75-year-old trust provides RISD with $19.9M gift, the school’s largest

PROVIDENCE – A trust started in 1944 to support textiles studies at the Rhode Island School of Design has provided RISD with a $19.9 million gift this year, the largest in school history, RISD announced Monday.

The Rayon Foundation Trust was started by Rhode Island-based businessman and Textron Inc. founder Royal Little with an initial investment of $100, the school said. Seventy-five years later, the trust matured with the value of $19.9 million.

RISD President Rosanne Somerson said in a news release that Little’s trust reinforces the important connection RISD has always had with the textiles industry and “provides an enormous lift to our efforts to deliver a world-class art and design education to our students.”

Little’s gift makes it possible for RISD to offer “a truly unmatched program in textiles,” Somerson said. “These funds will support experimentation with new materials, technologies and methods to design and create fine art, and the development of innovative fabrics that have applications for industry, science and improving people’s lives.”

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In addition to the $19.9 million maturity value, the trust also had made quarterly distributions to the RISD over the years that totaled $7.3 million.

RISD said the Rayon Foundation Trust gift boosted the school to its most successful fundraising year in history, with a total of $30.6 million raised during fiscal 2019, which ended June 30.

Royal Little started a small textiles firm called Special Yarns Co. in 1923 and built it into Textron, what is now a $14.2 billion conglomerate. Part of the company’s early success was built on Rayon, a synthetic yarn that was used in World War II parachutes, among other things.

Textron’s ties with RISD have endured over many decades as it grew to global prominence, the school said. Textron has supported numerous RISD Museum exhibitions, including the current show Gorham Silver: Designing Brilliance 1850–1970, which is on view through Dec. 1. Textron also has funded many scholarships, fellowships and studios at RISD.

“I am excited to see the college continue to innovate with textiles by challenging the boundaries of the use of existing textiles and creating wholly new textiles,” Arthur D. Little, son of Royal Little, said in a news release. “I know [Royal Little] would be enormously pleased to see his philanthropic legacy extended in this way.”

William Hamilton is PBN staff writer and special projects editor. You can follow him on Twitter @waham or email him at hamilton@pbn.com.

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