Library Inspires Site-Specific Textiles
Newly upholstered Knoll chairs at RISD’s Fleet Library now feature stunning jacquards custom-designed by Textiles students.
How does a custom-designed upholstery fabric feed into the space for which it was designed? Now that the Fleet Library at RISD has unveiled its collection of reupholstered Knoll club chairs, the Textiles majors who designed the bespoke fabrics are reflecting on how their designs took shape.
It all began in Jacquard for Pattern, a spring 2018 studio in which students took on a real-world challenge invoked by then Dean of Libraries Lareese Hall: designing upholstery fabric to update the library’s existing seating. Inspired by both the impressive Italian Renaissance-style architecture of the former banking hall and the library’s special collections and function, they designed thoughtful new upholstery options that were presented at multiple crits.
“The development process was wonderful because the librarians—who understand that environment better than anyone—provided great feedback about which concepts were resonating,” says Associate Professor Brooks Hagan MFA 02 TX, who taught the class.
Once the group selected designs by Blanca Castro-Dominguez 19 TX, Sarah Nicita BRDD 20 TX, Jemielee Perez 19 TX, Megan Reznicek 19 TX and Krista Young 19 TX, students worked with Textiles Technician Polly Spenner 10 TX over Wintersession to weave five yards of each fabric on the jacquard loom.
In May the Furniture Design department stepped in to help, with faculty member Nathaniel Smith and students Hillary Brame BRDD 20 FD and Jacob Miller 19 FD reupholstering the chairs with the newly created fabrics.
“I had worked on the jacquard loom before, but the design I created for this project, Organized Chaos, used many different types of yarn, so it was harder to program the machine,” says Castro-Dominguez, who graduated in June and is currently preparing to intern at the haute couture label Iris van Herpen in Amsterdam. “It’s meant to recreate the experience of searching through the library’s bookshelves… and how one gathers pieces of information and puts them together to create a full and resolved image or idea.”
Hagan describes Castro-Dominguez’s fabric as “architectural and energetic” and loves the way she submerged the typewritten text found in old-fashioned card catalogues behind other elements of her design. “The student responses were so cool and so appropriate for RISD,” he adds, “and the results are astonishing.”
Inspired by the notion of playful discovery, dual-degree student Sarah Nicita also thought about how small consecutive moments can illuminate a larger path. “I was thinking about the creative process and trying to describe that in a visual way,” she says. “The library’s windows and the way the light shifts are really inspiring, and that’s reflected in the design as well.”
Now approaching her fifth and final year, Nicita is studying Cognitive Neuroscience at Brown and says that the way she approaches academic research is similar to parts of her creative process as a designer. Her dynamic jacquard pattern, dubbed Field Theory, not only visually references architectural elements within the library, but also reflects on her personal experience navigating the creative process.
“There is a beautiful sense of structured randomness in charting your own path and working toward a vision that is not yet physically actualized,” she explains. “Only in hindsight—where you have access to the meta-view—does the larger gesture surface.”
—Simone Solondz / photos of completed chairs by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH
Textiles major Elizabeth Schweizer 19 TX will advance her work with Lakota youth thanks to a 2019 Windgate Fellowship from the Center for Craft, Creativity & Design.
Students in a multidisciplinary fall studio create powerful, site-specific installations at historic Fort Adams State Park in Newport, RI.
RISD staff member and alumna Polly Spenner 10 TX reflects on her creative process and 28-year relationship with RISD.