Maharam Fellow: Joe Fellows Sculpture BFA’16


As Joseph Fellows 16 SC has become increasingly immersed in his studio practice at RISD, the Sculpture senior can’t stop thinking about the great outdoors, and more specifically, the Great Sand Dunes (GSD), a breathtaking national park in southern Colorado.

“I’ve always admired the National Park Service [NPS] as an institution,” says Fellows, who is back at the GSD leading a workshop during spring break. Following an internship he did last summer with the National Park Service, he’s now teaching visitors how to use 3D scanning and printing technology to build a DIY art and conservation practice.

The workshop builds on the 3D scanning and printing project Fellows began at GSD last summer as a 2015 Maharam Fellow. In applying for the Maharam STEAM Fellowship in Applied Art and Design, students propose summer internships with government or nonprofit organizations of their choice – either in the US or abroad. Those selected for fellowships earn a $5,000 stipend to apply art and design thinking and iterative processes to specific problems within the partner organization.

“The Maharam speaks to a maker’s social practice,” says Fellows, a Wisconsin native whose family loves the outdoors. “I grew up with the instinct to explore the natural world, so I jump at any opportunity to do that,” he says.

Digital experiments on site
After discovering the GSD during a high school summer painting seminar sponsored by the Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation, Fellows saved enough from a part-time job to return to the park the summer before his junior year at RISD. That trip inspired him to “step outside of [his] comfort zone” and propose a Maharam project at the nature preserve that would make a valuable contribution to the NPS.

Fellows originally wanted to explore modern-day mold-making materials at the Dunes, but once he spoke with park rangers he adjusted his thinking to adhere to the NPS’ “leave no trace” philosophy of environmental stewardship. With the help of Sculpture faculty members Doug Borkman MFA 91 SC  and Ben Jurgensen, he outlined a plan to use 3D imaging technologies to make digital and physical scans of both the landscape and the park’s collection of interpretive objects. His idea is to show how the NPS might make good use of 3D printing capabilities to engage visitors or even establish 3D artist-in-residence programs to expand their interpretive collections without extracting from the park’s natural resources.

For instance, at this week’s workshop, Fellows is showing participants how he uses commercially available devices to make scans both indoors and outdoors, and is teaching them how to generate a 3D object that they can take home. “This is something I can see coming into the parks in the next five years,” he says – “something a visitor could come into the park and use with little to no experience.”

After his GSD internship, Fellows began to think of his own work in a completely different way. “I saw most of the objects I had made before as gallery objects,” he explains. “Now I’m thinking of objects that can be installed anywhere – outside the context of a gallery space.”

That thinking is very much in tune with the approach he sees at RISD. “Not everyone in Sculpture wants to be working in New York when they graduate,” Fellows says. “Everyone is here working with their own purpose,” yet they share a desire to make conceptually rich and meaningful work. “I think that’s what Sculpture does really well,” he says. “It gives you the opportunity to make your work meaningful.”

– Robert Albanese