Designer, professor, and chair of the industrial design department at the Rochester Institute of Technology Josh Owen collaborated with the late iconic designer, sculptor, and educator Wendell Castle on a limited edition project setup to give back to future students of RIT’s industrial design program. The two designers worked together on a set of cast bronze bookends, each one of them in charge of half the set. While each one has its own distinct design, the two come together to form a set that solidifies their commitment to growing the design program at RIT through the Support for Education project. To learn more about the project and its inaugural product launch, we spoke with Josh Owen who filled in all the blanks.
For people who don’t know about Shop One, RIT’s on-site design shop, can you briefly give us some more background/significance about this shop?
Shop One was founded in 1953 by Jack Prip, Tage Frid, Frans Wildenhain, and Ron Pearson — four craftsmen brought together by the School of American Craftsmen at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY. Shop One was one of only two in the country that exclusively sold hand-made, one-of-a-kind pieces of craft and art. Shop One in Rochester and America House in Manhattan helped to launch the Craft Movement. Shop One remained in business until 1976 and in 2010, it was reborn in the Global Village on the Rochester Institute of Technology campus. Shop One is a contemporary fine art, craft and design shop that showcases work by RIT affiliated artists and designers including alumni, faculty and students.
What does “Support for Knowledge” mean in this context and how will it inform the future of RIT?
The Support for Knowledge project began as a dream to help the internationally renowned RIT industrial design program grow into a new facility that would mirror its status in the world. Building on the collaborative nature of the industrial design field and its cohort in and around RIT, we envisioned a collaborative project worthy of capturing such a spirit – distilled into a product that could be sold in limited edition to act as an heirloom to memorialize our intentions. Leveraging the storied Shop One as a conduit and our friends at Autodesk to explore production ideas, students, alumni and faculty could collaborate to develop limited edition works of art/design to help our cause. The redesigned Industrial Design Studio will be the embodiment of good design to prospective students.The program has grown and matured over the years, consistently ranked in the top ten nationally. Providing students and faculty with facilities on par with the quality of the education will help drive the program to heightened prominence.
What was your relationship with Wendell Castle and how did this partnership / collaboration come about?
Wendell Castle went to school to be a designer and became a sculptor. I trained to be a sculptor and later became a designer. Wendell and I became friends shortly after I moved to Rochester in 2010. Known as the Father of the American Craft Movement, Castle’s connection with Rochester, NY and Rochester Institute of Technology runs deep. Harold Brennan, the Director of School for American Craftsmen, recruited Castle in 1962 to join the faculty at RIT to teach woodworking and furniture design. Castle also maintained his own studio in Rochester. More recently Castle was affiliated with the students and faculty of the industrial design program where he taught regularly since 2010. I was recruited to RIT in 2010 and have been the chair of the industrial design program at RIT since 2012 making connections to the Vignelli Center for Design studies, among them, creating a ‘Product Timecapsule’ with Wendell which includes the process and product relating to several of his works.
What is the goal of the Bookends? What are you hoping they will do, besides hold books in place :) ?
For the inaugural ‘Support for Education’ project launch, two experienced makers set out to apply our individual approaches to jointly create a pair of bookends. Our existing bodies of work show very different vocabularies. Each of us designed one half of the set. Our goal was to produce an object set where each side had its own distinct style, but successfully interacts with the other side to create a holistic design conversation for the pair. We hoped that this pairing would be symbolic of our helping grow design education at RIT and that stakeholders would want to be a part of this effort.
Tell us more about working with Wendell? Was this one of his last projects?
Working with Wendell was intuitive and easy for me. He was passionate and open-minded, curious and dedicated to furthering knowledge and exploring uncharted territory. We shared these attributes in common and our mutual respect made working and playing together feel natural. Yes, this was one of the last projects he was engaged in.
What do you hope for the future of this collection?
Shop One Collection will be a place for additional high level collaborations which have a philanthropic reach like the bookends.
Anything to add?
Wendell was a giant who left a deep impression on RIT, Rochester and the world. This project was the combination of many dedicated individuals who all believe deeply in our shared work together. I am humbled by the many hands that helped move this into the light. All of them are noted in the credits of the shoponecollection.com site. I am also currently working with a dedicated group of ID students at RIT on adding all of our process work from this project into the Product Timecapsule archival study collection I oversee within the Vignelli Center for Design Studies. This will provide current and future generations of scholars, students and others access to the development of this initiative.
For more information on the bookends and/or purchasing, Support for Knowledge, or Shop One, visit their site here.
Photography by Kurtis Kracke and Elizabeth Lamark.