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Poetry Made Physical

Poetry Made Physical

Poet and furniture designer William Lenard 14 FD once wanted to be the next David Wiesner 78 IL, the well-known picture book author and three-time Caldecott Medal winner.

Poet and furniture designer William Lenard 14 FD once wanted to be the next David Wiesner 78 IL, the well-known picture book author and three-time Caldecott Medal winner. He envisioned the accomplished RISD grad (and now also parent of a current RISD student) as an artist who leads the perfect life. But after three and a half years at RISD, Lenard now wants to be – well, William Lenard! “RISD has given me so much confidence,” he says. “I have a much clearer image of who I am and what I want to produce. And there are so many sources of inspiration here.”

The first step in Lenard’s artistic development came quickly – during Foundation year, when he realized how much better his 3D design skills were, especially in comparison to the 2D work he’d made before college. He discovered his love of woodworking during a Spatial Dynamics class taught by Assistant Professor of Foundation Studies Deborah Coolidge MFA 80 CR and decided to major in Furniture Design because he sees it as “an opportunity to combine design with sculpture.” One of the most eye-opening furniture classes he has encountered, taught by Associate Professor Lothar Windels BID 96, focused on bent lamination. “Lothar totally changed my perception of furniture design,” the senior says. “He pushed me to keep reworking my designs and developing my ideas.”

In addition to his talents as a visual artist, Lenard has long enjoyed putting words together on paper and chose RISD in part because of its academic resources. “Writing is a great release from studio work,” he says. He decided to do a concentration in Literary Arts and Studies and has thus far focused on poetry, writing hundreds of poems under the tutelage of Professor Mairéad Byrne. “My concentration has really influenced my studio work,” he says, noting that in both writing and furniture design, his goal is to create beautiful work that tells a story the reader/viewer can relate to.

Last year Lenard created a series of wood and steel pieces for a half-stag/half-man king referenced in his poems. “I wanted to give my poetry physical form through furniture,” he explains. He has created a throne, a pedestal and a dining table for the king and has also tried to capture him (along with other elements from his poetry) in the form of prints.

This fluidity between mediums is important to Lenard and something he feels he was unlikely to have developed outside of RISD. It’s the intensity – both in studio and beyond, he says – that pushes him to work “unreasonably hard” and allows him to make life-changing self-discoveries. “I’ve learned that I can take something positive from any failure,” he notes.

Crits have, of course, played a large role in his journey, and Lenard appreciates the feedback from faculty and fellow students. “Our studio space is both supportive and competitive,” he says. “We set very high expectations of ourselves and each other, and if you don’t meet the standards, you’re disappointing the department and your peers.”

Last summer Lenard worked to further define his own style during an internship at the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center in West Rutland, VT. “I want to move my furniture towards a sculptural form,” he says, “but still have it be functional. And I definitely intend to keep writing poetry for my own sake – to develop a better understanding of myself and my surroundings.”

Simone Solondz