A conceptual online museum of appropriated art

When he was a child growing up in Szechuan, China, Harry XiZhuo Lin enjoyed watching television programs on art and culture, such as those on the History Channel. He always noticed where the artwork came from –- places like Egypt, China and India –- and where it had ended up –- places like the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Louvre.

From Harry Lin’s presentation of “The Stolen History of Art Collection”

Lin, an Advertising and Digital Design senior, learned more about “stolen art” and issues of repatriations through his studies at FIT. His interest never abated. He was recently awarded first prize in an NFT Design Competition sponsored by Fabriq Labs, a digital design marketplace. Lin’s winning project, “The Stolen History of Art Collection,” is a NFT collection of artwork and artifacts that have been deemed improperly acquired from their places of origin.

Lin aims to correct misconceptions and bring attention to looted art:

“A lot of times major museums refer to artwork in their collection as being part of humanity. But they don’t identify pieces that were stolen. People are going to museums to be educated. We want them to know more about this,” says Lin. “If you are manipulating the narrative, then the history is not authentic.”

Lin describes NFTs as “representing digital authenticity and ownership.” His NFT collection is minted through what he calls an “experience art gallery.”

”Visitors will be allowed to acquire the NFT through contactless technology,” says Lin. Think of it as digital theft of already stolen art!

Harry Lin’s project provides examples of “stolen” artworks

“We want people to keep the authentic history of art alive,” says Lin who is passionate about artwork being accessible to all. He says that of the approximately 8,000,000 artifacts in the holdings of The British Museum, only a very small percentage are on display.

During a semester abroad studying at Leeds Arts University in the UK, Lin gained greater appreciation for issues involving art repatriation:

“I feel privileged to have visited the UK and to travel abroad to see these artifacts in person. I wish my people from China could all do the same to understand our heritage and the achievements of our ancestors.”

Lin explains the process of transforming images to the 3D platform Blender before formatting for NFT minting
Lin explains the process of transforming images to the 3D platform Blender before formatting for NFT minting.

Lin’s winning project was part of his senior graduation thesis in the format of an integrated advertising campaign. “This is an ongoing project. My hope is that one day museums will acknowledge the dark history of their acquisitions by repatriating certain works of art,” he says.

“A lot of times major museums refer to artwork in their collection as being part of humanity. But they don’t identify pieces that were stolen. People are going to museums to be educated. We want them to know more about this. If you are manipulating the narrative, then the history is not authentic,” says Lin.

In addition to minoring in Art History, Psychology, and Creative Technology, Lin is president of the Metaverse Club, for FIT students interested in exploring new technology and working on digital design projects.

The Metaverse Club won third place in the NFT Design Competition. Its project prompts fellow students to create a collection of NFTs that reflect the diversity and creativity at FIT. Photos of students are turned into characters in voxel (Lego-like) style. The club’s advisor, Interaction Design and Immersive Technologies professor Michael Posso, ’08, had arranged for guest speakers to discuss blockchain and 3D design.

The second place prize went to Lauren Breuer, a Production Management senior for her “Spot the Difference” collection that addresses issues of speciesism.

Metaverse Club won third place in the NFT Competition

Fabriq Labs, an advocate of “Web3,” partnered with FIT for this first NFT Design Competition. Web3 is the general term for the emerging on-line collection of small, specialized, often individual web services.  The contest was initiated by Chair William Reinisch and Professor Renee Leibler of the Entrepreneurship department.

Prize money was $2,500 for first place; $1,500 for second; and $750 for third.

Harry XiZhuo Lin

To see more of Harry XiZhuo Lin’s work, visit his website: harry-lin.com. He can be reached at: [email protected]

Click here to learn more about the Advertising and Digital Design major and here for information about student Clubs and Activities at FIT.

Click here to learn more about Student Contests and Industry-Related Projects.

All images used with permission

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A postcard with a stark message about school gun violence

“I started off with the image of the empty classroom, brought in the silhouette of a hand holding a gun, and then, using the pen and star tools in Illustrator, illustrated the American flag behind that in the windows,” says Cindy Choo describing how she created the winning image for FIT’s Constitution Day Postcard Competition.

“I thought of the prevalence of school shootings in the news and the fear they create for school children and teens,” said the Graphic Design senior.

Cindy Choo’s first-place winning Constitution Day Postcard

Choo won first place in the annual postcard competition sponsored by the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Participants are instructed to illuminate a section of the U.S. Constitution in a contemporary context.

Professor Ronald Bacsa had assigned students in his Design Competition class (GD 361) to create work for the completion. Students had to design a front and back of a 3×5 or 4×6-inch postcard that reflects their beliefs in any part of the Constitution.

“Creating a victorious work that addresses the issue of gun control feels entirely appropriate with all that is going on in the news,” said Prof. Bacsa.

Choo, who is minoring in Art History and Asian Studies, is a gpassionate about designing playful, fun, and colorful pieces that bring joy, but I am also committed to creating meaningful work that speaks to people on a deeper level,” she says.

“I believe that the right to bear arms should be balanced with the need to prevent gun violence. Implementing gun control measures is essential to prevent further tragedies,” said Choo. “Thoughts and prayers alone aren’t enough.”

Winners of the Constitution Day competition are selected in the spring for the week of Constitution Day. (Constitution Day is September 17.) To submit a design for 2024, students can email their work to [email protected] and cc: history professor Daniel Levinson Wilk who helps oversee the competition at: [email protected].

See more of Cindy Choo’s work her website and follow her in IG: @nicetomeetcchoo.

Follow this link for more information about FIT’s Graphic Design BFA.

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Daisy Ruiz’s illustrated South Bronx tale

Daisy Ruiz, Illustration ’16, has released her first book, “Gordita: Built Like This.” In this illustrated long-form comic, a Chicana Bronx teen is bullied for not being curvy, but is helped by friends and mentors. The plot mirrors the author’s own middle school experiences and offers lots of good advice to victims and to folks who can help. A sequel is already in the works.

“Gordita: Built Like This” is a 28-page comic illustrated and written by Daisy Ruiz

Ruiz, known online as Draizys, is founder and creative director of the award-winning compilation zine Deadass Tho NYC. Her illustrations take inspiration from her career trajectory, her East Coast Chicana upbringing, and everyday NYC living.

“The story came out of me growing up as a Mexican-American in the South Bronx,” she says.

“I experienced shame as a child from my family, classmates, and strangers because of my body shape. It took a long time for me to love myself. It’s a journey I’m still on. I want young kids and adults alike to know that we are more than our bodies, and to learn to accept ourselves as we are.”

Page from “Gordita,” illustrated and written by Daisy Ruiz

Gordita’s friends and guidance counselor are central to the sophisticated storyline. They provide different perspectives to Gordita’s lived experiences. Among the characters:

Cassandra is the prettiest girl in the class but she’s shunned by classmates for being curvy and having the boys attention, she’s sexualized at a very early age.

Page from “Gordita,” illustrated and written by Daisy Ruiz

Treasure is gothic and bisexual. She speaks up for her friends but she’s still reduced to being called fat by classmates.

Marie is quiet and shy because of her body odor despite her being a pretty girl.

Miss Payne, a woman in her 30’s, can emphasize with the girls because she was their age once.

Gordita relates to all their stories and realizes that no matter the body shape, some people will always have something off-putting to say.

Page from “Gordita,” illustrated and written by Daisy Ruiz

“I experienced bullying in subtle ways at FIT,” she admits. “But being in the EOP (Equal Opportunity Program), I was able to know people from different majors, so I never felt isolated for being a BIPOC student.”

EOP is a program that acquaints incoming students with navigating FIT in a summer program before college starts. FIT also assigns a counselor to each student for support.

Page from “Gordita,” illustrated and written by Daisy Ruiz

Daisy has an uncommonly long list of people who helped her at FIT. “I’d like to give a shout-out to my professors Eric Velasquez, Kam Mak, William Low, Tony Capparelli, the late Chris Spollen, and Ray Lago for being particularly instrumental professors in my journey to becoming an artist,” she said.

There are two versions of “Gordita,” one with more frank language that could be inappropriate for some youngsters. It is already available in English, with Spanish editions and, as noted, a sequel coming soon.

Daisy “Draizys” Ruiz, illustrator and author

“Gorditas” will be available shortly in the Gladys Marcus Library. The book can be purchased at Blackjoseipress.com, in person at the Silver Sprocket store in San Francisco, Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal, and Gulf Coast Cosmos Comics in Houston.

To follow Daisy Ruiz, friend her on IG: @Draizys and on Twitter: @Draizys.

To learn more about the FIT’s Illustration and Interactive Media program, go to: Illustration at FIT.

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Elaine Drew: Actor, Tailor, Medieval Writer

After two novels that take readers back 1300 years to early medieval England, Elaine Drew has just released a lavishly illustrated short story from the same period, A Knight’s Bad Day. Another is in the works.

Drew had a bachelor’s in English from Emory University and had worked in public relations for General Electric before tiring of corporate life, turning to acting, and coming to FIT for an associate’s degree in Fashion Design, graduating in 1976.

Cover art “A Knight’s Bad Day,” by Elaine Drew

 “Acting at least has some link to English and writing,” Drew said. But her mother had been a talented designer and seamstress, and her boyfriend at the time, an actor, had by happenstance gotten a free, reconditioned old Singer for her.

“The machine was shiny and black and beautifully decorated with gold scrolls. I was less than thrilled. But feeling guilty, I thought I’d better sew something. I bought a pattern and learned to sew the way I had learned to cook: by slavishly following the directions.” It was the 70s, pre-YouTube.

Detail from “A Knight’s Bad Day,” by Elaine Drew

“To my surprise, I found this absorbing. I decided to decorate the long wool culottes I’d made (it was, again, the 70s) with hand embroidery that I made up as I went. I was hooked.”

Drew said her years writing university papers and corporate pamphlets had left her wondering if her output was any good. “But when I made a garment, I could hang it up and look at it. I could tell whether it was good or not. I decided to become a designer.”

From “A Knight’s Bad Day,” by Elaine Drew

Cue FIT: “I loved my classes. I even loved the sewing instructor who ripped out the zipper I had slaved over and then explained how to do it correctly. I dearly loved my tailoring tutor who taught us couture techniques, and my millinery instructor who showed us how to block felt into a shape.

“I loved draping and pattern making. A big surprise was loving the History of Costume course. I had never liked history, and this introduction to the field from a different point of view came in handy when I started to research the early medieval period for my writing.

Detail from “A Knight’s Bad Day,” by Elaine Drew

“I got my start painting in the Fashion Illustration course, which acquainted me with watercolor and illustration techniques. The Life class started a lifelong interest in drawing the figure.”

FIT helped Drew get her first job, at a junior sportswear company called N.U.T.S. The owners didn’t want to say, but in time they confessed it was the acronym for “No Underwear This Season.” Again, and for the last time, it was the 70s.

Garden and castle from “A Knight’s Bad Day,” by Elaine Drew

After a few years Drew went freelance. “It was the era of boutique clothing, and I created and sold one-of-a-kind pieces to department stores like Bendel’s, Bergdorf Goodman, and Bloomingdales, as well as many small boutiques.”

She also made costumes for a group that put on medieval plays at The Cloisters and was an exhibition consultant for The Met’s Costume Institute. She met fashion scholar Harold Koda there long before he was its curator. Drew had a gig in Paris for an exhibition of Ballet Russe costumes and later married and moved to Los Angeles and worked in costuming for the Center Theater Group.

Detail from “A Knight’s Bad Day,” by Elaine Drew

All of that has influenced her books: “I look at a character’s costume from the point of view of its construction.

“I learned to go to libraries and museums. Illustration skills flow from design skills, such as thinking about the design of a page, the color story, and adding a telling detail while not distracting from the whole. As an FIT teacher explained, ‘You can only have one prima ballerina.’”

From “A Knight’s Bad Day,” by Elaine Drew

“After we moved to a small village in England, I decided it was time to find work that didn’t depend on a specific location. I was writing more—even poetry for Winchester Cathedral—when Saxon remains were found under the children’s school playground. I began thinking about these early English.

“Wouldn’t it be fun to set the Cinderella story in early English times with a bratty and sassy heroine, the opposite of her usual portrayal?

Christine Mower in “Noah’s Ark,” performed at the Cloisters. Costume by Elaine Drew

That led to two years researching this period of Hampshire’s history (around 802) and spawned her first book, Courting Trouble. “I enjoyed the main characters of that book so much that I did another book about them, Nun Too Clever, a mystery.

Stephen de Pietri in “A Woman Taken in Adultery,” performed at the Cloisters. Costume by Elaine Drew

For those books, she illustrated the covers.  A Knight’s Bad Day illustrates a tale featuring the hero of the first two books.

The illustrations for that book were mostly manual. Drew did outline sketches designed as two-page spreads, then refined and enlarged in Adobe Illustrator and printed full size with a wide format printer. With a light box and Faber-Castell Ecco Pigment pens, she traced the line art onto Arches watercolor paper, then painted these illustrations with Holbein’s gouache. The finished paintings were scanned and modified in Adobe Photoshop.

Detail from “A Knight’s Bad Day,” by Elaine Drew

For her next project, in progress, she’s using only digital tools, adding an iPad and Fresco to the mix. She’s back in the United States, living in the San Francisco Bay area, in the town of Pleasanton. But the Saxons followed her.

Elaine Drew in her studio, Pleasanton, CA

Elaine Drew’s book “A Knight’s Bad Day,” will be available shortly in the Gladys Marcus Library.

To see more of the writer and illustrator’s work, visit ElaineDrew.com and on Instagram: @Elaine_Drew3

To learn more about the School of Art and Design’s Fashion Design major, visit Fashion Design at FIT.

All images used with permission.

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Toy Design’s Susan Adamo Baumbach on Whimsy, Twists and Tech

Professor Susan Adamo Baumbach, longtime faculty member, is now acting chair of FIT’s high-profile Toy Design department. Thriving in the fast-moving world of design, refinement, production and sales of toys and games, is a challenge she meets. While she’s a die-hard enthusiast for some games of the past— must-have toys like the Frisbee and a deck of cards–she’s constantly working on the next thing.

Acting Chair of Toy Design Susan Adamo Baumbach. Photo: Sophie Lancione

We asked the acting chair about her life in toys and her vision for the department:

Could you describe a few highlights of your week as acting chair?

SAB: I’ve been teaching Game Design during the spring semester for many years. The biggest highlight for me is when I see students’ work evolve, see that there’s been exploration and not just holding to the original concepts. I love playing games with them. Tonight I brought in Pie Face!, Boom Boom Balloon, Tapple and Chardoodles.

Photo: Sophie Lancione

One of your early jobs was as an editor of a video game publication. How did it lead to toy design?

SAB: I got a cold call while I was at Video Games Magazine about an opening at CBS, which was starting a video games division. I didn’t design video games, I reviewed them. But I got the job, then went to their toys department. From there I went to Pressman Toys where I worked for a long time. (Games are the core of Pressman’s product line – classics and ones based on TV game shows.)

How much does being in NYC give the department an edge?

SAB: We can walk down any street and have an idea. One toy inventor told me that he is always asking himself, “Is there a toy here? Is there a game here?” He would go to Canal Street and buy random parts to see if he had something when he got home.

One of my favorite stories has to do with Chicago inventor Burt Meyer who was in NY for the Toy Fair. He and his boss, Marvin Glass, were looking at the lighted boards around Times Square and Glass said that if you could make that into a toy, then we’d really have something. Once back in Chicago, Burt started work on what would become Lite Brite, one of the top toys of all time.

Photo: Sophie Lancione

What things are most important to you in a Toy Design applicant?

SAB: Good question: Fresh thinking that takes everything about the end-user into consideration, some art skills with a good sense of proportion, maybe whimsy, an unusual twist on something we think we already know.

Our department recruits students heading into junior year. Many students hear about it at FIT. They meet someone in the program, they find it in the course book. We do a “cookies and milk” event to publicize the department.

Photo: Christian Steininger

Where did you grow up and what toys did you play with?

SAB: I grew up in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. A neighbor who was a year younger than me had a great stash of toys and games. When my older sister Jane caught on that I was a sucker for games, she started charging me a quarter to play with her.

Photo: Christian Steininger

How did your taste in toys and games evolve?

SAB: A game called Think-a-Dot made me aware that math had toy applications. That was definitely a leap. Etch-a-Sketch was quite a ‘wow.’ Mr. Potato Head (rebranded to Potato Head) —using real produce. I had a plastic train set I loved; Barbie, Ken, Midge and Alan, a 10-speed bike. My tastes grew with every new box I opened.

So many kids now spend so much time on social media. Do they have time for toys?

SAB: Well, many of their adults limit social media time. And sometimes kids feel spent themselves and want a new ‘flavor.’ Spring is here—Frisbees, bike riding, kite flying, drone flying—These provide their own experience as well.

Photo: Christian Steininger

I used to have a doll and it just sat there. At best, my dolls had eyes that blinked. Now they can practically do your homework. Is there less of a nurturing element with owning a doll?

SAB: Typical baby dolls have given way to plush, which may now, overall, give kids that toy-nurturing play. Plush feels so good, can have amazing colors and features and, if licensed plush, is like having your favorite characters at home.

Major news outlets are reporting a big increase in interest in toys and games for adults. A third of all toys and games are used by adults. Are you adapting your curriculum to this expanding market?

Toy Design Acting Chair Susan Adamo Baumbach. Photo: Sophie Lancione

SAB: I don’t know that any one of us can keep track of all of it, so we have to keep asking each other, “What’s up? What’s going on?” I’m frequently using Google News to search “toys”, “games” and company names.

The biggest change is students designing toys in Solid Works, which are then printed in our Print FX 3D lab. Advanced hard-toy design and engineering, drafting and technical drawing—the department keeps up with the expanding market and a big part of that is our relationship with the faculty who, at their own full time jobs, are always ahead of the game.

With so much evolution in the toy industry, how do you recruit faculty members who are on top of their craft and are also good teachers?

SAB: Right now we are on the hunt for a couple of people who are good industrial designers. So saying that here is one way to attract them! We also get recommendations from our faculty.

Photo: Sophie Lancione

Toys today cover a staggering gamut of playing experiences. Is there still a toy that everyone of a certain age “must” have?

SAB: I would say—Frisbee, deck of cards, couple of pairs of dice, chalk, ball.

What type of inter-disciplinary activities might you have in mind?

SAB: Right now we are involved with the Cooke School and Institute in South Harlem. Juniors and seniors also work with the Hudson Guild here in Chelsea. It’s an agency focused on those in economic need.

What toys do you buy for your own family?

SAB: Husband David and daughter Aurora are both players of SET, an amazing card game. They also like SpotIt! and Aurora is especially too good at it,

Toy Design Acting Chair Susan Adamo Baumbach. Photo: Sophie Lancione

To learn more about the Toy Design major in the School of Art and Design visit: Toy Design at FIT.

All photos by Photography majors Sophie Lancione and Christian Steininger. To see more of their work go to: SophieLancoione.com and on IG: @sophie.lancione. Follow Christian Steininger on IG: @ccsteininger.

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The Radical Act of Repair: Artful, Visible Mending

It may be a radical idea, but you don’t always need to hide your mending. Your stitching can be admired. Students and faculty members recently participated in “Radical Acts of Repair,” a workshop featuring noted textile artist Celia Pym remotely from London. It explored darning and the art of textile repair.

Photo: Smiljana Peros

Round patched darning techniques with pieced knitwear. Moths take notice!

The workshop, supported by the college’s Sustainability Grant, was led by Fashion Design professors Tom Scott and Amy Sperber. Pym gave detailed demonstrations and also discussed several projects she’s created in her London studio.

“Celia spoke inspiringly about the individuals and stories behind the garments that she’s mended,” said Prof. Scott. “Her work focuses on bringing a new chapter into a garment’s life by repairing it with visible mending techniques that are celebrated, rather than hidden.”

Photo: Smiljana Peros

Detail of a student’s woven darn technique as the weft is being completed. 

Each participant brought an accessory or item of clothing to work on. They received guidance from Pym on repairing their well-loved, well-worn items. No previous darning experience was necessary.

Photo: Smiljana Peros
Photo: Smiljana Peros

Fourth-year Knitwear student Jennifer Ho practicing the darning techniques on a sweater she brought to the workshop.

Photo: Smiljana Peros

Photo: Smiljana Peros

Student practicing the woven darn technique with waste yarns collected from the Knitting Machine Lab.

Photo: Smiljana Peros

 Fourth-year Sportswear student Amari Harper, starting the weft threads on her woven darn mending. 

Photo: Smiljana Peros

Student notes from artist talk and darning demonstration given by Pym, and student example of woven darn technique using yarns collected by Prof. Scott.

Photo: Smiljana Peros

Fourth-year Knitwear student Anna Lindsey darning the back of a sweater.  

Photo: Smiljana Peros

Group shot of Radical Repair participants with Pym in her London studio.

To learn more about the School of Art and Design’s Fashion Design major, visit Fashion Design at FIT.

To learn more about FIT’s Sustainability Grants go to: FIT Sustainability projects.

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From Graffiti to Cornfields, Sarah Merenda Has Customers’ Walls Covered

Sarah Merenda’s Fine Arts teacher, Prof. Marcy Rosenblat, told Merenda that she really needed to “work big.” Prof. Rosenblat was right, but she had no idea how big.

Merenda entered FIT as a graffiti artist and skilled wallpaper hanger. Indeed she had been working large. But the encouragement to continue with large canvases confirmed her direction and would help set the course of her career.

"Suncatcher" wallpaper designed by Sarah Merenda
“Suncatcher” wallpaper designed by Sarah Merenda was created from a watercolor rainbow painting.

After first graduating with an AAS degree in Textile/Surface Design, Merenda established Merenda Wallpaper, a company that sells wall coverings featuring everything from repeating patterns to mural-size prints. Three patterns she designed for Textile/Surface professor Dennis Lee’s class are still among her bestsellers, almost 10 years later.

“The impact of Sarah’s design work lies in her ability to balance larger-than-life scale with an intimate and intricate drawing style,” says Nomi Kleinman, Chair of the Textile/Surface Design and Fabric Styling departments. “Her compositions are powerful, while her motifs and mark-making are delicate. This dichotomy evokes a sense of wonder.”-

“Snake Party” wallpaper pattern features images of snakes, chipmunks, the extinct passenger pigeon, the tobacco bug, bees, flies, flowers and corn

Merenda first got her informal education from her mother growing up in Maryland. Then she trained with members of her Atlanta-area extended family, which specialized in hanging wallpaper and other wall coverings. Then she expanded her horizons at FIT.

“Snake Party” wallpaper in the color farrow, in farmhouse bathroom.

A Creative Lifetime Begins

Merenda grew up with five siblings in an old farmhouse outside Chestertown, Maryland. Her mother, who sold perennials and herbs, had wallpapered each room with different patterns.

“I always made art and helped my mother run her business. I used to go with her to crafts shows. I got my work ethic and learned to do everything myself,” says Merenda.

“By high school, I was painting, drawing and spray-painting graffiti.” She also began assisting with hanging wallpaper.

“Graffiti fit together with wallpaper. It’s another large format,” she says. “It’s informative. It’s quick. You put the sheet up and you can make a bold statement quickly.” With graffiti “You have to work quick; you have to get in and get out.”

“Mais” wallpaper, designed by Sarah Merenda

Her aunt and uncle owned a wallpaper hanging business in Atlanta. “I assisted my uncle for about six months,” says Merenda. “I picked it up right away and fell in love with the patterns of the papers, then started hanging. I worked with four of my uncles who hung wallpaper, as well as another female installer.”

Merenda moved to Rego Park, Queens, in 1999 and craved to do more with her talents. “I wasn’t designing or making wallpaper. FIT changed everything for me,” she says.

Sarah Merenda hanging the “Corn Rows” wallpaper she designed.

While at FIT, she also began working for a contractor who taught her to paint and plaster. “I designed my first wallpaper while I was in school.”

She received her FIT Associates degree at age 26, established Merenda Wallpaper, worked for a decade, and finally took time off to return to FIT for her bachelor’s, also spending a semester at the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London.

“Sarah worked with a drive not often seen in students. With unwavering focus and determination, she absorbed every aspect of the material and pushed herself beyond the expectations” says Prof. Kleinman.

“FIT was amazing,” says Merenda. “For me it was a vacation from my working life. It allowed me to be playful and to give myself permission to be creative. Sometimes work gets in the way of creativity. Working is always great. You learn to incorporate your skills into the real world. Both are just as important in my opinion.”

Using a litho-crayon over newspaper, Merenda hand-rubbed street covers she saw while strolling through the city.
“NYC Manhole” wallpaper designed by Sarah Merenda, her ode to our underfoot urban history.

Many of her designs are inspired by the smallest details, like city storm drain typography, nostalgic scenes from timeless Americana farmhouses, weathered graffiti, and alluring shapes from the wild.

Her oyster and cornhusk designs comes from imagery of places she’s lived.  But she also works with customers who have something else in mind, perhaps a unique tale to tell.

“Oysters” wallpaper designed by Sarah Merenda while studying abroad in London. New York City was a major market for oysters. They had been an important food source for the Lenape Native Americans.

Merenda continued hanging wallpaper, and in 2015, she bought an HP Latex 360 wide-format printer to produce her own designs. she set up shop in Astoria. Her home and business is now in the greater Philadelphia area.


“I moved in late 2020 with my family for more space, and to continue expanding my business in surface design”

The industry is booming. “There are a lot of people interested in it, people are putting effort into making new products, so it is becoming more competitive.”

Merenda started mainly doing homes and apartments. But she also handles restaurants and office spaces and hallways in residential buildings. “I don’t generally install a lot of commercial jobs. I’ve found it more rewarding installing art galleries or residential.”

“Boom Box” wallpaper designed by Sarah Merenda, is inspired by the cultural touchstone of the ‘80s.

It’s not all paper, either. “I install traditional screen-printed wallpaper, clay coated, mylar, non-woven, silk, grasscloths, vinyl, hand-painted murals, digitally printed goods, gold leaf and wood veneer papers. Over the years, I’ve used a lot of different materials including covering a few galleries in tin foil, magazine paper, and newspapers.”

Merenda starts each design with a drawing, illustration, painting, rubbing or photograph and manipulates the images with Photoshop rather than custom wall design software before digitally printing them on eco-friendly paper for private clients, architects and interior designers.

Detail of “Dragon Flowers” wallpaper, designed by Sarah Merenda

Merenda’s patterns tend to be contemporary and range from mural styles to repeats. “I can make art and have it be a wallpaper, too,” she says.

“Dragon Flowers” wallpaper, designed by Sarah Merenda. The pattern is inspired by tattoo art and 1970s textiles.

The designs reflect her interests “in near and far-away lands, graffiti, tattoo art, abandoned buildings, underground history and the impermanence of all things,” says Merenda.

“Sarah’s wallpapers simultaneously create a sense of spaciousness and warmth, transforming the environments her wallpaper is applied to,” says Prof. Kleinman.

Travel in Japan, Cuba, Colombia, Berlin, Sicily, London, and Thailand have all contributed to her work, she says, “but India most of all.”

Naga Lotus wallpaper design by Sarah Merenda is hand-drawn from Tibetan Buddhist symbols. The serpent-human-like deities are lake and stream dwelling creatures that guard treasures.

To see more of Sarah Merenda’s work, visit his website at: MerendaWallpaper.com and on IG @merendawallpaper.

To learn more about the Textile/Surface Design AAS and BFA programs go to: Textile/Surface Design at FIT.

All images used with permission.
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Deconstructing Knitwear into New Designs

What’s old can be cut up, re-stitched, and combined with other garments to create complex, fascinating designs – in other words, made new again. Students in Fashion Design Professor Tom Scott’s Intro to Knitwear class (FD357) were assigned to upcycle sweaters donated by C2/Contempo Group, a global sourcing and product development agency.

“Every year, we ask the students to create original designs in knitwear using garments that they typically find in thrift or vintage stores, or recycle from friends and family,” said Prof. Scott. “They cut and disassemble the found pieces to design new garments, playing with shape, stitch, and construction in creative and thoughtful ways.”

Fiona Geraghty’s Cable Crewneck, a “vertiginous mash-up”

Students unravel and re-use the yarn and patch different elements together throughout the semester. “It’s exciting to see their work and the complexity of each garment develop as they create them,” Prof. Scott said.

“Last summer, we received a large sweater donation from C2. There were so many sweaters. I let each student select a few pieces to incorporate into their designs.”

Scott described what happens as students deconstruct garments and reconfigure them:

Fiona Geraghty’s piece is “a fabulous and almost vertiginous mash-up of fabric, colors, and hand embroidery techniques,” said Prof. Scott. “She experimented and pushed the boundaries with very complex and clever construction.”

Fiona Geraghty’s crewneck sweater

Gabriela Woellner experimented by draping sweaters to create an organic 3D effect, even unravelling sweater fiber back into the yarn to create a fringe detail, said Prof. Scott. “It is ingenious and playful.”

Gabriela Woellner’s Crewneck with fringe detail
Gabriela Woellner’s crewneck sweater

Karen Lam has a unique, almost “scientific” precision in her approach, said Prof. Scott. “She very thoughtfully developed the cool shape shown, in patchworked cabled sweaters…wearable and very modern.”

Karen Lam’s patchworked cable crewneck sweater.
Karen Lam’s cable crewneck sweater

Rose Lakhi created a clean and modern patchwork silhouette, “really thinking about finishing in a fresh and cool combination of fabrics,” Prof. Scott said.

Rose Lakhi’s “modern patchwork silhouette”
Rose Lakhi’s patchwork sweater

Prof. Scott says he still has many, some in finer gauges, left over from the donated sweaters, and will  offer them to students who are continuing in the Knitwear concentration.”

To learn more about the Knitwear concentration in the School of Art and Design, visit Fashion Design at FIT.

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The spider, the pig, and the child in all of us: How FIT students spun a web for Charlotte

For the past month, people walking by FIT on 7th Avenue between 27th and 28th Streets have been caught in Charlotte’s Web. Students in Prof. Glenn Sokoli’s Advanced Store Window Design class transformed the Colin Burch Window in the Pomerantz Art and Design Center into pages of the children’s classic by E.B. White, complete with Charlotte the spider, her friend Wilbur the pig, and of course the web itself.

Display window tribute to the 70th anniversary of E.B. White’s children’s book “Charlotte’s Web”

Said Anne Kong, Program Director of the Spatial Experience Design program, “people have been standing in front of it and taking selfies… It’s been pretty exciting!”

The display, which ends December 13,  was created by students Anum Khawaja, Ana Belardi, Lauren Axford, Alyssa Monez, and Gabriel Hottinger. In these advanced classes, students experiment with more sophisticated approaches to display.

Charlotte’s Web display closeup

“Spatial Design” is a new term, which influenced the name of FIT’s program.  It’s trending, Prof. Kong says. “The term “spatial” refers to bringing some of what has been considered ‘window dressing’ beyond just product display to take advantage of a store’s façade and have fun drawing people in.”

It started a decade ago with Cartier adding a multistory big red bow around its store façade in New York City. The store itself became a giant gift box. Dior, Chanel and others have followed, adding fantasy themes inside and out.

The Spatial Experience Design program integrates an array of creative technologies says Prof. Kong.

“Quite a bit of technology went into that window. The students 3D printed Wilbur and also Charlotte’s legs. There is a lot of prop and set design expertise going into that design,” says Prof. Kong.

Wiber, a character from “Charlotte’s Web”

Why Charlotte’s Web? “It’s the 70th anniversary of the book’s original publication and there’s a new book release so we figured we wanted to build a window that’s looking right into the story,” said student Anum Khawaja.

“We grew up with the book. Prof. Sokoli also grew up with the movie. We bonded,” said Khawaja.

For homework the students watched the movie. They all chose a scene or section to recreate. They decided to use the scene where Wilbur first meets Charlotte.

Charlotte’s legs are painted before gluing the flocking powder on to ensure a solid coat of black underneath
Charlotte’s body with floral wire with wrapped string around the wire to give the illusion that she is suspended by a strand of silk

“We wanted to recreate that scene but also give it a sense of scale and a sense of strength, because Charlotte is a spider; she’s small but we wanted to make her feel large and as important as she is in the book, by scaling her up and making her the scene focus.”

Lauren Axford lining up the vinyl for the title of the window and considering its position

To learn more about the Spatial Experience Design program (formally  Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design) go to: Spatial Experience Design at FIT.

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Two Jewelry Design students win Cultured Pearl Association awards

Two FIT second-year students, Victor Rouesné and Luna Gwak, have won the Cultured Pearl Association of America’s design competition, student division. This was the first year that student work was judged separately.

Victor Rouesné’s CPAA winning Voguedelier earrings

Students had to sketch (by hand or with CAD) their designs, which could feature any color, shape, or variety of fine cultured pearls available on the market. The judges were looking for designs that are “fresh, modern, wearable, and defy outdated thoughts about wearing pearls.” But fresh interpretations of old ideas were welcome.

The two Jewelry Design AAS students tied and were both awarded first prizes. Victor Rouesné won for his “Voguedelier” earrings. Luna Gwak won for her Ribbon statement necklace in 18k rose gold with akoya pearls, white diamonds, pink morganite, and light green beryl.

The earrings were inspired by Art Deco as well as Vogue covers from the mid-1920s. “We often think of pearls as white and round,” said Rouesné, “but they can come in a variety of colors and shapes, like baroque, blue, black, green, and pink.”

Pearl necklace design by Victor Rouesne for JD 238 Jewelry Design Ideations II. An amulet pendant represents a piece of fabric revealing a white pearl.

Rouesné said that if his design happens to be made someday, it will use yellow gold with white freshwater pearls ranging in size from 3 mm to 7.5 mm.

He designed the earrings for his jewelry design and ideations class. The assignment was to design pendant earrings that were inspired by Art Deco, but not something that looks like it stepped out of the 1930s.

Rouesné said he got positive feedback from Prof. Karen Bachmann, his jewelry design and ideations professor last semester. “It was my first project for her class and got such feedback on it so I had set high expectations for the rest of the semester. I also got good feedback from Prof. Michael Coan who teaches gemology.”

Before coming to FIT, Rouesné majored in fashion design in France, but did not have experience in silversmithing, working with any metals, or any knowledge in gemology.

He hopes to work as a jewelry designer for either a jewelry company or a fashion company if they have a jewelry line, to gain professional experience before creating his own jewelry company. “I hope to create a gender-neutral jewelry brand. The jewelry market is saturated with women’s jewelry brands while offering few fresh and contemporary men’s and gender-fluid jewelry.”

Luna Gwak’s CPAA winning ribbon statement necklace

Luna Gwak says “I was so happy when I found out that I had won the award! It gave me more confidence in designing a statement necklace. It was a great experience because even though the pearl is one of my favorite gems, it was my first time considering designs that feature pearls as the main gems.”

Gwak’s statement necklace was inspired by ribbon often used, she says, for gift boxes and as an adornment for people or objects. “The addition of ribbon adds excitement to the giver and receiver. I designed this necklace with a hope that people feel excitement and happiness. I  named it ‘Present for You’ necklace,” said Gwak.

“I used gouache for the painting. My gouache rendering skills, design ideation, and understanding of jewelry mechanism come from my FIT Jewelry Design studies. They were all helpful in designing and rendering this piece.

Statement ring design by Luna Gwak inspired by a bouquet for JD240 Jewelry Design Development assignment

“I cannot really tell when I started to love jewelry; it’s been a long time. After I studied Fashion Business Management in FIT Korea for a year, I wanted to study something that draw on my creativity, and that was jewelry design. When I graduate, I hope to work for a company to get more experience and knowledge about jewelry production.”

FIT also played a role in Ashleigh Branstetter’s win, the Spotlight Award—Baroque-Shape Pearls for 2022. This category focused on designs where 75 percent of the piece features one type of pearl—the baroque-shape pearl this year. “I’ve only taken  online courses at FIT,” she said. A seasoned professional, she enrolled in the FIT Rhino courses with Prof. Dana Buscaglia.

Ashleigh Branstetter winning Baroque-Shape Pearls

“She is the author of ‘Rhino 5.0 for Jewelry.’ I had purchased a CAD program called Matrix and had been learning independently.  It is a Rhino-based program, and when I noticed the Rhino online course, I decided to take it.  I can now design the CAD file on my own, or if I pay for a CAD file and need to make adjustments, I can do so.”

This year’s judges included Jean Francois Bibet, workshop and production director at Cartier, Patricia Faber, co-owner of Aaron Faber Gallery in Manhattan, Lenore Fedow, associate editor, National Jeweler; Maria Tsangaropoulos, supervisor of instruction at GIA’s NYC campus; FIT Jewelry Design professor Michael Coan (he recused himself from the student judging), Kathy Zaltas of Zaltas Gallery, in Mamaroneck, NY, and Peggy Grosz, senior vice president, Assael Pearls.

Follow Victor Rouesné on IG @VictorRouesne and Luna Gwak @dayeon_g.99. Visit Ashleigh Branstetter’s website at:  AshleighBranstetter.com.

To learn more about the School of Art and Design’s Jewelry Design program go to:  Jewelry Design at FIT.

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