Rosanne Somerson

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Roseanna Somerson
BornPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania
Occupationwoodworker, furniture designer/maker, educator, current RISD president
EducationRISD, 1976
Notable awardsNEA's Visual Artist Fellowship (twice)
Rosanne Somerson
Rosanne Somerson credit RISD.Jo Sittenfeld.jpg
17th President of the Rhode Island School of Design
Assumed office
February 18, 2015
Interim: January 1, 2014 – February 18, 2015
Preceded byJohn Maeda
Personal details
Born (1954-06-21) June 21, 1954 (age 64)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
OccupationWoodworker, furniture designer, educator

Rosanne Somerson (born June 21, 1954) is an American-born woodworker, furniture designer/maker, educator, and current President of Rhode Island School of Design. Long known as a leader in the studio furniture field, she has also earned a growing reputation as a visionary leader in art and design education.

Education and early career[edit]

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,[1] she began her undergraduate degree at Rhode Island School of Design in photography, but switched her focus, and received her BFA in Industrial Design in 1976. After graduation, Somerson worked as a correspondent for Fine Woodworking magazine. She also assisted with former professor and mentor Tage Frid's three-part book series "Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking" (Taunton Press).

Academic career[edit]

She taught with the Harvard Extension School from 1977 to 1978, and joined the RISD faculty in 1985. From 1985 to 1995 she ran the MFA Graduate Program in Furniture Design in the Industrial Design department. In 1995, Somerson led the creation of the Furniture Design department, heading it from 1995 to 2005, and from 2008 to 2011. She served as RISD's interim associate provost for Academic Affairs from 2005 to 2007, as interim provost from 2011 to 2012, as provost from 2012 to 2013 and as interim president from 2014 to 2015. The RISD Board of Trustees appointed her the college's 17th president in February 18, 2015.[2] Somerson is the co-editor of The Art of Critical Making: Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice.[3]

RISD residency[edit]

After being appointed president in February 2015,[4] Someson appointed Pradeep Sharma to be provost.[5] Somerson's first speaking engagements as president came in the spring at the National Art Education Association Annual Convention[6] and at South By Southwest EDU, where she discussed the impact of critical making.[7] In April, 44 technicians at the college went on strike, but the three-day job action concluded with the ratification of their contract. In May, the work of Apparel Design seniors was showcased in New York City for the first time at RISD Backstudio.[8] Somerson’s first semester as president concluded with filmmaker John Waters delivering the college’s commencement address.[9] His remarks went viral and have been turned into a book.[10]

In the fall of 2015, Somerson spoke at the Nantucket Project, the Drucker Forum in Vienna and Art Basel Miami Beach.[11] The three-year renovation of RISD's Illustration Studies Building was completed[12] and an opening ceremony was held as part of the college's annual parent and alumni weekend.[13] RISD officially invested Somerson as its seventeenth president in October 2015.

Professional practice[edit]

She has maintained a professional studio practice, Rosanne Somerson Furniture, since 1979 designing and building furniture for exhibition and by commission. Her current studio is located in Fall River, Massachusetts within Smokestack Studios. Somerson is known primarily for one-of-a-kind and custom work, but is also a partner in DEZCO, LLC, a small-scale production furniture company which focuses on environmentally-responsible and design-conscious production furniture.

Museum collections[edit]

Smithsonian American Art Museum;[1] Renwick Collection, National Museum of American Art, Washington, DC; Brockton Art Museum, Fuller Memorial (Brockton, MA); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston;[11] Yale University Art Gallery; RISD Museum,[12] Rhode Island School of Design; Huntsville Museum of Art, Huntsville, AL; and Smith College Museum of Art.

Awards and distinctions[edit]



  1. ^ a b "When She Was Bad..." Search Collections. Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved 16 January 2013.
  2. ^ "Rosanne Somerson | President | About | RISD". Retrieved 2015-06-29.
  3. ^ a b "Wiley: The Art of Critical Making: Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice - Rosanne Somerson, Mara Hermano, John Maeda". Retrieved 2015-10-04.
  4. ^ "Rosanne Somerson Officially Appointed RISD President | In the Air | BLOUIN ARTINFO Blogs". Retrieved 2015-10-04.
  5. ^ "Sharma named provost at RISD - Providence Business News". Retrieved 2015-10-04.
  6. ^ "Sessions". Archived from the original on 2014-10-25. Retrieved 2015-10-04.
  7. ^ "Featured Sessions". Retrieved 2015-10-04.
  8. ^ "Backstage at RISD Backstudio". Retrieved 2015-10-04.
  9. ^ "John Waters's Advice to the Class of 2015: 'Make Me Nervous'". WSJ Blogs - Speakeasy. 2015-06-02. Retrieved 2015-10-04.
  10. ^ News, ABC. "John Waters' Commencement Speech Will Become a Book". Retrieved 2015-10-04.
  11. ^ "Rosannne Somerson". Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Retrieved 2018-03-17.
  12. ^ "Tall Back Chair – Objects - RISD MUSEUM". Retrieved 2018-03-17.

External links[edit]