President Somerson Engages with Students

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If interim President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID could go back in time and give her 21-year-old self a valuable piece of advice, she’d urge: Plan way ahead.

“Think of yourselves as an institution,” she told students at the first session of RISD Leads on Monday night. “Where do you want to be in 20 years? Every skill you acquire here is crucial to your development and instrumental in building your future. Leaders are always looking to the future.”

Now in its second year, the RISD Leads series is organized by the Center for Student Involvement (CSI) as a means of helping students build leadership abilities, develop critical thinking skills and learn how to be catalysts for social change. 

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Seated in front of approximately 100 artists and designers, Somerson shed light on how her own experiences as a RISD student, furniture maker and successful entrepreneur have helped her develop effective leadership skills. At one point during the discussion, a student asked the president to share what she learned through launching her acclaimed furniture studio.

“It’s important to retain an unwavering commitment to the vision of your practice,” Somerson responded. “If you remain focused on your ideas – and can act resourcefully – it’s possible to make something wildly innovative.”

imageThis RISD Leads series continues this year with a line-up of great guest speakers. For example, Umberto Crenca – founder and director of the arts nonprofit AS220 – will come to campus on October 17 to discuss how his artist-run organization has helped revitalize downtown Providence. On November 3, students will also get the chance to hear from Bobby Gondola, operations director at Year Up, an organization that empowers underserved young adults to pursue rewarding careers.

With a particular interest in entrepreneurship, Kevin Cadena 16 GD is attending the workshop series to get inspiration for Sushi Time Co., his budding clothing company. The graphic designer looks forward to meeting with Bill Foulkes, a faculty member who is hosting a RISD Leads lecture on “creative intelligence” on November 17. “This is all good food for thought,” Cadena noted with a smile. 

Self-Fulfilling Prophecies

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Jack Dickerson 69 GD says that he paints “things not as they are” but based on how he feels about them. As the owner of Dickerson Gallery on Cape Cod, he paints first and foremost to please himself, showing work that also appeals to the people who drop by his gallery in Brewster, MA. His boats, sunsets, marshes and shellfish are especially popular.

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Dickerson recently shared a telling but very basic story about how he got from there to here:

“I ran my own very successful graphic design firm in Boston for 27 years believing that we had a huge responsibility to truly and meaningfully help our clients,” he explains. But when he was in his mid-50s he felt there was something more he had left undone. 

“I had never painted before age 53, and started drawing on vacations, and then started painting with some of my wife’s 30-year-old oils,” Dickerson explains. “Things progressed and I scaled back my design biz to one person (myself), did some superb work with very large clients and then took the full jump” to making art full time.

“So here I am on  Cape Cod, years later, selling my paintings in my own gallery. I paint in many different styles…”

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The graphic designer-turned-painter has this to say about Jump for Joy: “gestures and movement! I love working in this style.”

As for “the take-away” from Dickerson’s decision to forego a career in graphic design in favor of fine art: “We never really know what we are fully capable of,” he says. “With determination, self-motivation and longing for meaningfulness, we can find that at any time in our lives. There are a lot of people who simply need to believe in themselves.”image

Taking a short break from socializing with his peers in the Waterman Gallery, Dirk Peteruson 16 PT walks over to inspect Fish and Coral Reef, a jacquard wall tapestry Hyunah Yong 15 TX made based on the spectacular patterns of ocean organisms.

“I feel like this fabric captures the essence of the 1960s. There are so many trippy patterns here,” the Painting major explains as he examines the mustard-colored cloth hanging from the ceiling. “It’s very psychedelic.”

The eye-catching tapestry is part of Pattern, Structure and Form, a brilliant show of woven, printed and knitted artwork by Textiles majors. Exploring the concepts of habitat, behavior and appearance in the natural world, the exhibition opened last Thursday and continues through this Friday.

On another side of the gallery, Annie Irwin 15 TX presents Fragile, Formidable, a set of handwoven samples she made using a Dobby loom. The artist created the assortment of multilayered swatches after researching the physical traits of the northern flicker bird.

“It took a while to master the Dobby loom’s computer programs,” Irwin explains while assessing her assortment of swatches. “But I was quite pleased with the outcome. As you can see, the mechanical loom has the capability to create raised structural patterns.”

In a quiet corner of the gallery, visitors also hoveredby Hummingbirds, a collection of neon-hued textiles (second from top)Amelia Solano 16 TX spun the cottony pieces in response to the crazy way the small creatures flap their wings – fluttering at about 50 times per second – to remain in flight.

Others mulled over Message from Lonesome George, a tapestry by Mint Pitaksuteephong 16 TX. The artist got the idea for the piece after learning about the steady decline – and eventual extinction – of the tortoise population in the Galapagos Islands.

Show Off Your Feet

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Sebago, the classic New England footwear company, is turning to RISD students, faculty and staff with interesting studio and workspaces in order to shoot an ad campaign they’re calling Life Well Crafted

Interested artists and designers should show up at Market House this Thursday, September 18, between 6 and 10 pm with a photo of their studio or workspace in hand.

Anyone chosen for the shoot on October 4 and 5 will pocket $500 and get to see their feet (and gorgeous selves in studio) in a campaign to promote Sebago’s high-quality leather boat shoes and loafers.

Cheyenne Julien 16 PT still remembers the nights when her father quietly fumed at the dinner table after another incident with the neighborhood cops patrolling her Bronx neighborhood. The police routinely detained the African American man, asking questions and searching for illegal weapons or drugs. 

“It was harassment. Those police officers didn’t have a reason to stop my father,” the Painting major notes while fighting back tears. “He was just trying to get home after a long day at work.” 

Holding a sign reading “Black Lives Matter,” Julien was just one of approximately 200 RISD and Brown students who gathered in Market Square last Friday evening to silently protest against police mishandling of people of color. According to event organizer Yelitsa Jean-Charles 16 IL, the recent shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO was one of the catalysts for the peaceful demonstration. Many of the activists who showed support are involved in Brown’s chapter of the NAACP.

“These horrible events raise important questions related to racial profiling and discrimination, and also shine light on the militarization of our police forces,” says Jean-Charles, president of RISD student org Black Artists and Designers (BAAD). “Why is it that officers are able to whip out deadly equipment against unarmed people? We’re here to raise awareness and empower people to start a movement against police brutality.”

Early on in the protest, Moriah Benton 16 IL, president of RISD Feminists, jumped to the front of the crowd with a bullhorn and urged her peers to use their mobile phones and cameras to document illegal acts of police brutality. “Record what you see. Don’t look away,” she shouted. “We need to be vigilant in protecting our civil rights.” 

Inspired by Keith Wallace, an artist who lay down in Philadelphia’s Love Park wearing a bloodied t-shirt to protest Brown’s death, the protestors moved to the center of the square and lay down close together (top photo). One of the event organizers then read the names of roughly 30 young people of color who have been killed recently by law enforcement officers.

“Witnesses said it was shocking to see still bodies taking up that amount of space in Market Square – a historical place where slaves were once bought and sold,” notes Jean-Charles. “It was an emotional visual.”

US NEWS Ranks RISD High

When US News & World Report recently released its new rankings for the 2015 Best Graduate Schools in the country, RISD earned second place for its fine arts programs overall (just behind Yale).

In department-specific rankings, RISD placed first for graduate programs in Graphic Design and Industrial Design.

The rankings are based on a variety of data, including assessment by administrators at peer institutions, retention of students, faculty resources, alumni giving and graduation rates.

An Ounce of Prevention

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As terrifying Ebola news continues to stream out of West Africa, recently appointed executive director of the GAIA Vaccine Foundation Eliza Squibb 13 TX (above, left) reports that the organization is making strides in Mali in the fight against HPV and cervical cancer, with plans to help publicize the risk of the Ebola virus as well.

Given that GAIA’s clinic in Bamako, Mali is having great success with the educational textile Squibb designed in 2012 to encourage HPV vaccinations, it plans to take a similar approach to educating villagers about Ebola. Fortunately, no cases of the deadly disease have been reported yet in Mali.

“Crowded into a small room with over 30 women,” Squibb writes, “it was overwhelming to hear such positive responses to the pattern I designed while I was still a student. The (94-year-old) village chief even came up with a slogan in Bambara that we can add to the design: “It’s better to prevent than cure.”

Homespun Beauty

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Jacqueline Siefert 12 AP is more than just a pretty face. When she competes in the Miss Rhode Island USA Pageant this weekend at the RI Convention Center, she’ll be wearing her own designs – from swimsuit to evening gown to jewelry. “I’m definitely going to play up the RISD connection,” she says, “and the fact that I made my own wardrobe!”

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Siefert was a finalist in the Supima Cotton Competition at New York Fashion Week in 2012, where she showed five stunning eveningwear looks (above). The winner of the Miss Rhode Island Pageant will go on to compete in the Miss USA pageant in 2015.

Sparse Soundtrack from Reykjavík

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Thanks to support from a Sundance Institute Production Grant, recent graduate RaMell Ross MFA 14 PH was able to hop on a plane to Iceland over the summer to meet with Alex Somers and fellow Photography MFA grad Scott Alario MFA 13 PH (above). He has commissioned the music duo (who used to be bandmates in the group Parachutes) to create an original soundtrack for Hale Countyhis feature-length documentary about the lives of two young African-American men growing up in Alabama.

“I wanted the compositions to be sparse and atmospheric,” Ross says – “a perfect backdrop to the textured visuals in the film that amplify injustice, ambition and the impact of social stratification.”

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Somers and Alario certainly have the repertoire to make audio magic. The creative team has been known to collaborate with international sensations Sigur Ros and other famous acts in Somers’ Reykjavík recording studio. “Our music is sort of naive and fragile and gentle,” notes Somers. “We’ll use old, crusty cassettes to record mixes so the sound [quality] is really low-fi and blown out.”

Somers admits they were initially surprised when Ross expressed interest in their delicate compositions. “At first I thought it was a really odd pairing: our type of music and this story about urban street kids,” he says. “But then I understood RaMell’s vision. When these two forms of art come together, it creates an intensely emotional experience for the viewer.”

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After digging out a huge chest stocked with a vibraphone, harmonica, drums, bells and toy microphones, the musicians spent a week in July working practically nonstop on the beautiful recordings. Ross will later edit down his final footage to fit the flow of the music.

“We did play with some percussive sequences – but we shied away from including too much rhythm,” notes Somers. “We didn’t want to distract viewers away from the action on screen.”

Find out more about the film in progress in this story on risd.edu.

New Energy on Campus

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Last Saturday campus was crawling with Orientation Leaders and other upperclass students ready to help new students move in to their temporary digs at RISD. The day was as wonderfully welcoming and joyfully chaotic as ever.

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Resident Assistants helped the 451 freshmen who moved into the Quad begin to get oriented, if not quite “settled” in these first exciting days.

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Bold new signage throughout campus helped direct incoming students and their families to where they needed to be.

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And The Met – RISD’s main dining hall – looked better than ever, with a newly refurbished interior and new seating for outdoors, too.

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photos by Antonio Peters 04 IL

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President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID was among the many RISD administrators and staff members on hand to welcome new students, who – as always – come from close to campus and the far reaches of the world.

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As part of getting the year off to a good start, students who arrived early to participate in last week’s Pre-Orientation Service Experience volunteered in the community as a way of getting to know RISD, its environment and most importantly, each other.

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RISD alumni from MA and RI met in Cape Cod on Sunday for a visit to the famed Edward Gorey House Museum. A collaboration between the RI and MA alumni clubs and local children’s book illustrators, the trip was a great chance to tour the unique museum and celebrate the works of writer and artist, Edward Gorey.

While taking a closer look at Gorey’s cautionary tales, alphabet books, and fictionalized memoires, attendees participated in the museum’s whimsical scavenger hunt, searching amongst the impressive collection of Gorey’s beloved treasures and relics.

Event coordinator Christina Rodriguez [03 IL] used ticket sales to raise money for the Animal Rescue League of Brewster, a cause that was close to Gorey’s own animal-loving heart. Following the tour, attendees met at the home of RISD-friend Jason Hart for a tasty end-of-summer potluck.

Thanks to all the attendees who made this event a success! Keep an eye out for more alumni events in New England this fall!

On the Move with Nicole Miller

To mark New York Fashion Week, BBC Culture took a spin around NYC with fashion leader and RISD Trustee Nicole Miller 73 AP, whose 2015 spring collection hit the runway last Friday.

From Africa to NY Fashion Week

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Last week New York Times reporter Jim Dwyer wrote an interesting behind-the-scenes piece about Stoll New York that largely focused on Edun knitwear designer Emily Thornton 10 AP. In the midst of preparing Edun’s line for New York Fashion Week, she popped into Stoll’s 39th Street shop to create a few last-minute pieces for the runway show.image

"The things that I am making here this week will be on the runway Sunday at 6 pm,” Thornton told the Times. “It’s like instant gratification. You can run across the street and change things. You can give them new things. Or if one yarn doesn’t work, you give them another yarn.”

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Thornton worked for Calvin Klein’s Women’s Collection for almost five years before her spring move to Edun, a brand founded by rock superstar Bono and his wife Ali Hewson to promote manufacturing and trade in Africa.

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“I love the industry because it is so tactile; it doesn’t exist in the ether,” Thornton told Dwyer for his NYT story.

Let the 2014/15 Year Begin!

To mark the official beginning of the academic year today, Provost Pradeep Sharma welcomed new faculty and RISD students from 38 countries and 41 states at the 2014 Convocation ceremony in the RISD Auditorium. Professors and department heads in full robed regalia attended the annual event, with a livestream broadcast sent to the overflow crowd in the Chace Center’s Metcalf Auditorium.

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Sharma introduced RISD Museum Director John W. Smith, who told new students about the museum’s great assets, along with department heads and graduate program directors – with a still photo from each highlighting their summer travels and explorations. ­The provost also delivered the core message of the day – a wonderfully provocative talk about tickling and revolution and the inherent contradictions of life in the 21st century. “Creativity exists,” he said, “in the uncanny spaces between the familiar and the unfamiliar.”

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In offering her own warm and inspiring words of welcome, President Rosanne Somerson 76 ID recalled the many jobs she held when she was a student at RISD, including working in a local restaurant where she rubbed shoulders with a number of alumni who have gone on to make indelible marks on the world. Among them was a dishwasher who stood out from the crowd: musical and artistic maverick David Byrne (class of 1974), the Talking Heads founder who has continued to stand out for his incredible contributions to the art world. Somerson described RISD as the “official beginning of a lifelong dream” and urged students to “turn impossible challenges into tangible results.”

Strauch Flying High

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Film critics are describing Sunshine Superman, a heart-racing 96-minute documentary about BASE jumping directed by Marah Strauch 00 GLas “jubilant and evocative.” The film was screened last week at the Toronto Film Festival, is appearing as part of the New York Film Fest in Lincoln Center in early October and was just picked up by Universal Pictures.

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Filmed in the US, Norway and the UK, Sunshine Superman tells the story of the late skydiver Carl Boenish (who died in 1984) and his wife Jean, who were the first to parachute off of skyscrapers, mountains and bridges, shooting breathtaking “freefall cinematography” on the way down. 

“The film isn’t this year’s Man on Wire,” notes The Hollywood Reporter in its review of last week’s screening in Toronto, “and not only because this eccentric hero died while practicing his passion. But it’s a thrill, and one that seriously rewards big-screen viewing.”

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