Lenton T. Slack
One of Randolph Community College’s longest running and most successful programs is Interior Design. As RCC’s first “specialty program,” the Interior Design program began in 1967, when the College was known as Randolph Technical Institute. In 1967, the Associate in Applied Science degree program in Interior Design was the only one of its kind in North Carolina and was part of a five-year plan to establish an Art & Design division at Randolph Technical Institute. Other programs that would follow were Photography (1968), Furniture Design Technology (1968), Commercial Graphics (1969), and Floriculture Design (1970). The Interior Design program began as a way to diversify the student body, as the only other program marketed to female students at Randolph Technical Institute in 1967 was the Practical Nursing program which started in 1964. Dwight Holland and Dennis McMullin were hired as dual instructors for the program’s initial year in 1967, and the program became an instant success. Over the past 43 years, other community colleges in North Carolina, and in other states, have looked to Randolph Community College’s Interior Design program as a model for their own programs.
In 1971, Lenton Slack was hired an Interior Design instructor and for the next 28 years, he would devote his life to building and developing the Interior Design program. Although Slack had the assistance of other long-time faculty members such as Dwight Holland, Cliff Norris, Charles Johnson and Sherrill Sykes, Slack was a driving force and his passion for Interior Design made RCC’s Interior Design program one of the top programs in the state. Slack, a native of the Pisgah area in Randolph County and graduate of Seagrove High School, served four years in the U.S. Navy and then attended Richmond Professional Institute, now Virginia Commonwealth University, graduating with a BFA in Interior Design. Slack was a member of the American Society of Interior Designers and volunteered with Randolph County Senior Adults Association since its beginning in 1976. He designed the interior of the original craft consignment shop, The Salt Box, and helped with the construction. He was honored by the Senior Adults Association in 1981 with its Advocacy Award.
In 1983, Slack presented one of his watercolor paintings to Henry Harsch, Commercial Graphics instructor and then President of the Randolph Technical College Faculty Association. The group used the painting to help raise $3,000 for an endowed scholarship to be given through the RTC Foundation to recognize students who exhibit academic excellence.
Slack involved his Interior Design students in hands-on projects that enabled them to interact with the community and Slack himself provided community outreach through his expertise in Interior Design. He was also notorious for assigning realistic student projects by giving students a decoration project with a tight budget. “I have found that the creative juices always flow most readily when there is no money,” Slack said in a Greensboro Daily News article in 1979. Slack knew how to “engage” students long before the term became a catch phrase. Slack’s Interior Design students first began their annual design projects when they participated in Charlotte’s “Southern Living Show” in 1972. In 1973, the students participated again and designed a scale model of a young boy’s room known as “The Jungle Room.” Slack stressed ingenuity and creativity, talents that would make his students successful after they graduated from the two-year course. Many of his Slack’s former students commented that his projects were realistic and not theoretical.
Each year, second-year Interior Design students would take on a design project, which eventually evolved into the Designer’s Showcase. Students were broken into teams and often an entire house was redesigned on a tight budget. Slack believed in a “community” approach to the project and students in the Floriculture and Horticulture programs were asked to help with the project by providing plants and doing landscaping work. Students in the Industrial Electrical/Electronics program completed any lighting or wiring needs, in some cases rewiring the entire house. In 1982, the project was The Lambert House, which was the first actual house used as a project. Over 40 companies in Asheboro and the surrounding area donated materials or loaned furnishings for the showcase. In 1984, students worked on the Lambert House again and 14 Interior Design alumni also pitched in.
In 1992, the Interior Design Showcase was an actual 1,750-square-foot, two-story home built from the ground up as part of the 1992 Showcase of Homes at Shepherds Vineyard Phase II, sponsored by the Home Builders Association of Asheboro/Randolph County. Thirty-six second-year Interior Design students, 26 Floriculture students, and 7 Industrial Electricity students were involved in the project. In 1993, the Winkler-Prins home, a 2,220-square-foot home, was purchased by the RCC Foundation for the annual project and the house was sold to reimburse the Foundation
In 1996, the project was the Skeen House, and during this project, Slack said, "Working in a team has its confinements, but that’s reality. Everybody has to give a little bit. Professional designers have to work with others too, if not the contractors, then the owners. The work experience is better than classroom instruction.” In terms of his students, Slack noted, “It’s important because they can never put ideas on paper and know how they will work if they don’t actually carry the plans through to the finish. This gives them the chance to do that. They can actually walk through that space and see what their ideas and choices look like.”
In 1998, the Interior Design Showcase home was The Robbins House and the showcase was expected to attract several thousand visitors. In fact, a little over one thousand attended. The showcases were often open for public viewing for three-four days and tickets were sold for $3.00, which was used to fund the next year’s Interior Design Showcase. According to Slack in 1998, “Most will come from a 75-mile radius. We know of some people who are coming from New England just to see it.” Students started from scratch, each group of students measuring their particular rooms before beginning to design floor plans. At that point, Slack and instructor Charles Johnson acted as sounding boards for their ideas, giving guidance when they truly thought the idea needed to be redirected. “The night of the preview party, everybody just sparkles. And the house does too,” said Slack.
Because the Interior Design program is only two years, Slack used the Interior Design Showcase as a substitute for internships due to time constraints. “I’m thrilled at the way the students have responded,” said Slack.
Slack’s work with the yearly Interior Design Showcase project is what made RCC’s Interior Design program unique and this project also helped the program gain publicity and notoriety throughout the state of North Carolina.
Slack has remained involved with RCC through the years by lending his beautiful paintings to be used to raise money for the RCC Foundation, most recently with his “Jumping Off Rock” print in 2006. He has remained a true supporter of the College and its mission.
Slack is also RCC’s longest serving Interior Design faculty member, with a career that spans from 1971-1999. The Interior Design program at RCC would certainly not have its notoriety or success without Lenton Slack’s artistic eye for design and his 28 years of dedication, direction, and determination to make RCC’s Interior Design program a model for the rest of the community colleges to follow