2013-01-03 / News

Upcoming expo will highlight all facets of design

Presenters statewide will showcase work

Jeff Soderbergh’s ring chair will be on display at the Jamestown Arts Center’s design expo that begins Jan. 10. The chair is made of 95 percent recycled steel from the original Coney Island boardwalk. 
PHOTO COURTESY OF JEFF SODERBERGH Jeff Soderbergh’s ring chair will be on display at the Jamestown Arts Center’s design expo that begins Jan. 10. The chair is made of 95 percent recycled steel from the original Coney Island boardwalk. PHOTO COURTESY OF JEFF SODERBERGH Picture an office chair that looks like a unicycle. Or a package made from another recycled package. Or jewelry fashioned from a lasercutting process. The Jamestown Arts Center plans to exhibit these innovative products and more when the inaugural design expo opens Thursday, Jan. 10.

According to Lisa Utman Randall, the center’s executive director, about 20 designers and artists have committed to do the show so far, and that the number is still growing. All the designers are from Rhode Island, she said, and Jamestowners are well represented in the exhibit.

“We do have a really good showing from the island,” she said. “A lot of innovative and creative people live here.”

Among the designers with a Jamestown connection, she mentioned Estes Twombley Architects, Ximedica, Focal Upright Furniture, Taste Interior Design, and Packaging 2.0.

The exhibit will show a wide variety of design talent within Rhode Island, including graphic, fashion, furniture, yacht and product design. There will also be architecture, interior design and interactive technology development. Some of the artists are bringing 3-D installations. Displaying the eclectic selections has posed a challenge, but show organizers plan to use the walls, the floors and even the ceilings to “hang” the work.

For example, Jeff Soderbergh’s chair will literally hang suspended from the ceiling, she said. Soderbergh, the Newport furniture designer who “reclaims” historic artifacts and antiques in his furniture designs, has submitted a big, circular chair for the expo.

Randall said the JAC hopes the expo will start a conversation about design. Ideally, the show will encourage people to learn about design and its impact on the state economy.

“They’ll get to learn about the individual designer and have a bigger picture of the design field,” she said.

On the night of the reception and opening, some designers will give slide-show presentations of their work in the “PechaKucha” style – showing 20 slides for 20 seconds each.

During school hours, Randall expects local school children will take field trips to see the exhibit and learn to connect the products to the historic innovations Rhode Islanders have made.

Adults who have never thought of themselves as potential designers may come away from the show with an idea for a new business, she said. For example, someone who loves gardening might look at the landscape-design exhibit and realize the hobby could turn into a career path.

According to Randall, the expo could give the public an “entrĂ©e into this world” of design.

“We would really like to position ourselves as a place where people come to learn about art and take classes,” she said. Randall hopes people will acquire the tools to take a concept from the drawing board to the market.

Randall said the arts center is forging partnerships with area colleges and industry leaders to help close the skills gap. The center has been teaching design fundamentals to high school students through a grant from the van Beuren Charitable Foundation.

Artist Ryan Maguire has been working with the youngsters to help them come up with an idea and sketch out a drawing. They worked on the drawing for six or seven sessions, she said, and then Maguire taught them how to access computer software to further develop the idea.

Some of the youngsters came up with “fanciful” ideas, according to Randall, such as a “Whalehound” bus inspired by the Greyhound buses. Work of student designers is also going to be part of the design expo.

For adults, plans are to offer instruction on Adobe Creative Suite software, for example, at a relatively low cost.

Randall said politicians have been talking about the “creative industries sector of our state’s economy” and are recognizing the growth potential.

“It’s a huge economic engine,” she said, and added the design expo could help expose local people to the opportunities, which could someday spawn a “Made in Rhode Island” label and create local manufacturing jobs.

Many of the products are designed and assembled locally, but not manufactured here. Keen and other designers are exploring ways to bring the manufacturing back to the local area, she said.

As of press time, Randall said the participants included DWRI Letterpress, Estes Twombly Architects, Ezra Smith Design, Focal Upright Furniture, groundSwell Designs, Hasbro, the JAC youth design studio, Jeff Soderbergh, Katherine Field and Associates, Lakuna Design, Maguire Art Design, Packaging 2.0, S. Barzin Architect, Studio Dunn, Taste, and Thames & Kosmos. More artists are signing up.

The show runs four weeks through Feb. 8. Admission is free to both the opening reception and the gallery.

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