The Rowena Reed Kostellow Fund


14 May 2014

Ruth Shuman Receives 2014 Rowena Reed Kostellow Award

A star-studded crowd of over 200 designers, friends, students and past award winners came to Humanscale’s showroom to present Ruth Lande Shuman with the 18th Rowena Reed Kostellow Award. Created in 1990 to encourage people who advance the principles of design that Rowena developed. The event also helps raise money for the Rowena Prizes to students.

Shuman studied with Rowena and became deeply committed to using design for social change. President of Publicolor, Shuman moves design principals beyond the traditional realm working with students as her medium and engagement as her product.

Pratt President Tom Shutte, a big advocate of industrial design welcomed everyone and spoke about how a Pratt education is a powerful tool for making the world better. The event was timed coincided with the beginning of Design X and IDSA’s 2014 Northeast District Conference, so Stephan Clambaneva IDSA VP encouraged students to engage with their professional organization. The new acting ID Dept Chair, Scott Lundburg introduced outgoing ID Chair, Steve Diskin who shared an essay called 9D: “In the current expanding ID universe, it is tantalizing to revisit the idea of 'dimensions' ...and there are at least 3 times more of them. 3 cubed. And meaning that embraces music, and words, as well as form.” Bruce Hannah, Ruth’s former teacher, read his poem “Thinking of Ruth.”

(left to right) Karim Rasheed, Bruce Hannah, Ruth Shuman, Gaetano Pesche

The trophy commissioned by the Rowena Fund was produced by Linda Celentano, is based on her student (“a real talented guy” who graduated last year) Joel Siegel’s sophomore Rectilinear Volume Gesture exercise. Louis Nelson presented it to Ruth and the other three copies going to the Pratt President, the ID dept and the Rowena fund.

Tickets to the May 14, 2014 event in Humanscale’s showroom on Madison Park in NYC helped raise money for the annual student prizes (and to cover cost of the event). Thanks to Lisa Smith’s collection of many beautiful objects donated by their designers, the auction really helped the bottom line.

Ms. Shuman helped set up Mayor Lindsey’s taskforce on Industrial design after she graduated from University of Pennsylvania. Her thesis on “Modular Forms, Patterns, and Systems in Nature” capped her M.S. in Industrial Design at Pratt where she also completed a six-month post-graduate study on the psychological effects of color. She combined those ideas about the benefits of color with a program using students to apply the colors to their environments.

In 1996 Ruth Shuman created Publicolor for kids to paint their schools and soon expanded the opportunity. She developed ideas for how design can address two of the root causes of poverty: the under-education of our youth and their lack of job preparedness. She says: “Publicolor students become invested in the change and, as the transformation occurs, the entire school is imbued with a sense of hope, community, and renewed energy. We aren’t just transforming buildings; we are transforming lives. We are focusing on underscoring the importance of education through design.” Through multi-day, multi-year continuum of design-based programs at-risk students learn how to think critically about their future, so they can plan and prepare for college and career. Publicolor offers after school programs and Summer Design Studio, a 7-week program that immerses at-risk teens in literacy and math through the scaffold of product design to address summer learning loss. Summer Design Studio is held on Pratt’s Brooklyn campus.

Ruth Shuman joins 17 other champions of the abstract principals of visual relationships who have received the award, including: Gina Caspi, Ivan Rigby, Eva Zeisel, Gerald Gulotta, William Fogler, Eugene Grossman, Ralph Appelbaum, James Fulton, Louis Nelson, Judy Collins, Bruce Hannah, Ted Muehling, Lucia N. DeRespinis, Tom Patti, Leonard Bacich, Bill Katavolos, and Charles Pollock These teachers, entrepreneurs and designers embody the mission of the fund: to encourage and guide a systematic educational approach to all forms of visual expression, which is inspired by Rowena’s teaching.


In the ID department, not a single day goes by without talk of 3-dimensional design. But in the current expanding ID universe, it is tantalizing to revisit the idea of 'dimensions', and consider them not only as mutually perpendicular axes, but of 'designations', full of meaning...and there are at least 3 times more of them. 3 cubed. And meaning that embraces music, and words, as well as form. Here they are:

1st designation: Tonic.

Like a gin and tonic, clear liquid and transparent cubes, the tonic is all about clarity. this is the fundamental declaration, a statement that, well, here we enter the key of C for example.

2nd designation: Dominant.

There really is no dominant without its tonic in music, and Rowena, the dancer, may have taken her cue from here, a kind of basic 'domicile' of design sensibility.

3rd designation: Subdominant.

The parallel universe, the key of F, a neighboring friend 's back yard, where the kids play.

4th designation: Subordinate.

Subdominant, but less so! The key of D, a bright light on the periphery that cannot be ignored.

5th designation: Subterranean.

The world you cannot see, a hidden dimension, an undercurrent, an intuition, and a mirror of what is happening on the surface.

6th designation: Irreverence.

A kind of insubordination, but a positive, light and clever questioning of all things that add up to design curiosity.

7th designation: Innocence.

An essential love of children and the childlike impulse to make things. A loss of innocence leads to loss of the 6th designation of irreverence.

8th designation: Beatitude.

More than beauty itself, is the attitude that beauty, in all its forms, can exist and co-exist. There is as much beauty in dissonance as in consonance.

8.5th designation: Dogs.

Furry convexities to be sure, but bonding with intelligent creatures is part of being a designer!

And the 9th designation: Transcendence.

Going beyond what is expected, flying buoyantly over the territory of design with idealism.

This is starting to sound a lot like Ruth Shuman!

With a soul in the world of color, with complex layers of irreverence, innocence and beatitude…and dogs…and a cat… she has touched the lives of so many with humanity and love of design in all nine (or 10) of its designations. Whom has she not delighted and inspired?

It is therefore the greatest pleasure imaginable that she has been honored with the RRK Award.

— Steve Diskin, 2014

Thanking Ruth

On behalf of Ruth,
I would like to thank,
R. O. Y. G. B. I. V.
And Sir Isaac Newton,
Who helped us see,
The light.
Also I would like to thank,
On Ruth’s behalf,
Scarlet, Apple, Rose and Blaze,
Tangerine, Mother Earth, Burnt Umber and Carrot,
Sunshine, Sunflower, Goldie, and Bling,
Aqua Marine, Leaf, Lime, and Jade.
Teal, Turquoise, Sky and Navy,
Deep Purple, Indigo Jones, Purple Haze and Egg Plant,
Ultra Violet, African Violet, Iris, and Cabernet.
And of course Benjamin Moore,
For a thousand more.
They have all let Ruth,
Play with them,
Even attempted to get along.
At times there were clashes,
Splashes, splatters and splats,
That were toned down,
With a few compliments!
And to the brightest color,
In the room,
We applaud you Ruth,
For making color a joy,
And letting us play,
With color,
In the most constructive,
And imaginative way!
Thank you!

— Bruce Hannah, 2014

About the RRK Fund

The Rowena Reed Kostellow Fund at Pratt Institute was organized after her death in 1988 to continue her teachings by supporting scholarships, publishing and programs. Rowena, with her husband Alexander Kostellow and Donald Dohner, created Pratt's Industrial Design program merging form, function, and industry. Their objective was to develop an education system based on analysis of abstract visual relationships that would be valid for all forms of visual expression, including architecture, product design, graphic design, and fine art.

The program flourished and became the foundation of many courses and ID programs around the world. For over 50 years, Rowena taught three-dimensional design at Pratt, where she told her students “If you can't make it more beautiful, what's the point?”

Learn more about Rowena, her teaching methodology, and Pratt Institute in Gail Hannah's book, Elements of Design: The Structure of Visual Relationships, published by Princeton Architectural Press.