Art students’ exhibit illuminates Cabell

Shelby Mertens
Contributing Writer

Students from the departments of interior design and crafts and materials studies have teamed up to create a series of LED light fixtures inspired by Cabell Library’s Special Collections and Archives.

Students were placed into groups mostly consisting of two interior design graduate students and one craft and material studies major. Each team chose a specific area from the library’s Special Collections and Archives department to serve as inspiration for the conceptual design of the lamp.

Yuki Hibben, assistant head in Special Collections and Archives for VCU Libraries, helped students find their inspiration.

“We helped them by giving them a list of what we collect and why  — giving them some ideas of what our collection’s strengths are — and then the students would pinpoint certain areas of the collection,” Hibben said. “Then we would pull materials for them and they would work by just viewing the materials to get inspiration from them.”

Students took inspiration from areas like Richmond history, comic arts, book arts, architecture and decorative arts.

Britta Bielak, an interior design graduate student, chose comic art as her topic of focus. Her group used Superman as their source of inspiration. Bielak said the opportunity to collaborate with classmates and students from the crafts department was a unique experience.

“We all just learned from each other so much because everyone brings something different to the table,” Bielak said. “We all have different backgrounds and different approaches to everything, and we all chose different inspirations from Special Collections.”

The exhibit features posters which explain the construction process of the lamps, documenting the students’ semster-long work. Photo by Chris Conway.
The exhibit features posters which explain the construction process of the lamps, documenting the students’ semster-long work. Photo by Chris Conway.

Betty Rowe, also an interior design graduate student, worked in a two-person interior design group.

“We focused on VCU as a whole and the diversity on campus, and focused more on the transformation from the start of the campus to what it is now,” Rowe said. Students combined a variety of materials like glass, wood, acrylic, metal and plastic.

“We had a lot of challenges with ours because we focused mostly on using wood and cardboard-like materials in the studio and the majority of our project is actually based on acrylic,” Rowe said.

Both Rowe and Bielak enjoyed learning how to work with different materials, as well as learning new building techniques.

“I think one of my favorite parts was that our crafts person taught me how to solder,” Bielak said. “So I did all the wiring on my fixture, which was like 30 plus feet with LEDs, which was quite an accomplishment. It was exciting.”

The project was a new experience for the interior design students, who normally only design fixtures on paper.

“It was a learning experience,” Bielak said. “It was really challenging, but I think that’s the point, you know, learning how to work with your hands since we don’t typically build things.”

Christopher Arias, an interior design professor and the jump starter of the project, said the purpose of the light fixtures is to allow students to have an understanding of the materials and learn how certain materials work with others.

“Often times as designers, we need to have a firm understanding of the capabilities of materials, so that we know how to apply them to certain situations,” Arias said.

The teams created an architectural plan for the new building that will be attached to Cabell Library in 2015. Students envision their light fixtures inside the building and incorporated into the architecture.

“Not only do (the students) bring the design aspect to the project, but they can now understand that through some simple research, they can come up with something that has a value that extends beyond the fixture and helps the environment,” Arias said.

The Student Lamp Exhibit will be on display on the first floor of Cabell Library until May 10. 

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