Division of Graduate Studies

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A Growing Fascination with Materials


Diana Wagner MID 14 cultivated surface treatment techniques that make processed animal hides appear to be flowering new growth.

Like a seasoned gardener, Diana Wagner MID 14 finds joy in seeing things germinate – yet, as a second-year graduate student, she’s far too busy to stop and smell the roses. Last spring when she was invited to participate in Craft the Leather – a week-long workshop in Tuscany – the industrial designer cultivated surface treatment techniques that made the processed animal hides appear to be flowering with new growth. This fall she brought her boundless energy – and leather shoe prototypes – to Europe again, this time for an opening in Paris showcasing the work of the international students who participated in the Italian leather program.

“I look to objects like lace tainted with age, old rusted metal and rocks covered in lichen as a reference for my experimentation with enhancing and exaggerating the inherent qualities of vegetable-tanned leather,” the designer explains. “As a series, each pair of shoes illustrates the process of growth and decay as materials are layered, grown and then worn away.”

These leather shoe experiments underscore Wagner’s fascination with materials exploration. Last spring she curated an exhibition featuring composites fellow students have made by combining raw and commercial materials. The project was supported by a grant from the Academic Commons Program (ACP). The final collection – which includes the work of 10 artists and designers – is on view in RISD’s Material Resource Center (MRC), a collection of 26,000 samples housed in the Fleet Library at RISD. “This is extremely exciting,” the designer notes. “The [composite collection] serves as inspiration and an important resource for further dialogue on materials and material making at RISD.”

Over the summer, Wagner delved deeper into materials research as an intern at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. There she used her understanding of textiles to design and fabricate soft, robotic textile garments with a team of engineers. “My skill sets differ from the engineers I work with,” she notes. “As an industrial designer, I know how to design garments for the body, sew and work with materials creatively. These are skills the engineers found valuable for collaboration.”

As if she didn’t already have plenty on her plate, Wagner also draws great satisfaction and inspiration from serving as president of the Graduate Student Alliance (GSA), the governing body for RISD’s graduate student community. In that role, she’s now in the throes of organizing Scratch n’ Sniff Graduate Open Studios, an event on November 15 that invites the public to peer into the wondrous world of graduate students’ studios. “It’s going to be such a great night,” she exclaims enthusiastically. “The public will get the chance to see the remarkable body of work graduate students are busy producing every day – and night.”

Scratch n’ Sniff Graduate Open Studios is open to the public and runs from 7–11pm on Friday, November 15 in RISD’s graduate studios!

–Abigail Crocker

related links:

•    Diana Wagner
•    Genuine Italian Vegetable Tanned Leather Consortium
•    Luxurious Leather Making
•    The Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering

tags: collaborations, graduate, internships, nonprofits, Industrial Design, partnerships + collaborations, research, students

Grad Studies Foreground Image 4
There’s a proper place for every tool in this particular studio workspace.