Since I began teaching at RISD in 1998, I have assigned a project called “Volume: Structure/Skin” for my first-year Spatial Dynamics (3-dimensional design) course. The prompt is simple: to create a structural framework and a skin, with any materials. Early on, one of my students was interested in corsetry, and made an appointment to see corsets in the museum’s collection during weekly Costume and Textiles Open Hours. I thought that was a great idea, and contacted the curators to arrange a visit for my subsequent classes to see objects in the collection. Museum staff pulled corsets, crinolines, hats, shoes, and fiber art, sharing new objects each year in response to acquisitions and students’ interests. For example, students were excited to see a pair of green velour leggings with built-in pumps designed by Donna Karan for Anne Klein, purchased in 2001 by a curator who recognized their potential relevance to the RISD curriculum. Since the Donghia Costume and Textiles Study Center opened in 2014, the students have also been introduced to the work on display in the drawers.
Not only have these visits been an introduction to the museum for first-year students, their work has also been directly influenced by the collection. Museum objects have inspired them to work with sewing, weaving, or apparel, and have influenced their responses to other assignments later in the semester. Students have told me they decided to major in Apparel or Textiles after working on these projects.
Carol Lasch is an associate professor in Experimental and Foundation Studies at RISD.