ID Professor Seth Stem squandered none of his 2011-2012 sabbatical. As he explained in his April 11 presentation in the Tap Room, when he wasn’t making progress on his radical furniture and electric car projects, he was traveling to exotic places with his wife Pamela.
Stem spent much of the year collaborating with chemical corporation BASF on a chair made of molded parts created by impregnating hemp with a copolymer called Acrodur.
A second pet project, a two-seater electric car he prototyped at RISD and then moved into his living room (where it became a makeshift Christmas tree), is also a project with BASF, which had offered to manufacture the outer panels of the vehicle using the same non-polluting process but needs time to come up with the $400,000 it would take to do so.
Beyond his huge productivity on the work front, Stem traveled for seven weeks in Africa and then India, Bhutan and Nepal. He and his wife visited vineyards, game preserves, schools and monasteries, always with a keen interest in meeting locals and checking out regional crafts. They brought several dozen pairs of reading glasses to Africa and distributed them to craftspeople who needed a little help doing close work.
Highlights of the trips included a presentation of Stem’s work at the American Cultural Center in Mozambique, a stay in Gorongosa National Park, where they got close to herds of elephants, and a sailing trip that allowed them to visit islands off the cost of North Africa and meet resourceful craftspeople making earrings and baskets out of shredded flip-flops.
Every month in the Tap Room, RISD faculty talk about the work they produce while on sabbatical. On April 24, at 12 pm, Peter O’Neill and Lindsay French will present.