Visible Storage: Arts and Crafts at RIT

The Fine Arts Department was established in 1902 soon after the merging of the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Institute, although training in drawing and design was offered at the Mechanics Institute since 1885. Students experienced artistic, as well as practical training in designing for every form of applied art – such as architecture, advertising, illustration, and design. The Applied Arts (later becoming the School of Art and Design) became one of the most popular components of the first curriculum. This was, at least partially, due to the fact that it was the first program considered to be truly established for both female and male students at a time when institutions of higher education across the nation were reluctant about deciding to include women in their programs at all. The second division of the College of Fine and Applied Arts was the School for American Craftsmen. The college eventually merged into the College of Graphic Arts and Photography, later becoming the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences and most recently the College of Art and Design.

 

The School for American Craftsmen (SAC), begun by Aileen Osborne Webb in 1944, came to the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1950. Harold Brennan and Stanley J. Witmeyer, early leaders of the school, “sought to achieve a combination of technical competence and creative imagination which came to characterize the work of the crafts and arts at RIT.”1 Initially students could choose to focus on one of four disciplines: ceramics, metalcrafts and jewelry, weaving and textile design, or woodworking and furniture design. Catalogs noted that students would find work in their own shop, in industry, or teaching. Instructors were all professional artists and had prior experience in their own shops or in industry. The curriculum focused on design principles and technique and gave students a background in the history of art and contemporary crafts.

 

Over the years, there have been changes: a glass program was added in 1972 and the program in textiles was curtailed in 1997; the name was changed to School for American Crafts in 1992; the original Shop One was opened near RIT’s downtown campus location in 1954 by faculty of SAC as a retail shop to sell their fine crafts. The shop eventually closed in 1974, and was reborn as Shop One2 in 2010 on the Henrietta campus. But consistently student work has been exhibited beyond RIT, distinguished visiting craftspeople have been a staple of the programs, and now situated in RIT’s College of Art and Design, the school continues to emphasize creative growth, development of professional competence, and intellectual and cultural enrichment.