Patterns Inconceivable : the History and Influence of the Edna W. Lawrence Nature Lab

The 2017 academic year marks the 80th anniversary of the Edna W. Lawrence Nature Lab at Rhode Island School of Design. During her 50+ year tenure, Edna Lawrence’s collection and her drawing courses introduced students to a way of seeing nature, and its details, as fundamental forms and patterns in art and design. While her shells, insects, plants, animals, bones, textiles, ceramics, wood, and more have catalyzed creativity for students each year, Edna Lawrence’s lifelong endeavor resulted in a significant resource for the RISD community.

Edna Lawrence developed her collection to be more than just a record of nature. She valued object-based learning, close-looking, and interdisciplinary thought. It could be said that she was ahead of her time. Her legacy continues to grow and evolve within the Nature Lab today. Since her retirement, the Lab has built on Lawrence’s ideas, incorporating new technologies, living systems and collections, and biophilic design into its mission and operations.

Combining collections from the Nature Lab with records from RISD’s Archives, this exhibition traces Lawrence’s development of the Lab, from her idiosyncratic acquisition records to her extensive travels. The exhibition presents the variety of collections that have become part of the Nature Lab over the years, the Edna W. Lawrence Natural History Collection, Micropolis, Tiny Town, and the Arthur Loeb Design Science Teaching Collection, and makes connections between Lawrence’s ideas and the Lab’s advancements in recent years.

In 1971, nearing the end of her career at RISD, Edna Lawrence shared a prophetic statement regarding the Nature Lab:

"RISD is the only college I know of that has a large collection of nature material for the students use and inspiration. It could become a very important part of the college and make a tremendous impact."


Curatorial text by Sarah Dylla, Collections Specialist at RISD Library

RISD Fleet Library
15 Westminster Street
Providence, Rhode Island

September 07 9:00 am -
December 15 5:00 pm

Upcoming events
More past events
Open Call for Proposals! Biodesign: From Inspiration to Integration
RISD Weekend celebrated our 80th anniversary
Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Application Deadline: Feb. 28th!
Leave Your Mark at the Nature Lab
Observing Nature: Edna Lawrence & Cabinet of Curiosities
Latin-American Collection Exhibition: aka "The Greatest Show on Earth"
The Nature Lab: An homage to the RISD Nature Lab and its founder Edna Lawrence
University of Rhode Island to host 10th Annual SURF Conference
Experimental Visualization Platforms
Bee Hotel Workshop
Green Roof Innovation Talk by Scott MacIvor
Structure and Growth installation by David Katz
SHELL-ter Project Installation
Design Science Symposium: STEAM Intelligence
RI EPSCoR Inaugural Research Symposium
Love for Mouse Deer
Philip Hoare Lecture: Of the Less Erroneous Picture of Whales: The Whale in Myth, in Industry, & in Futurity
Robert Lang Workshop & Public Lecture
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The RISD Nature Lab is an EPSCoR|C-AIM Core Research Facility supported by the National Science Foundation under Cooperative Agreement #OIA-1655221 and EAGER Grant Award #1723559. ​​​Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed on this site are those of the Nature Lab and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.​

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