Students’ Rug Designs Impress the Industry—and Benefit Charity

Right now, people might be standing on artworks by two recent FIT students. And that’s a good thing.

In the Art on the Floor contest, an annual class project for seventh-semester Textile/Surface Design students, each of the two winning designs is turned into a luxury hand-knotted rug in Nepal and auctioned off for charity. The contest has been run since 1997 by Adjunct Assistant Professor Deborah Hernandez, Illustration ’88, Fine Arts ’84, design director of the rug company Patterson Flynn Martin, a division of the fabrics and furnishings firm Schumacher. Adjunct Instructor David Setlow, art director of Stark Carpet, taught one section of the course.

This year’s assignment was to create a 9 by 12-foot rug design for an imaginary client (likes indigo, Japanese repeating patterns, the ocean; dislikes central medallions, open expanses of solid color). The students had to submit their designs in the form of artwork hand-painted in gouache.

The panel of judges, led by Schumacher creative director Dara Caponigro, also included Michael Boodro, editor in chief of Elle Décor, interior designers Alexa Hampton and Miles Redd, Marko Marcy of Noreen Seabrook Marketing, and Maggie Jablonska, production coordinator at PFM. They based their decisions on the quality and commercial appeal of the art and a mood board.

Vanessa Bonilla and Honey Jernquist won first prize of $2,500 each. Bonilla’s Drift is an abstract, disintegrating pattern with a blaze of indigo cutting through a landscape of textured white wool and silk. Jernquist’s Anemone uses organic shapes and varied blues to suggest a colony of underwater creatures.

Weavers in Nepal meticulously hand-knotted the rugs on a vertical loom, a process that can take six months. The finished rugs made it to the airport but not onto a plane before Nepal was rocked by a devastating earthquake. When the country began to recover from the chaos that followed the catastrophe, the rugs were flown to New York. They were auctioned off on June 16 at the flagship showroom of Patterson Flynn Martin in the Decoration and Design Building in Manhattan. The 60 attendees included interior designers, editors of shelter publications, representatives from Barneys New York, Benjamin Moore, and the New York Design Center.

Noted interior designer and FIT alumnus Matthew Patrick Smyth ’80, placed the winning bid for Drift, at $5,200. Anemone sold for $3,200. Proceeds were donated to the Alpha Workshops, a charity that trains HIV-positive creatives in the decorative arts. Donations of cash and dry goods were also collected for the weavers in Nepal.

After the auction, Hernandez described the winning rugs as “magnificent,” and explained that the best designs were simple in pattern and color and followed the client’s guidelines. “The project is about listening to what a client wants,” Hernandez said. “It’s a challenge to bring someone else’s desires to life.”

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