At the Circus with RISD Graphic Design Students

Step right up, step right up …

Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, get ready for the THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH!

This might be the introduction to the exhibition Circus at the RISD Museum, or an announcement by the ringmaster at the start of an actual circus.

Professor in Graphic Design and Andrew Mellon Fellow in Costume + Textiles Jan Baker encouraged her letterpress class to sketch and become inspired by the Circus exhibition at the Museum. One student remarked, “I loved the oddities, the animals, the Matisse print, the posters.” Another said, “I never would have gone to the museum without this assignment … but I loved being there, and went around to view other exhibitions.” All the students in the group returned from the exhibition with spirited sketches and a great appreciation of the circus, ready to begin their project: designing an accordion book using the word circus or other circus-related words.

Ingrid Nelson, BFA GD 17

 Using large woodblocks of the words circus, Bailey, and Bros and an enormous woodblock of a clown, all generously donated by Luci Rose Goodman (RISD BFA 1982, Graphic Design), the students began to print on the Vandercook letterpress in the Graphic Design Department type shop. They especially enjoyed the “rainbow roll” technique, where two colors on the rollers mix to become three colors.

Taryn Oshiro-Wachi, BFA GD 17

Laura Lin BFA GD 17 and Somnath Bhatt, BFA GD 17

Tim Plummer, BFA GD 16

Large antique wood blocks on press.

Sarah Mohammadi, MFA GD 16

Jan’s students began to score, fold, and cut their printed pages. The result was an enchanted circus all its own.

One student, Lukas Eigler-Harding (BFA 2016, Graphic Design), was so inspired by Calder’s Tumblers with Spectators that his book not only reflected the spirit of Calder’s wire figures—he took the project further, designing an original typeface he called Fat Calder.


Jan Baker

RISD Professor, Graphic Design

Andrew Mellon Fellow in Costume + Textiles