Feast invites diners to take home place setting, chair

November 29, 2016

It’s not unheard of for a restaurant patron to sneak out with a spoon. But with a chair?  And at the request of the host?

Students in a product design class at the UO are encouraging diners to do just that on December 2, when the class, “Feast for Fifty,” invites community members to connect with student work over a shared meal.

The food will be provided by Party Downtown and wine by Silvan Ridge Winery, but the students are making everything else—tables, chairs, glassware, ceramics, lighting, and textiles—and patrons get to take their entire place setting—even the chair—home afterward.  

“It's a crazy experiment—designing and making all the furniture, textiles, tableware, and lighting for a 50-person feast,” said Tom Bonamici, pro tem instructor of the Department of Product Design in the School of Architecture and Allied Arts.

“We’ll celebrate the term’s work, talk about the designs with UO faculty and visiting critics, and enjoy wine. At the end of the night, you’ll get to take home your entire place setting as a keepsake of the experience.” (The tables and lighting will be repurposed for use by the program.)

Isabel McDowall removes air bubbles from a dinner plate
Above: Isabel McDowall removes air bubbles from a dinner plate in greenware phase. The plates were created by rolling out slabs of clay then formed over a mold cut to desired shape. Photograph by Amanda Kibbel.

The 15 students in the class developed a wide range of skills over the course of the 10-week studio.  

“It has encouraged us to work with agency as an individual but to also create, imagine, and dream as a collective,” student Lydia Bales said. “I have learned about the pitfalls of firing ceramics, the process of hand blowing a wine glass, the construction of a table, how to warp an unbelievably long table runner.”

They’ve also gained the rare experience of what is, in design-production circles, nearly instant gratification.

“In the real world, many projects die on the vine or never see a production run,” student Natalie Thomas said. “We rarely get the gratification of a 10-week turnaround, from having a glimmer of an idea to holding the thing in your hand.”

The feast event adds another dimension to the students’ takeaway, she added.

“We haven't only designed a product, but an experience. Getting to see people interact with the objects first-hand will be the true test of our work.”

Students gained skills in ceramic slab building, glass blowing, mold making, woodworking, welding, sheet metal bending, fabric dyeing, hand weaving, sewing, and more over the course of the studio.

“There's such a great diversity of fabrication that goes into a shared meal, and allowing that range of technique helped keep the class interesting and realistic,” Bonamici said.

Students examine dyed textile swatches
Above: Students examine dyed textile swatches against an inspiration image to help select materials for the feast. Photo by Natalie Thomas.

While the feast doubles as a final critique of the students’ design accomplishments in the class, the students—all seniors—also see it as a summation of what they’ve gleaned overall in A&AA.

“We tend to make one prototype, executed to our best abilities, per class per term,” Amanda Kibbel said about her product design studies. “This class is unique in that we are now designing and working under more real-world constraints, such as budget, time, and quantity needed.”

Working under the same constraints as any professional designer “forces them to work creatively to find appealing, doable solutions,” Bonamici said.

It also showed students just how intensely product designers work, and why.

“I couldn't have worked as hard as I have this term without also feeling rewarded along the way, knowing that what we are working toward is groundbreaking for this department,” said Isabel McDowall. “Working toward throwing this feast has been a highlight of my academic career at the UO.”

Proceeds from the nonprofit event will cover “the material costs of making it happen,” Bonamici said.

Tickets for the event, which cost $110, sold out quickly. You can view photos of the event after December 2 on the Feast for Fifty website.

student works on ceramicware
Above: A product design student works on ceramicware for the feast. Photo by Natalie Thomas.

Zach Meyer holds up one end of a prototype lighting installation
Above: Zach Meyer holds up one end of a prototype lighting installation while testing construction techniques and desired light strength. Photograph by Amanda Kibbel.