Student work: Miriam Ellen Ewers
Every year RISD alumni, students, family, and friends unite to celebrate RISD Weekend. During this event, the entire campus is open and vibrant with reunions, speakers, and workshops. The Nature Lab hosts both new and familiar visitors; many of the returning visitors remember time spent at the Lab, and some even have stories to share about Edna. In this context we met Miriam Ellen Ewers (BFA PR '00), who spoke of the formative role of the Nature Lab during her time at RISD.
Miriam Ellen Ewers is an artist who works with found objects, images, and sculptural forms. During and after her undergraduate education at RISD, she applied her spatial design thought process to the craft of printmaking, thinking expansively and conceptually about the relationship of form to function in three dimensional space. In her undergrad degree project, she combined new computer technologies with photograms in order to mimic scientific microscopy.
Miriam is intrigued by the extensions of vision and understanding, whether through microscopy or other forms. She says of her work, "In this contemporary time, we have an awareness that even small everyday actions made without malevolent intent can accumulate to damage the earth and humanity through our collective actions. Our empathy in these matters is pushed to the breaking point because of the vastness of the problems with which we must deal. Has humanity ever been asked to care about so many people and things outside of our direct experience? Art can provide the images to extend our ability to see the effects of our collective action, allowing us to have compassion for people or even non-human entities of the world. With my artwork, I seek to produce imaginative experiences that remind us of our capacity to remake the world."
Miriam's interest in the possibilities of three dimensional form led to her MFA in Sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2006. She says of one of her large scale nature-inspired pieces, "proceeding from wonderment with nature, my sculpture 'Ideal Shelter' is based on a Wenteltrap (Dutch word meaning winding stair), a category of seashells. The sculpture is seven feet in maximum length and three feet at the aperture, almost thirty times larger than the seashell and big enough to produce a haptic sensation of a shelter. The emptiness of the shell makes the object ghostly like an empty house."
“Portable Landscape" contains "miniature architecture in a spiral form reminiscent of industrial agriculture equipment or Archimedean Screw irrigation technology. The model grass turns the spiral into an impossible garden. The bottle, protecting the garden, is an object of both personal refreshment and potential toxin to the environment as well as the body."
Since graduating from RISD, Miriam has taught as an adjunct faculty member focusing on Three-Dimensional/Spatial Design and New Media at the University of North Texas, Denton, and as an assistant professor of Three-Dimensional/Spatial Design at Virginia Commonwealth University, Qatar. She applies the Nature Lab exploratory mindset in her own philosophy as a professor, saying she proposes "assignments as models with a corresponding corollary in the world at large." The biomimetic knowledge that comes from studying microcosms of larger life processes and phenomena exemplifies the Nature Lab tenets of active curiosity and engagement with the many facets of one's environment.