Professor, Designer, Kind Man
Seth Stem, Rhode Island School of Design professor for 37 years, furniture designer, and dearly kind man died at home on Christmas Day from complications of Parkinson’s Disease. He was 71 years old.
Seth was a fixer, a maker, a builder. He worked out of his wood shop in a mill loft in Pawtucket by the Blackstone River that he and his wife built out themselves to be their home. A few years ago, when Parkinson’s had stolen Seth’s ability to use his shop machines, he donated his beloved table saw, joiners, band saws, lathes, and drill presses to The Steel Yard, an urban industrial arts school in Providence, where they will continue Seth’s lifelong commitment to the teaching of wood working.
After the machines were removed, Seth’s son converted his wood shop into a peaceful, accessible bedroom to meet Seth’s health needs. Wood racks remained full of wood with Seth’s handwritten notations. Everywhere were baskets and handmade brooms Seth had collected from African and Asian countries he visited over many years. On a wall was a map filled with photos of Seth and his wife on their crazy travels to fascinating and remote places. It was in this special place where he had loved working that Seth died, surrounded by the people he loved and who loved him.
Seth was born April 23,1947, in Easton, PA, to Eva and Chester Stem. He learned to fish on the Delaware River as a boy and became an expert fly fisherman, even enjoying tying his own flies. Another love of Seth’s was a piece of land he bought in 1970 in Belvidere, VT. He designed a summer home with a view of Mt Mansfield. He spent many years building the house and the rest of his life adding on and maintaining it.
While Seth was a professor at RISD from 1980 until he retired in 2017, he taught courses in furniture design, woodworking, and composites in the Dept. of Industrial Design, but was best known for his popular Chair Studio. Seth received a B.A. in Landscape Architecture from Penn State University in 1970, and a M.F.A. in Furniture Design from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1980. Throughout his professional career, he designed ready-to-assemble furniture and made one-of-a-kind furniture exhibited in museums and galleries. A bentwood chair of his was acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Seth is the author of Designing Furniture, a book that described and analyzed visual design elements and design methodology. It was published by the Taunton Press in 1989.
Seth leaves behind his heartbroken family: his wife Pamela Hughes, (formerly Pamela Larsen of Cambridge, MA), her children and grand children, his son David Stem, David’s wife Lori, their sons Jesse and Aidan, Seth’s mother Eva, his sister Teena Bailey, her husband Michael, his brother Jeff Stem, and his wife Robin. Donations in Seth’s name may be made to The Brown University Brain Bank, 593 Eddy St., Providence, RI 02903.
Whenever Seth traveled, he sought out craftspeople to watch them work. He always carried with him reading glasses of various strengths. He would offer them to those he thought might benefit from them, and people could suddenly see their work with clarity. Those moments epitomized Seth: travel with purpose, respect for handcrafts, and a quiet joy in helping.
Funeral Service and Burial will be private.