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  • Writer's pictureD'Arcy Harrison

The Connection to Form & Function

D'Arcy, owner of Emerson Salon and D'Arcy Hair Design shares context on the role of functionality in partnership with aesthetic in her hairstylist career:

"Today, I hope to share a more intimate understanding of my background and its importance in HOW and WHY I aim to authentically connect with you about you & your hairs' best interests. In my bio- I make sure every client understands my approach and philosophy of form aligning with function. No- I didn't make that phrase up so I cannot take credit. It is however part of my family's legacy and impact on the world.

As I have gotten to know hair clients in the over 20 yrs I have been doing hair- I have slowly shared in conversation the history of my artistic background & family. Many know that most of my life I was a theatre artist as an actor, producer, program manager and marketer after receiving my BFA in Acting from Emerson College in Boston.

Some of you know might know of my family's connection to fine arts and the 3 dimensional sculptural form. So, here is my chance to share more widely my history and how it connects to my work with YOU in the hair chair.

I was born in Rhode Island to Marc and Diana Harrison. I am preceded by my sister Natasha who is 8 yrs older than me.

Let's start with Dad, Marc: Marc S. Harrison was born and raised in the South Bronx of New York City. He grew up amidst the fabric of the Jewish culture and community there and told us stories of my grandfather's jewelry making. My father was the heart and soul of my family and told tales of taking mulitple trains and buses to get to school in NYC. He was hardworking, non-judgemental, sometimes goofy and far too obsessed with mowing the lawn just right or staying up all hours in his underwear in his office drafting technical drawings.

Since the 1960s- he served as professor at Rhode Island School of Design in Industrial Design. Industrial Design doesn't invent it reinvents how products interact with the user from the inside out, outside in. Dad had a traumatic brain injury after a sledding accident as a teenager and had to relearn how to speak and walk after a coma. He spent a lot of time in hospitals as a kid and recognized how much of life limits or even bars accessiblity for the elderly and the differently abled. This experience inspired him to push for what is now deemed UNIVERSAL DESIGN that takes into account the ease of use and practicality of products/appliances, furniture and architecture. Particularly, my father became known in the 1980's for his iconic re-design of the Cuisinart Food Processor.

This was followed by deluxe food processors, mini chopper, pasta maker, pots & pans, knives and more. He also designed for Sebatier France, the Red Cross, Swiss Army, Appliance Science, Summerflo, the first super computer console, movie ticketing systems, Boston MTA turnstiles and many more. I also remember him serving as expert witness on liability lawsuits regarding products that caused injury and/or death and the many experiments he had to conduct to support his testimony. I remember endless vhs camcorder recorded tests in backyard pools with fish waders. Such a weird memory!

My father was the one who named me D'Arcy after D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson, a Scottish mathmetician & biologist who wrote a book called,"On Growth and Form." On Growth and Form explained in detail why he believed Darwinism to be an inadequate explanation for the origin of new species. He is one of the most distinguished scientists of the modern era, and set forth his seminal "theory of transformation" - that one species evolves into another not by successive minor changes in individual body parts but by large-scale transformations involving the body as a whole. He did not reject natural selection, but regarded it as secondary to physical influences on biological form. His mentor Thomas Lamb "the handle maker", this book and his experiences were inspiration for a key lecture he developed for his students at RISD that demonstrated how different flowers evolve and adapt in different elevations, temperatures & conditions as you go from sea level to mountainside. In the 1970's he developed a project called the ILZRO house that was built with his students. But more on that later when I discuss my sister......

.... Unfortunately, in 1996 Marc was diagnosed with ALS and passed in 1998. I know that he gave me my work ethic, my empathy and my sense of functionality WITH form among many other things. He is the reason why Star Wars is such a large part of my heart. I have an extreme nostalgia for the sound of buzz saws, industrial sanders and the smell of spray paint from the machine models shop he had in our basement. (Maybe that's why I don't mind hairspray??? LOL) I remember many versions of small appliances in model form being trotted up from the basement for review by my mother and sometimes us kids. I stay incredibly proud of him as a person, designer, educator and father.

For links to my father's digital papers, photos and drawings feel free to peruse:

My Mother Diana: Diana Rantoul was raised in New Canaan, CT and enjoyed horses and folk music at the Putney School. She eventually made her way to Rhode Island School Of Design as sculpture major. This is where she met and fell in love with my father and eventually lived together and then married. They were a mixed religious couple in the 1960's and my mother grew up a lax Protestant so they opted for a justice of the peace wedding. No conversions needed!

My mother created her artistic work between raising children and tending to our numerous animals (horses, dogs, cats, fish etc.) We had a small 2 stall barn, a pasture and an outdoor ring for riding. I was very fortunate but a reluctant horse girl lol. Diana (also known as Deedee) had a variety of mediums she worked in: Wood, Alabaster, Pewter, Bronze, Japanese paper etc. Mostly, she did large form sea creature pieces of clams, conch shell, lobster carcass, and eventually moved on to more commercial style sculpted flower lamps and chandeliers. She sometimes worked in our basement using wax or plaster (depending on the chosen medium) or in a studio a half a mile away in an old movie rental shop. One of my first memories at 4 or 5 is of sitting in the cradle of a mahogany conch shell (pictured left) once it was mostly complete. It was constructed from slabs of wood glued together and then hand chiseled. My parents had a magnificent ability to partner with each other for feedback on their individual works. My father would seek insight from her sculptural perspective for his handle forms and their ergonomics in addition to other projects. My mother would count on my dad to not only give her feedback on the stages of her sculptures but he also would lug the larger pieces into a horse trailer for transport to a gallery for an art showing. Mom passed in Feb 2020 right before Covid lockdown and is buried beside my father on Martha's Vineyard where my mother's side of the family owns and maintains a summer home.

My Sister Natasha: My sister and I agree that my parents were in their top form in this era of our family. They lived in Foster, RI prior to my birth and before a move to Aquideck Island near Newport right before I was born. Natasha's middle name is LAMB after my father's mentor, Tom Lamb (mentioned above.) She grew up with a colonial home, a pond, 4H and riding horses and eventually became a state champ at 13. She ended up also going to RISD and majored in glass and glass blowing after playing with it at creative arts camp that I also eventually attended. She similary found the same things my mother discovered in sculpture- that a male dominated field (in the 1990s) meant she had to hold her own in a pretty machismo atmosphere. Harrison women know how to hold their own though!

I loved seeing her natural pivot to sculptural form and glass cast (some examples shown above) because not only is her work gorgeous, but then she could get away from the vibe of the "hot shop" and create her own art autonomously. She shows from time to time and has even had her work featured in restaurant design as decoration. She now is an executive director of a tree conservancy in RI and took up a pet project that is close to our family's heart. In 2020, Natasha bought the ILZRO house from the only other person to live in it after our family lived there before my birth. Her and her husband Ben (a talented woodcraftsman, furniture maker and carpenter) have painstakingly restored it with my father's original intent in mind. It was built with pre-fabricated lead and zinc panels and was intended to be accessible for those in wheelchairs and limited mobility. He developed designs and systems in the kitchen and bathroom that served these ends. Natasha hopes that it can eventually be an important asset to those who hold our father's contribution to the history and movement of Universal Design. This work was a precursor to his work with graduate RISD students prior to his death on a concept project called the UNIVERSAL KITCHEN which was later detailed

For more information check it out:

Video Below from PreserveRI award

In Conclusion

So there you go! Some insight as to my priority and belief in ensuring you have a positive experience with the 3 dimensional, moving & growing sculptural form that is your hair on your noggin! If it doesn't work for YOU- I am not doing my job successfully. Your hair can look amazing when I am done with it but if its not working for you daily then the experience of your hair is NO BUENO. I think we all have had a haircut in life that just did. not. work. The haircut did not function well for you and didn't reflect who you TRUTHFULLY are and HOW YOU live. This is also why being authentic, direct and truthful with my clientele is so important. I know I am honest- but its a 2 way street. If you don't trust me to be honest about your hair then what are we doing??? LOL I am here to serve you. I am not the "style police" and I'm here to be a resource and tool in your inner and outer self image.

I sincerely care. Integrating shape, how it grows, how it moves, how it dries, how it BEHAVES and how we adapt that to serve you best over time. The internal factors as well as the physical ones MATTER. See ya in the chair!"

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