A designer, professor and academic leader, President Rosanne Somerson has been committed to furthering RISD’s mission since she was a student here in the 1970s. She returned to RISD in the 1980s to teach and in 1995 founded the Furniture Design department. As president she frequently speaks and writes about the power of critical thinking and making, underscoring the value of art, design and a deeply immersive studio-based education to advancing life in the 21st century.

Deep roots at RISD

When she first arrived at RISD as a freshman in 1972, Rosanne Somerson 76 ID didn’t anticipate that it was the beginning of a lifelong connection to the college and its community. She had originally planned to study photography, but once she took an elective woodworking course her focus changed. “I found it to be incredibly exciting—and the hardest thing I had ever done,” she remembers. “I was challenged as I never had been before, but working in three dimensions was simpatico with my needs as an artist.”

Working closely with renowned woodworker, teacher and mentor Tage Frid and other faculty luminaries, Somerson soaked in everything she could about process, design, technique and aesthetics. She earned her BFA in Industrial Design (ID) in 1976, focusing on furniture within the ID department two decades before RISD had a freestanding Furniture Design department.

In 1978 Somerson established her own studio to focus on designing and making furniture full time. But when Frid invited her to take over for him in 1985, she readily accepted and went on to run the graduate furniture program in ID for 10 years before helping to conceive of and found the Furniture Design department. In 1995 she assumed the top leadership role in the new department, overseeing both the BFA and MFA programs and helping to establish its solid reputation for educating exciting new innovators in the field.

Somerson served as Furniture Design department head from 1995–2011, with a brief hiatus to step in as interim associate provost from 2005–07. In 2011 she was invited to become interim provost and the following year earned the provost’s position after emerging as the top candidate in an international search.

RISD’s Board of Trustees appointed Somerson RISD’s 17th president on February 18, 2015 after conducting a comprehensive international search during which she served as interim president from January 1, 2014 until her permanent appointment.

Somerson’s studio practice

Since establishing her studio practice in 1979, Somerson has continued to pursue her own work as much as her expanding leadership responsibilities allow. “My studio work is very personal,” she says, noting that she always thinks of furniture in terms of people’s needs and what it conveys about specific cultures and historical moments. But she draws inspiration less from existing cultural artifacts than from nature—and “even the structure of interpersonal relationships,” she explains.

Somerson’s work is featured in numerous books and publications, and has been exhibited throughout the US and internationally, including at the Louvre in Paris. Somerson’s furniture is represented in private, corporate and museum collections, most notably at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Fuller Craft Museum, the Huntsville [AL] Museum of Art, the RISD Museum, the Smith College Museum of Art, Yale University Art Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

“Ultimately I want to make things with their own forms of beauty that have a positive influence on the everyday lives of the people who own and use them,” Somerson says. “Objects play a big role in the havens people create in their own homes. I’ve always made furniture designed to be a positive part of that.”

In the media

President's Cabinet

Board of Trustees

The primary responsibilities of the Board of Trustees are to:

  • advance RISD’s mission
  • provide organizational oversight
  • set policies

    Officers of the Board

  • Michael H. Spalter P 22

    Providence, RI

    Chair

    financier, digital art collector

  • Lisa Pevaroff-Cohn 83 TX

    New York, NY

    Vice Chair

    artist, jewelry designer, philanthropist

  • Margaret A. Williams

    Westerly, RI

    Vice Chair

    Co-Founder and Partner, Griffin Williams Critical Point Management, LLC

    Term Trustees

  • David C. Barclay P 10

    Los Angeles, CA

    Senior Vice President and Director, Capital Research and Management Company

  • John H. Beug P 05

    Santa Monica, CA

    Warner Music Group

  • J. Scott Burns

    Providence, RI

    retired (former Managing Partner, Brown Rudnick)

  • Amita Chatterjee 77 GD

    New York, NY

    art collector, artist

  • Erica Gerard Di Bona P 11

    Los Angeles, CA

    independent fundraising consultant

  • Kim Gassett-Schiller P 14

    Half Moon Bay, CA

    independent sales consultant, Longaberger Company

  • Joe Gebbia 05 GD/ID

    San Francisco, CA

    Co-Founder and CPO, Airbnb, Inc.

  • Robert W. Glass P 11

    San Francisco, CA

    Executive Vice President of Corporate Development, Robert Half International

  • Richard W. Haining, Sr. P 05

    Atlanta, GA

    retired (former Vice President and Investment Counselor, Montag & Caldwell)

  • Karen Hammond

    Providence, RI

    retired (former Managing Director, Devonshire Investors)

  • Jon Kamen P 09

    New York, NY

    Co-Founder and Chairman/CEO, @radical.media

  • Vikram Kirloskar P 12

    Banglore, India

    Chairman and Managing Director, Kirloskar Systems LTD
    Vice Chairman, Toyota Kirloskar Motors Private LTD

  • Mary Lovejoy

    Barrington, RI

    Vice President and Treasurer, Textron

  • Stephen A. Metcalf

    Providence, RI

    sculptor, printmaker, philanthropist

  • Nicole J. Miller 73 AP

    New York, NY

    fashion designer and Co-Founder/President, Kobra International Ltd.

  • Steven G. Perelman

    New York, NY

    Associate, Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP

  • Tavares Strachan 03 GL

    Yonkers, NY and Nassau, Bahamas

    artist

  • Roland V. Sturm P 17

    Las Vegas, NV

    real estate developer

    Ex-Officio Trustees

  • Clara M. Dale BArch 75

    New York, NY

  • Michael Neff 04 PH

    San Francisco, CA

    Chair, President's Alumni Advisory Council
    Senior Designer, Mode Analytics

  • William Schweizer P 19

    New York, NY

    Co-Chair, RISD Parents Council

    Vice Chairman of Clinical Affairs, NYU Langone Medical Center

  • Rosanne Somerson 76 ID

    Providence, RI

    President, Rhode Island School of Design

    Honorary Trustees

  • Anthony C. Belluschi BArch 66/P 95

    Portland, OR

  • Jane Chace Carroll

    New York, NY

  • Clara M. Dale BArch 75

    New York, NY

    Chair, Honorary Trustees

  • Robert F. Dixon BArch 71

    Waterford, CT

  • Susan W. Dryfoos P 01

    New York, NY

  • Bayard C. Ewing

    Denver, CO

  • Barnet Fain

    Barrington, RI

  • Louis A. Fazzano

    Newport, RI

  • Anne B. Fordyce 67 SC

    Watertown, MA

  • Peter B. Freeman

    Providence, RI

  • Katherine Freygang 80 IA/MFA 81 GD

    Cornwall, CT

  • A. Corwin Frost 59 AR/P 97

    Bronxville, NY

  • Wilfrid L. Gates, Jr. 65 LA

    North Kingstown, RI

  • Paula Koffler Granoff

    Providence, RI

  • William R. Hammer BArch 65

    Cambridge, MA

  • Ronne Hartfield

    Chicago, IL

  • Dorothy Hebden-Heath 57 PT

    Boston, MA

  • Erma W. Leavitt 44 PT

    Boca Raton, FL

  • Se-Ung Lee P 91

    Seoul, Korea

  • David A. Macaulay BArch 69

    Norwich, VT

  • John O.C. McCrillis 39 GD

    Branford, CT

  • Pauline C. Metcalf

    New York, NY

  • Stuart J. Murphy 64 IL/P 96

    Boston, MA

  • J. Terrence Murray

    Narragansett, RI

  • Dana M. Newbrook 63 AR

    Cumberland, RI

  • Joan Ress Reeves

    Providence, RI

  • M. Kate Rittmann P 95

    Orinda, CA

  • Merrill W. Sherman

    Jamestown, RI

  • Philip E. Tobey BArch 66

    Reston, VA

  • William J. Watkins P 83

    Sarasota Square, FL

  • Patricia A. White 64 IL/P 96

    Cambridge, MA

* RISD alumni are noted by a class year and major acronym following their names. Parents and grandparents of alumni are designated by P or GP, plus the year of graduation.