Rosanne Somerson

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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 by John Maeda
Personal details
Born (1954-06-21) June 21, 1954 (age 61)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Occupation Woodworker, 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 academic career[edit]

Rosanne Somerson was 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" for Taunton Press. Somerson taught with the Harvard Extension School from 1977-1978, and joined the RISD faculty in 1985. From 1985-1995 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, and headed the department from 1995–2005, and from 2008-2011. She served as RISD's Interim Associate Provost for Academic Affairs from 2005-2007, as Interim Provost from 2011-2012, as Provost from 2012-2013 and as Interim President from 2014-2015. 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]


Rosanne Somerson was appointed president in February 2015.[4] She appointed Pradeep Sharma to be provost.[5] The first speaking engagements of Somerson's presidency 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. 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 will become a book.[10] In the fall of 2015, Somerson spoke at the Nantucket Project about educating students for jobs that don’t exist yet,[11] and the three-year renovation of RISD’s Illustration’s Studies building was completed.[12] RISD will officially invest Somerson as its 17th president in October 2015. The inauguration ceremony is part of RISD by Design weekend, the college’s annual parent and alumni weekend.[13]

Professional practice[edit]

Rosanne Somerson 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, MA. 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 MA
  • Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven CT
  • RISD Museum, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence RI
  • Huntsville Museum of Art, Huntsville AL
  • Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton MA

Awards, distinctions, and notable achievements[edit]

  • 2012 Award of Distinction for Lifetime Achievement, The Furniture Society
  • 2009 Named Fellow, American Craft Council, New York, NY
  • 2002 National Distinguished Educator Award, James Renwick Alliance, Smithsonian Inst., Wash, DC
  • 2001 First Place, Centennial Arts & Crafts Exhibition, Providence Art Club, Providence, RI
  • 1996 Faculty Development Grant, RISD
  • 1995 Faculty Development Grant, RISD
  • 1990 Faculty Development Grant, RISD
  • 1988 Visual Artist Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts
  • 1988 Finalist in Crafts, Massachusetts Arts Fellowship
  • 1987 Grand Prize, American Craft Awards Competition, The Guild, also Westport Arts Council Grant
  • 1984 Visual Artist Fellowship - National Endowment for the Arts
  • 1984 WBZ Arts Grant, Fund for the Arts
  • 1984 New Works Grant - Mass Council on Arts & Humanities to Brockton Art Museum
  • 1983 Award of Outstanding Achievement, Women in Design International Competition
  • 1983 Artist Residency, Artpark
  • 1979 Honorable Mention, Containers, Danforth Museum
  • 1976 First Place, New England Winner Student Design Competition
  • 1975 First Place, New England Regional Winner, "NHFL Craft/Design Competition"
  • 1974 Scholarship, Edinburgh Arts '74, Completed Traditional Coopering Apprenticeship, Markinch Distillery, Scotland


  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. ^ "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". 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. ^, retrieved 2015-10-04  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ Feitelberg, Rosemary. "RISD Set to Unveil $5.5 Million Illustration Studies Building in Providence". Retrieved 2015-10-04. 
  13. ^ "Inaugural ceremony planned for RISD president - Providence Business News". Retrieved 2015-10-04. 

External links[edit]