Monday, October 29, 2007

Rhode Island School of Design

RISD student Kelly Berg said that one of the favorite parts of her job as monitor in the Nature Lab of Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island is handling the Madagascar hissing cockroaches. “The make great pets,” she told me. "They hiss a bit, but they’re quite friendly."

The lab’s collection gives art students access to living animal specimens to use as models. Besides the giant cockroaches, there are millipedes, rhinoceros chameleons, rats, frogs and turtles.

There’s also a large variety of animal skulls and skeletons. One room adjoining the nature lab collection had half a dozen human skeletons with drawing easels set up beside them.

Along the walls were cabinets crammed full of shells, seedpods, and crystals.

This student from nearby Brown University, one of the Ivy League colleges, was doing a careful pencil drawing of a stuffed squirrel. Brown students can share in RISD’s art offerings. In exchange, RISD students can broaden their education by enrolling in Brown’s first-rate courses in academic subjects to supplement the focused art curriculum.

RISD students also have access to the collection of the RISD art museum, whose collection ranks with some of the finest small museum collections of the northeast.

Illustration chairman Nick Jainschigg (above) toured me through the building which houses classes for the approximately 250 illustration majors. The school has graduated some notable illustrators like Chris Van Allsburg and has attracted some current high-profile teaching talent, including Jon Foster. Classes keep current with emerging trends, and include offerings in graphic novels, 3-D character animation, and video game design.

We met painting instructor Nick Palermo, here demonstrating a “View Catcher” device, which helps new painting students frame a composition. Palermo’s class was working on oil studies of a model posing on a stand with colorful props and upshot lighting.

Part of what makes RISD’s program unique is the winter session, sandwiched between the regular semesters. The six week winter session is both informal and intensive, allowing students to try out something outside their normal experience, like stone lithography or glassblowing.

The Fleet Library in the newly refurbished bank building contains not only a rich collection of art books dating back to the 1860s, but also a vast array of scrapbooks, sketchbooks, design collections, clippings, art prints and ephemera.

More than one person admitted that not enough RISD students take advantage of the school’s rich resources, and that the requirement to use them is not woven enough into the curriculum. But for a motivated student, RISD certainly has a lot to offer.


Anonymous said...

I go to a prestigious art school, but we have NOTHING like the nature lab that RISD has. It is an amazing idea. I'd be there everyday after classes when I could. Art colleges across the country should look to RISD as an example. Thanks so much for sharing :)

James H. Fullmer said...

I agree with Amanda: Every art program should have something similar to RISD's nature lab!

James, I have been lamenting for months that you were going to be in Oshkosh, WI, (15 min away from me) the very week end that I must be to an out-of-state wedding. GRRRRRR!

Is there any chance that you will be settling into Oshkosh on Thursday the 1st and wouldn't mind a visit? Just thought I'd try one last desperate option.

Paolo Rivera said...

I wish I could've gone to the lecture (and visited my old school). The Nature Lab was one of my favorite resources while I was there, but even so, I didn't get to use it as much as I would've liked.

I'm new to this blog, but have been a frequent reader since I happened upon it. Great work and thanks for the behind the scenes reporting.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for visiting, Art, Amanda, and Paolo. Check out Paolo's blog:, with the gorgeous portrait maquette of Captain America's alter ego, Steve Rogers.

Unknown said...

Oh, to have access to the Nature Lab now the way I did back in school. I too didn't fully appreciate this resource whilst attending... note to current RISDoids, take advantage of the Nature Lab!

Thanks for the posting, you've created a truly valuable site, chock full of great information.

Rob Rey said...

It was great to meet you when you gave your lecture at RISD! Your blog is great too, I've become a regular to it over night. Thanks for sharing!

Courtney Autumn Martin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Courtney Autumn Martin said...

Oh how I wish I could have made it back to RISD for your lecture, Mr. Gurney!

I am probably not alone when I say that we RISD students simply didn't have enough time to adequately enjoy all that our environment provided us. Although I do feel wholly satisfied with my education, I also wish that more opportunities were given within classroom time that took advantage of the unique resources like the Nature Lab and library. [And I am especially bummed that the new and improved library opened the year after I graduated!]

Many thanks for the peek behind the scenes of your inspiring creative life!

Enjoying your blog from CT,

Anonymous said...

The Nature Lab at RISD is a great place to hang out and draw. They used to let us check things out to take home and draw. I don't know if they still do that.

Courtney is right. Everyone is kept so busy that there is not much free time to spend in there. Freshmen need to take advantage of it while they can before they get too busy with their major.

Like you said, the museum is world class. Students can sometimes get access to all of the stuff that is in storage that most people dont get to see. Like Rembrandt etchings.

Nick Palermo's class was probably the best painting class of the whole 4 years I was at RISD.

I love Gurney Journey. It is so full of great stuff. I look for the new posts every morning. Even before coffee.Thanks!