Considering the Future of Footwear

A five-day international symposium exploring the future of footwear and new research with leather kicks off at RISD tomorrow, October 22, and continues through this Sunday, the 26th. Called Leather. Footwear. Futures, it will present new processes and innovative materials, historical traditions, artisan workshops and more.  

“This will be an explosion from the many tiers of the shoemaking industry, leather industry and pioneered research of new materials,” notes Assistant Professor of Apparel Design Kathleen Grevers, who is coordinating the event. “The symposium includes a diverse group of speakers and workshops that we are pleased to bring to RISD to connect with our own artists and designers on campus.”

The symposium will also feature a variety of related exhibitions, including inspirational shoes from three of RISD’s own shoemaking programs.

You’ll find the complete schedule and registration information online.

At last Sunday’s Eat the World street fair, Mariam Quraishi 15 IL, the co-president of RISD Global Initiative (GI), takes a break from sampling international dishes to share a morsel of insight. “I think the United Nations should solve all world problems over a home-cooked meal,” she says with a smile. “Food is one of the most simple ways to deeply connect people to foreign cultures. And everyone thinks better on a full stomach.”

With the help of a spirited team, Quraishi organized the afternoon event full of music, dancing and cuisine from 25 countries represented at RISD. More than 1,000 people from the surrounding area strolled along Benefit Street to sample delicious edibles and enjoy cultural performances, including Taiko drumming and JALWA!, a Bollywood dance troupe.

In front of the RISD Museum, Heini Korhonen 16 IL (top photo) manned a booth celebrating her native Finland. The illustrator was busy dolling out karjalanpiirakka, a rice-porridge-stuffed pastry topped with a mix of crumbled hard-boiled eggs and butter. At a table representing Belize, Hannah Choi 15 FD handed visitors tostones, a variation of fried plantain slices.

To get prepped for the spirited event, Farah Abdelhamid 15 JM (second from bottom) touched base with her grandmother in Egypt, who gave her detailed instructions on how to make foul medames mix, a traditional breakfast dish of fava beans, minced tomatoes and cured cucumbers.

“No one believes me that I can pickle food – but I have the jars to prove it,” explains Abdelhamid with a smile. “I’ve really enjoyed sharing my family’s recipes with the RISD community. It’s a special day.”

RISD Feminists Speak Out

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Wearing a look of determination, Joanna Claessens 18 FS neatly writes a powerful statement on a whiteboard: “As an aspiring filmmaker in 2014, I’m not going to receive the same benefits as my male counterparts. F*** that noise.” The Foundation Studies student caps the pen and tilts her chin toward Ocean Wong 17 IL, who takes a picture – and with a quick flash, a piece of political art is made.

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The commanding portrait was one of many taken over the weekend during a photo shoot hosted by RISD Feminists, a new student org dedicated to gender equality. Students from all majors dropped by Ewing House to write down personal reasons for advocating for women’s rights. The arresting images will eventually be used in a campus-wide poster campaign to promote awareness and garner support.

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Rebecca Richards 16 IL, who joined the group at the start of the semester, notes that more than half of her friends have been sexually assaulted or harassed. “Anyone who says women are considered unequivocally equal [in society] just isn’t paying attention,” she says. “There’s a lot more work to be done.”

Reconsidering the Ancient Impact of Blue

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Double Take: Color – a series of lunchtime talks this fall at the RISD Museum ­– kicked off last Friday in the Ancient Egyptian Galleries, where the conversation was inspired by an ancient, finely crafted ceramic paint box on display in the gallery.

Supported by the Brown RISD Committee on Institutional Collaboration (BRCIC), the series pairs specialists from various fields who are able to offer differing views on specific objects. In this case, object conservator Mimi Leveque teamed up with Brown Chemistry Professor Paul Williard to lead a discussion about the pigment known as Egyptian blue. 

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As Williard explained, Egyptian blue was a synthetic pigment made of silica (or sand), copper and calcium, and used on everything from papyrus to objects to the walls of tombs for approximately 3,000 years – right up until the beginning of the Middle Ages, when it abruptly disappeared. “Why,” Leveque wondered aloud, “did the pigment vanish? Was the recipe lost or mistranslated?”

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Leveque passed around samples of her recent reproduction studies, in which she attempted to re-create these ancient blue pigments using controlled heat and materials such as copper carbonate. Egyptian sand, she pointed out, is brown in color and would have led to a muddier hue. Instead, ancient artists created Egyptian blue using pounded quartz, which she can confirm is no easy feat.

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The next DOUBLE TAKE conversation focuses on Cobalt/Enamel and will take place on Sunday, October 26 at 1 pm.

TV Talk from Alum Amy Devers

When Amy Devers MFA 01 FD returned to RISD as the keynote speaker at RISD by Design weekend, she came to talk about How RISD Prepared Me for a Career I Didn’t Even Know I Wanted (not an atypical thing, as many alumni will attest).

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The furniture designer-turned-TV-personality presented a clip-filled overview of her career, noting that she went to her first casting call more or less on a whim, armed with rhinestone safety glasses and legitimate making skills but no on-camera experience. After all, she had moved to Los Angeles and always harbored dreams of “becoming a star,” so why not?

Much to her surprise, Devers landed the job co-hosting a how-to home-improvement series on the then-fledgling DIY Network. A decade later, she has done more than 10 TV and web series and is now co-hosting Fix This Yard on A&E, design/building solutions on OWN’s Home Made Simple and talking about growing and preparing food on Victory Garden’s edibleFEAST on PBS. 

During the short Q&A session that followed, when a parent asked Devers what advice she had for a Furniture Design senior who will graduate this spring, she suggested new grads try something they’ve always been curious about and push beyond their comfort zone and figure it out from there.

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Kevin Jankowski 88 IL, associate director of career programs, introduced Devers and listened intently as she talked about her career path.

When President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID, one of her former professors and then head of the Furniture Design department, asked what one TV series she would really love to host, Devers paused a moment and then with her signature effervescence, responded with: “A show where I could go deep with little known designer/makers around the world – Anthony Bourdain-style.”

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President Somerson and Amy Devers MFA 01 FD reconnect at RbD weekend.

photos by Matthew Watson 09 FAV

Good News re: RISD Architecture

In a promotional piece posted by architectural shelving company Rakks, undergraduate Aashman Goghari BArch 15 (pictured below) shares his take on what makes RISD’s Architecture program so special. “Each professor has a nuanced and unique understanding of the profession,” he says, “thus providing a wealth of possible interpretations of the role of architecture in our lives and specifically in the 21st century.”

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The graduate Architecture program has also been in the spotlight recently, with Jim Bogle MArch 13 (below) featured in a front-page story in this month’s Archinect magazine. The piece looks at the typical challenges architects face when transitioning from college to professional practice.

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“The principals [of Studio Luz in Boston] put a great deal of trust in me, which I appreciate,” Bogle tells Archinect reporter Sean Smith. “I was able to speak as a project manager of sorts at client meetings months earlier than some of my peers. Of course, there is an increased workload that comes with that privilege, but it was in no way too much.”

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Bogle’s thesis project, a proposed renovation to the UN’s headquarters, is pictured in the ARCHINECT story.

RISD Welcomes Design Thinker Susan Szenasy

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Longtime Metropolis editor-in-chief Susan Szenasy will join President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID and Provost Pradeep Sharma on Monday, October 27, for a Shared Voices panel discussion on ethical, sustainable design practices.

A writer, teacher, filmmaker and lecturer, Szenasy has led the charge on issues ranging from universal design to consumer excess to the social and environmental impacts of modern-day buildings and products. At RISD she will sign copies of her new book, Szenasy, Design Advocatewhich offers a collection of her writing and talks from the past 30 years.

Now in its fourth season, RISD’s Shared Voices presidential speaker series welcomes top designers, scholars and thinkers to campus for an open exchange of ideas. The conversation with Szenasy – which is free and open to the public – will take place at 6 pm at the Fleet Library at RISD and be live-streamed for those unable to attend in person.

Author/Illustrators Connect with Kids

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Young book lovers and their parents ducked out of the rain and into the Illustration Studies Building last Saturday to hear award-winning RISD authors and illustrators read from their latest children’s books. Illustrator Mary Jane Begin 85 IL, a senior critic in Illustration with work in the current faculty exhibition at the ISB, captivated her young audience.

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The popular RISD Reads event during RISD by Design weekend also featured readings by Illustration faculty members Kelly Murphy 99 IL, Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges 66 IL and Marc Rosenthal.

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LEGO Education Inspires Playful Learning

This Saturday, October 18, from 10 am to 1 pm RISD is hosting RISD-LEGO-Learn, an exploratory event for students – and other interested community members – in conjunction with a new partnership with LEGO Education, the education division of The LEGO® Group based in Billund, Denmark.

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Assistant Professor of Industrial Design Cas Holman and Associate Professor Nicole Merola, head of Literary Arts + Studies, are hosting the event as a precursor to a LEGO Education-sponsored interdisciplinary academic research project they’re leading this Wintersession and spring semester. Through the project students will investigate the interplay between digital and analog modalities – and how they can most productively inform each other. 

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Guest speaker Edith Ackermann from the MIT Media Lab will get the play-full workshop off to the right start by talking about the role of play in learning, especially in an increasingly digital world. “When it comes to learning and creative uses of technologies, children have more to teach adults than adults do children,” she says.  

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photo courtesy of LEGO Education

Guest speaker Cathy Helgoe, a senior educational specialist from LEGO Education, will then introduce the company’s approach to integrating digital and analog methods of exploration, talking about her work with the popular LEGO MINDSTORMS series and recently launched LEGO Education MoreToMath 1–2 educational resource.

Students will then be set loose to play with LEGO Education’s LearnToLearn, a classroom solution developed by teachers that shows educators how to effectively integrate LEGO bricks into diverse areas of their curricula in order to develop skills children need in today’s world.

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During the half-day event, Holman and Merola will also speak about the LEGO Education-inspired Wintersession and spring courses they’ve planned and discuss the underlying research questions behind them.

Be sure to sign up in advance if you’re interested in participating in this Saturday’s RISD-LEGO-Learn workshop.

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photo courtesy of LEGO Education

Fabulous Faculty Show Now at ISB

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At an opening last week in the ISB Gallery, a gray-toned print by Professor Jean Blackburn 79 PT coaxed a shy smile from Elena Mertus (above), who was taken with the intensity of the untitled piece. “There’s something very simple yet captivating about the image,” notes Mertus. “I couldn’t help but stop and get a good look.”

The print is one of many dazzling works featured in the Illustration Faculty Exhibition on view through October 31. At the opening reception, visitors lingered in front of oil paintings, colored pencil drawings and charcoal sketches.

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Zander Mattaway 14 ID and Carlos Rosales 14 IL (above) dropped by the show to take a closer look at masterful personal work by their teachers – including Light and Air: the Pantheon, a painting by Jason Brockert 94 IL. Both are impressed with the coloring of the piece.

“There’s a warm undercoat but the exterior is cool, which creates a neutral temperature,” notes Mattaway. “And the yellows really pop – especially when viewed from afar.”

Crystalline Dreams

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Architecture Critic Niccolo Casas recently collaborated with Dutch fashiontech designer Iris van Herpen on this futuristic, 3D-printed crystalline bustier dress, which hit the runway at Paris Fashion Week in late September. It was shown as part of van Herpen’s spring/summer 2015 Magnetic Motion collection.

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The dress was created using a stereolithography technique in which a beam of ultraviolet light is used to harden a liquid photopolymer one layer at a time. van Herpen explains that the collection was inspired by a visit to Swiss research facility CERN, where she watched the renowned Large Hadron Collider at work.

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This is not the first time that Casas’ 3D-printed creations have been in the news. Last year the Italian designer/architect worked with fashion designer Anouk Wipprecht to create Smoke Dress (above) ­– another high-profile 3D-printed garment ­– and Light (below), an inspired wearable tech component for the world-renowned Cirque du Soleil.

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Welcome Home

In this new video, Apparel Design students and faculty members Catherine Andreozzi and Meg DeCubellis talk about why their new studios at 189 Canal Street work so well for them.

Recent grads Andreas Nicholas 13 FAV and Andrew Migliori 13 FAV, partners in the local video production company AnderImage, created the film, with assistance from cinematographer Paul Bertolino 13 FAV and working with RISD’s Media Group to produce it.

Crouched low on the concrete floor of RISD’s foundry, Amy Rubinstein 17 SC (middle left photo) slams her welding helmet shut and fires up an acetaline torch. With quick motions, the sophomore attaches twisted steel rods to the bottom of a sculpture lined with serrated metal plates. As a last step, she attaches a sturdy ring to the side of the sharp installation.

“I needed a way to secure this piece to the ground,” she explains while wiping away a dark smudge on her face. “After I’m done, it will be connected to five other metal works outside the studio.”

As part of last Saturday’s Open Studiosa highlight of RISD by Design weekend – Rubinstein hosted a live demo with a small team of Sculpture majors hunkered in the Metcalf Building. As punchy rock music reverberated off the foundry walls, visiting families watched the group make heavy pieces inspired by the French surrealist game Exquisite Corpse. 

“The students don’t have a lot of time to waste,” explains Sculpture Critic Chris Sancomb 93 SC, who organized the fast-paced project. “Because there’s a strict deadline, they’re forced to work intuitively and follow their gut. This mode of working can break old patterns of thinking – and it’s exciting to build in this wild atmosphere.”

In a corner of the foundry, Allison Baker MFA SC 15 (bottom photo) cranks out a human-sized heron flanked with curled slats shaped like feathers. Mark Desantis 16 SC also remains focused as he makes an installation using long, spiky poles. The oddly beautiful creations are now linked together in the small passageway behind the Metcalf Building.

“It’s really satisfying to make something for the sheer fun of it,” notes Desantis while measuring a length of rebar. “It’s a total rush.”

RISD by Design weekend kicked off last Friday with the fourth annual Pumpkinpalooza, a Staff Council event that raises spirits as well as money for two $500 student scholarships awarded each year to help seniors purchase needed art supplies. The festivities include a bake sale, raffle, games and live music performed by staff and students.

St. Louis residents Andrea and Pat Gant – who were visiting their son Will, a junior in Architecture – were happy to soak up some sun in Market Square and get a taste of the RISD experience. “You can really get a sense of the school during parents’ weekend,” said Andrea. “We’re planning to do some classroom visits and may check out the glass-blowing demonstration as well.”

Sophomore Rae Whitley 17 IL picked up some pumpkins to surprise her nine-year-old brother, who was visiting from Connecticut. “He’s going to hang out with me while my parents go to some of the RbD events,” she said. “I told him to be sure to bring his sketchbook.”

Raising Racial Consciousness through FPMC

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In a fascinating project backed by CreativeTime and Weeksville Heritage Center, Ceramics Critic Simone Leigh shed light on the often overlooked contributions of African-American doctors, nurses and midwives – in the past and present – who have dedicated their lives to serving underserved populations. Called Free People’s Medical Clinic (FPMC), the installation and programming at the Stuyvesant Mansion in Brooklyn just wrapped up this weekend.

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Once home to Dr. Josephine English (1920–2011) – the first African-American woman to have an OB/GYN practice in New York State – the historic Stuyvesant Mansion has long been an intergenerational gathering place for artists, educators, activists, entrepreneurs and youth of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

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For the past few weeks, Leigh – who is known for her object-based, sculptural explorations of the female African-American identity – turned the space into a homeopathic clinic, where local residents could sign up for a wide range of services and workshops. The project is intended to draw attention to the larger need for dignified healthcare experiences in the community.