Material World: The Center for Design and Material Culture centers learning on the objects all around us

Editor’s note: This article was originally published as part of SoHE’s 2020 alumni print mailer. View the full mailer on our alumni page.

Dr. Sarah Carter

Dr. Sarah Carter

Dr. Sarah Anne Carter sometimes describes the study of material culture as a way of getting from objects to ideas. “It’s another way to get information about past people and cultures versus written texts,” she explains. “Material culture encompasses a whole range of objects, from art to natural history specimens to our amazing textile collection.”

As Visiting Director of the Center for Design and Material Culture (CDMC)—one of five Centers of Excellence within SoHE—Carter is helping to shape the vision for the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection, as well as the Lynn Mecklenburg Textile Gallery, Ruth Davis Design Gallery, and campus’ Design Thinking Initiative. She describes CDMC as a way to amplify their impact across campus and serve as a hub for national and international scholarship.

Image from What Would a Microbe Say? online exhibition that explores the intersection of human and microbial worlds.

Image from What Would a Microbe Say? online exhibition that explores the intersection of human and microbial worlds.

When COVID precautions limited in-person gatherings and closed campus galleries, the CDMC quickly adapted. Exhibitions were put online. Social media channels were revamped. And before the end of the summer, the center had launched a new website (cdmc.wisc.edu) as well as CDMC Conversations: live, online discussions between artists, designers, industry professionals, staff, and students.

Carter also found time to reflect on the importance of material culture, including a Washington Post piece on learning from home as considered through the lens of SoHE’s historic “practice cottage.” She notes this perspective is an example of why CDMC is a natural fit for SoHE: “So much of what we do here is grounded in empathy and understanding the human experience.”

Explore CDMC via its new website at cdmc.wisc.edu.

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