Posted on Tuesday, August 14, 2012 by Jim Norrena
To say CCA alumnus Kaii Tu (BFA Individualized Major 2012) is on the right path toward career success is probably the understatement of the year. That's because Tu, who graduated with high distinction, was recently awarded a 2012 Windgate Fellowship by UNC Asheville’s Center for Craft, Creativity and Design (CCCD).
The $15,000 fellowship, for which more than 120 universities across the United States nominate two graduating seniors with exemplary skill in craft, is one of the largest awards in art and design in the nation.
Tu graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude with a degree in Visual and Environmental Studies, but he's also one of the youngest persons to reach the level of brand manager at Procter & Gamble, his employer from 2005 to 2009 in Cincinnati, where he worked in product design, brand architecture, and business management.
Wilsonart Design Challenges Winner
In May Wilsonart International, a world-leading producer of decorative surfacing products, named Tu as the 2012 winner of the eighth annual Wilsonart Design Challenges, a student design competition held at the 25th annual International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York. Tu was awarded the honor for his Torrey chair project (see slideshow above), which exhibits his ability to blend craft with advanced design technologies.
The design, which Tu revealed was inspired by the shapes of the windswept pines along the California coast, is built from a material that cannot be formed into a compound shape. While it is flexible, it can bend in only one direction, not into curvaceous forms.
Tu applied innovative engineering skill to the design to defy this rule and artfully demonstrated that an undulating, three-dimensional form can be achieved in laminate. He used a total of eight wood tones and 40 separate hand-cut pieces of Wilsonart Laminate to create the chair.
Tu explains the concept behind his work: “My work investigates everyday rituals, our interaction with people and objects, the contexts behind rituals."
According to Wilsonart Director of Marketing Communications Alison Pulver DeMartino: “Each year we host the Wilsonart Challenges program with a different American design school. One thing that amazes us is how each school’s unique culture and approach to design unfolds with the project. California College of the Arts was no exception. Undercurrents of design, craft, and art merge and inform throughout the students’ designs.”
A panel of four recognized professionals reviewed the applications on the basis of artistic merit, the future promise of the applicant's work, and the potential for the applicant to make significant contributions to the field of craft:
Helen W. Drutt English, educator/gallerist
Nate Moren, co-owner and designer for Tandem Made, and 2008 Windgate Fellow
Ann (Annie) Morhauser, founder of Annieglass
Kevin Snipes, ceramicist
CCA's Interdisciplinary Advantage
"One of CCA's strengths is its diversity of disciplines, and I benefited directly from learning and practicing across several areas," reveals Tu, whose interdisciplinary focus included the following programs: Industrial Design, Interaction Design, Glass, and Furniture. "I might start a day milling a glassblowing mold in the Rapid Prototyping Studio, then take the mold into the model-making and wood workshops for finishing work, in time to bring to the glass studio’s gaffer slot the next day."
"Of course," notes Tu, "this range of resources is nothing without the people -- from faculty like Corey Jones, who introduced me to the glass medium from a designer’s perspective, to Mark Takaguchi, who was the one who encouraged me to apply to the Windgate Fellowship in the first place, and Kristian Simsarian, who helped me think about time as a medium."
Tu adds, "Just as important are shop staff [members] like Bill Sistek in the Glass Studio and Amy Graham in the woodshop, who provided not only technical expertise and many helping hands, but also artistic and emotional encouragement."
Kaii Tu in the Media
Tu’s Torrey chair was also exhibited as part of the Interiors & Sources Materials Pavilion at NeoCon 2012.
It’s not surprising that Houzz.com, the leading online platform for home remodeling and design, tapped Tu in its International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) 2012 Report as one of the “10 designers to watch.”
Yet “impressive” doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of this mixed-media designer’s promising career trajectory. One need only visit the news feed on Tu's website to learn of the constant flow of press he’s received in just the past few months for his eye-catching and innovative designs.
And just think -- we can say we knew Kaii Tu when . . .
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