Providence, RI 02903
The development of the Rhode Island School of Design and its museum is tied to Rhode Island’s emergence after the Civil War as the most heavily industrialized state in the Union and to the growing desire for better design in manufacturing. With the region’s prosperity based on the production of silverware, jewelry, machine tools, steam engines, files, screws, and textiles, leading manufacturers as well as civic leaders felt the need for industrial-arts education and exposure to examples of fine art. Even before the war, the Rhode Island Art Association, chartered in 1854, determined “to establish in Providence a permanent Art Museum and Gallery of the Arts and Design.” In the absence of either state funding or private donations, however, the creation of a design school and art museum in Rhode Island did not occur until 1877. Faced with a choice between erecting a drinking fountain in Roger Williams Park or founding a school of design—the latter proposed by Helen Adelia Rowe Metcalf (1830-1895)—the Rhode Island Women’s Centennial Commission in that year voted to establish the Rhode Island School of Design by allocating to it the modest $1,675 remaining from its fund-raising for the Women’s Pavilion at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.
RISD’s Act of Incorporation listed three objectives—instruction, career training, and “the general advancement of public art education by the collection of and exhibition of works of art.” The language of its revised (1893) charter expressed the school’s close alliance with industry: it sought to instruct “artisans in drawing, painting, modeling, and designing, that they may successfully apply the principles of Art to the requirements of trade and manufacture.” From the outset, works of art served as models for instruction, first in classrooms and, as the collection grew, in a separate museum structure. Today, as throughout its history, the RISD Museum is an integral part of Rhode Island School of Design and the principal art museum for the city, state and southeastern New England.
The Museum is composed of five buildings on a sloping city block between Main and Benefit Streets on the historic East Side of Providence. The first public galleries were created in 1893 in the Waterman building, which today highlights 19th century American paintings and changing exhibitions. Pendleton House, the country’s first Museum wing devoted to the display of American decorative arts, was built in 1906 as a replica of the Federal-style residence of Charles L. Pendleton. The Eliza G. Radeke building was added in 1926 and houses permanent collection galleries, from Egyptian and Ancient art, through Impressionism, to 20th century art and design. The Daphne Farago wing, erected in 1993, exhibits contemporary art and provides the Benefit Street entrance to the Museum. In 2008, the Chace Center opened with 6000 square feet for special exhibitions and a Museum entrance on Main Street.
The Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, also known as the RISD Museum, is Rhode Island’s leading museum of fine and decorative art, housing a collection of 84,000 objects of international significance. It is southeastern New England’s only comprehensive art museum and is accredited by the American Association of Museums. The RISD Museum strives to be a vital cultural resource by educating and inspiring a wide variety of audiences: families and individuals, scholars and researchers, artists and designers, and students of all ages. The Museum maintains an active program of exhibitions, lectures, tours, workshops and publications dedicated to the interpretation of art and design from diverse cultures ranging from ancient times to the present.
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