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RISD Museum names cartoonist as 2017 Artist Fellow

Walker Mettling’s comics consortium connects artists across various age demographics

The Rhode Island School of Design Museum recently unveiled accomplished cartoonist Walker Mettling as a 2017 Artist Fellow.   

Mettling is the head of the micro-publisher Providence Comics Consortium and the third recipient of the fellowship, which is funded by the Arts Works program, a part of the National Endowment for the Arts. His consortium has been lauded since its 2010 inception for its free comic book making workshops at local libraries across Providence.

Facilitated by generative exercises that incorporate creative input from children and adults alike, the Providence Comics Consortium defies any age-based stereotypes and seeks to bridge the gap between artistic age groups.

“I see the workshops’ attendees — the adults and kids — as a hive mind of a group and a richer well of creative ideas for the comic or publication being made that day,” Mettling said.

Inspired by children unfamiliar with Providence’s prominent art scene, the printmaker feels compelled to create overlap between the two age demographics, he said.

This sentiment of inclusion is also reflected in the principles lauded by the RISD fellowship initiative program.

“(The RISD fellowship) is a more (thoughtful) way of connecting with community members at large,” said Alexandra Poterack, the museum’s associate educator of public and academic programs.

“Kids in town don’t realize they’re in a sort of art hub. There are older people very near at hand in this community, and adults should feel obliged to share their resources with these kids,” Mettling said. “We should be focused on fostering a community where everyone gets to make art.”

As an artist fellow, Mettling will receive “access to research resources from the RISD Museum collections and RISD Fleet Library,” wrote Sarah Ganz Blythe, the museum’s deputy director of exhibitions, education and programs, in an email to The Herald. In addition, each fellow enjoys a $10,000 stipend, the ability to audit select RISD graduate studies courses and mentorship from both RISD Museum and RISD College staff, Blythe said.      

Both an extension of extant artistic interests and a cultivation of new ones, the artist’s proposals align clearly with the mission of the fellowship.

“Walker’s exciting proposal explores the collection in creative and thought-provoking ways and comes at a critical juncture in his professional development,” Blythe said, noting Mettling’s work with the Providence Comics Consortium as evidence of this innovation.

Not only does the creative’s goals for the fellowship facilitate the use of the museum’s veritable wealth of collections by local children and adults, but it also includes space for more personal projects.

“Making action figures inspired by the museum’s art is something I’ve been wanting to meditate on,” Mettling said, evidencing a particular interest in figures that depict Roger Williams and Nesmin, Rhode Island’s founder and the museum’s resident mummy, respectively. For Mettling, the action figures help him “facilitate teaching kids about the weird” as they “impart a lot of cultural meaning.”


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