoted in the New York Times. “It presented them in a wonderfully candy-coated way for those of us who are not scientists, and yet it didn’t dumb anything down.”

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Neil deGrasse Tyson hosts the new version of Cosmos

“No matter what you think of everything else [MacFarlane has] done,” writes a critic for The Wrap, “I think you’d have to agree: He’s using his power for good. Cosmos appeals to all our best instincts. It invites us to dream our biggest dreams, set our intellect free and come lay out under the vast twinkling sky.”

In the middle of a dusty race track, Thor Oren 14 SC feverishly struggles to release the front wheel of his human-powered rover from the clutches of an unforgiving sandpit. But cranking on the pedals, he only sinks further into the trench. Eventually the lanky sculptor hops off his seat, yanks the vehicle onto solid ground and speeds away from the troublesome terrain as fast as he can. 

Oren and his peers were competing in the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge (formerly known as the NASA Great Moonbuggy Race), a competition last Friday at the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. More than 90 colleges from around the world entered their designs for a lightweight, two-person rover intended to race along a half-mile track meant to simulate Martian terrain – with plenty of rocks, craters and shifting sand. The challenge addresses the real mechanical problems NASA engineers face when preparing for actual exploration missions.

In preparation for the competition, the RISD team practically camped out in the ID Metal Shop over spring break, working nonstop with acetylene torches and brazing tools. They hammered out a series of iterations before constructing a steel-framed rover that weighs in at 45 kilograms (see top photo). “It’s incredibly light compared to other teams’ [vehicles],” notes Senior Critic Michael Lye 96 ID, who advised students on their entry. “We were really pleased with the efficiency of the design.”

In addition to keeping up a breakneck pace to prepare the vehicle for the competition, the venture was full of excitement. At one point during the race, the rover smashed into a large obstacle, which ended up damaging a wheel chain, along with its overall race times. But RISD students were thrilled to win the Crash and Burn Award, an accolade reserved for the team that recovers from the worst breakdown. 

“Students learned how to fix problems when they arise in a complicated mechanical system,” explains Lye. “That’s an invaluable experience.” 

Click here to watch a video of the Rover Challenge awards ceremony.

 

Drawing Life

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Boston-based illustrator Natalya Zahn 01 IL clearly has an eye for animals, building on her lifelong love of wildlife to specialize in visualizing all kinds of natural phenomena – from tapirs to the anatomical differences in the way various animals breathe to how salamanders hatch and grow.

In fact, “animals are my jam and I spend inordinate amounts of time seeking them out (live or not so alive) to study and draw,” the illustrator points out. 

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Zahn is also a true dog lover, as the sketches and editorial work she shares on her site show. And her greatest love – her Rhodesian Ridgeback, Oscar – not only accompanies her to the studio every day, he’s the inspiration behind her wonderful blog Oscar Ate My Muffin. 

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Last month Zahn posted this – capturing the pure bliss of a dog with his donut (aka Oscar after downing a decadent maple-glazed bacon delight on his birthday).

Students in an EPSCoR studio taught by Digital + Media Critic Brian House and Foundation Studies Critic Bryan Quinn are grappling with how to develop an ecocentric approach to design and everyday life. Through readings, lectures by visiting artists and wildlife biologists, and hands-on field research of migrating marine ducks, students enrolled in The Art and Science of Ecocentric Practices are attempting to piece together their own view of our place in the natural world.

Last Friday they learned about the work of Brooklyn-based interdisciplinary artist Ellie Irons, who discussed her ongoing quest “to reframe nature as ecology, locating humans in an all-encompassing, inescapable network of melting ice, shifting populations and evolving technology.”

Click on the photos above for caption information and stay tuned for more details about student projects to be completed at the end of the semester. 

Out of the Box

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Last weekend the Providence Ballet Theatre premiered The Magic Box, a new piece by choreographer Eva Marie Pacheco and composer Roger Seitz. RISD students created the set design and costumes in a Wintersession studio taught by Sculpture Critic Jane South and Interior Architecture Critic and Brown Theatre Arts and Performance Studies Lecturer Michael McGarty. Funding for the studio came from RISD’s newly launched Robert L. Turner Theatrical and Performance Design initiative, backed by NYC-based theater aficianado Robert Turner 74 IL.

Making Mass More Accessible

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Does your latest find for the iPad come with the blessing of an archbishop? Mass Explained, a new app Daniel Gonzalez 93 GD created to explain the Roman Catholic Mass, is the first to receive a doctrinal imprimatur from Archbishop Thomas Wenski, along with approval from the US bishops’ Committee on Divine Worship.

Gonzalez has spent the better part of 20 years working to understand the most fundamental Catholic rituals in preparation for launching Mass Explained in January. Since then, the app has been downloaded in 30 countries and reviews are over-the-top ecstatic, from “knocked me off my feet” to “without question the most elegant, content-rich, beautiful app for the iPad that I have come across.”

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“I was really stunned by how good the layout is along with all the graphic media found on every page,” writes Jeff Miller on The Curt Jester. “This is a very beautiful app…I am extremely impressed.”

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Shaking Things Up

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Experimental visual artist Janine Antoni MFA 89 SC – a MacArthur genius award winner and the 2003 recipient of RISD’s Alumni Award for Artistic Achievement – has been collaborating with dancer and choreographer Stephen Petronio in a very fruitful and mutually inspiring way.

Earlier this month Petronio premiered the results of their latest collaboration – a solo piece called Stripped – at the Joyce Theater in New York City. Set to composer Philip Glass’ Etude No. 5, the dance relies on a “costumed intervention” by Antoni in the form of a collection of men’s ties sewn together as a kind of headpiece for Petronio. 

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Last year the two artists collaborated on Like Lazarus Did, a dance in which Antoni lay suspended above the audience as a “living set.” They also pursued the evocation of birth suggested by that piece in a subsequent video called Honey Baby, which has been exhibited with her installations. 

In the video above – shot for Art21– the two artists talk about the advantages of blurring the roles of choreographer and visual artist, noting that they plan to continue to work together on other projects. As a recent story in The New York Times points out, they like that they “shake each other up.”

On Empathy and Making

In the TEDx talk Seung Chan (Slim) Lim MFA 11 GD recently delivered at Wellesley College, he speaks about how empathy fuels the creative process – a topic he began exploring while at RISD. He published a book on the subject, Realizing Empathy: An Inquiry Into the Meaning of Making, in 2013.

“As a designer I must find ways to harness the most complex of technologies into an experience that is not only pleasant, but also empowering and meaningful,” says Lim. “I have learned that making things is analogous to engaging in an empathic conversation with another person.” 

RISD Educators Earn Science Awards

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This morning Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee visited the Fleet Library at RISD to present the 2014 RI Science & Technology Advisory Council (STAC) awards. The grants facilitate collaborative research among the state’s institutions of higher education and support STAC’s partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF). This year’s seven winning research teams were awarded a total of $806,000 to study how marine life in Narragansett Bay is responding to climate change. Nature Lab Director Neal Overstrom, Head of Landscape Architecture Scheri Fultineer and Sculpture  Lecturer Edythe Wright are all members of the winning research teams.

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Neal Overstrom (left), director of the Nature Lab, represents his research team at today’s awards ceremony.

“RISD values creative problem solving, critical thinking and an openness to risk and uncertainty – fundamental and necessary skills in developing innovative approaches to the world’s most challenging problems,” noted interim President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID in the accompanying press release. “These STAC grant awards represent our belief that bringing art and design together with STEM disciplines can have a transformative effect on education, innovation and economic development.”

At the ceremony, Governor Chafee noted that the $9.3 million the state has invested in the program to date has yielded $36 million in matching grants and federal funding, thus boosting the local economy. Interim Provost Pradeep Sharma, who was on hand to welcome the crowd, noted that “diversity is at the core of creativity, and these awards are a testament to the power of diverse teams.”

 

Will Throw for Food

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Ceramics students at Marshall University have crafted 1,200 bowls in preparation for tomorrow’s 11th annual Empty Bowls food bank fundraiser in Huntington, WV. Assistant Professor of Art Frederick Bartolovic MFA 06 CR is once again leading the students in their drive to feed the hungry. “It is a great honor to organize this production effort,” he said. “The problem of hunger in our own community is at times hard to believe. Empty Bowls is an opportunity for Marshall students to help the community, to see that art can make a difference!” Visitors at the event will purchase bowls for $15 each, and the food bank’s director of development estimates that the proceeds will provide more than 100,000 meals in the coming year. 

Polish Prose

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On Monday night, celebrated Polish painter and writer Grzegorz Wróblewski recited some of his gripping prose poetry in the Chace Center’s Metcalf Auditorium. The multi-talented artist read from Kopenhaga, a comprehensive collection of work inspired by the joys and difficulties he experiences as an immigrant living in Denmark. Piotr Gwiazda, an English professor at the University of Maryland, attended the event to read aloud his own English translations of the text.

Some of Wróblewski’s more humorous literary vignettes poke fun at the absurdities of everyday life. Other pieces are introspective musings on humans’ capacity to commit atrocious acts. “What terrifies me in Denmark – the land of Bohr and Kierkegaard, a caring tolerate state with a high standard of living? What terrifies me is Homo sapiens,” he noted.

The author also gave some pointed advice for beginning writers. “If an editor doesn’t respond [to your work], you need to calmly drain two bottles of cheap wine and discuss the matter with local pigeons,” he quipped.

After the reading, a student asked how his painting process influences his writing. “I find that I go between both mediums fluently,” Wróblewski responded. “Art fuels my writing in interesting and unexpected ways.”

Alum Designs Eclectic Extravaganza

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Harper’s Bazaar recently ran a feature about the incredible restoration of designers Keith Johnson and Glen Senk’s Greenwich Village home – an over-the-top tribute to their shared love of horses and corgis led by Brooklyn architect Dana Laudani BArch 91. The five-story 1852 Anglo-Italianate townhouse had been divided into apartments, so Laudani’s first order of business was turning it back into a single-family residence. The home features a Gothic library, 10 fireplaces, Victorian-era marble fireplace surrounds with antique English and French mantelpieces, hand-painted murals by students at the New York Studio School and a fully restored gilded Art Deco bar.

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“The clients are collectors of fine art and eclectic decorative arts,” says Laudani. “RISD provided me with the perfect background for this type of high-end residential work – integrating fine art, architecture, decorative arts, craft and construction.”

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Molly Hatch, an adjunct faculty member in Ceramics,also contributed to the project, creating unique blue and white tile designs for the home’s amazing kitchen, complete with wood-burning fireplace and paving stones imported from the streets of Bologna, Italy.

Photos, top to bottom: MiddleWay, Boogle, Flavia and NeverMind

Sculpture Department Head Dean Snyder is preparing for a solo show at Providence’s Cade Tompkins Projects, which will be on view from April 26 through June 20. The exhibition will feature Snyder’s recent sculpture, including such signature pieces as Flavia (2012), NeverMind (2013) and MiddleWay (2014). “All of the works in the upcoming exhibition are members of a body of work focused on seduction—entrapment,” says Snyder. “The newer sculptures are more ‘engineered’ in process and more graphically akin to the way I make drawings.” Snyder was a Guggenheim Fellow in 2013 and resident artist at Italy’s Siena Art Institute in 2012. Boogle, a sculpture commissioned in marble by the 2008 Olympic Committee, is on permanent display in Beijing, China.