Refrangible Podcast

logo for Refrangible featuring 3-D cube made of quilt-like sections.

The coffee mug from college. A potholder made in elementary school. Pair of salt and pepper shakers from generations past. On Refrangible we dive headfirst into stories about the things we make, use, save and carry, and what it tells us about our world. Join the Center’s 2021-22 Producer in Residence Gianofer Fields and co-host Jonah Chester as they explore the stuff of everyday life.

Tune in below and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts for a closer look at the material traces of our past.

We’d love to hear from you! Send us your questions, comments or tell us about an object that holds a special place in your world –

Season 1-3

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Season 1

logo for Refrangible featuring 3-D cube made of quilt-like sections.Trailer: What is Material Culture?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines material culture as “the totality of physical objects made by a people for the satisfaction of their needs, especially those articles requisite for the sustenance and perpetuation of life.”

Download transcript for “What is Material Culture.”

Related Material: CDMC Launches New Podcast, “Refrangible,” Exploring the Stories Behind Everyday Objects

Graphic of a cube with a WW!! poster on all sides and the word Refrangible in red text underEpisode 1: The Home Front

In this episode, we examine a series of meal planning pamphlets published as part of the U.S. Government’s National Wartime Nutrition Program. The pamphlets were distributed during World War II, with the intent to help housewives make the most of their allotted rations. But, in addition to recipes, these pamphlets can also provide us a glimpse into how Americans viewed collective responsibility during times of crisis.

Download transcript for “The Home Front.”

Related Material: Refrangible Episode One: “Home Front” Efforts Between WWII and COVID-19 Crises

3D cube with the word "refrangible" at the bottom and an image on a maypole on each of its sides.

Episode 2: Maypoles and our Shifting Reality

For many European cultures, the Maypole symbolizes the dawning of spring. It alongside the annual May Day festival, marks the end of winter, a time of cold, darkness and death. In this episode, we ponder the question: What is our Maypole, and how do we process our eventual emergence from the COVID-19 pandemic?

Related Material: Refrangible Episode Two: A Maypole to Mark the Next Stage of Our Pandemic Realities

Logo for episode 3 of Refrangible podcast showing a sewing machine on the sides of a cube.

Episode 3: Sewing and the Art of Necessity

Textile creation has long been an art of necessity, as makers mended and created clothing and often used remnants of fabric to make quilts. But gradually, the creation of these textiles has grown from necessity to high art. This month on Refrangible, the object at the center of our discussion is the sewing machine.

Related Material: Refrangible Episode Three: Sewing Machines and the Worlds They Make

Refrangible logo with a 3D cube showing 3 sides with an infrared photograph of a hand in blue, green, yellow, and red. Text below cube says "Refrangible" in red.Episode 4: Our Bodies and the Lessons They Teach Us 

Over the past three episodes, we’ve explored the idea of material culture through a series of inanimate objects. For our final episode of season one, we wanted to take a look at something we all use and have a very personal connection with: our bodies.

The fear and uncertainty of the current pandemic forced us to think about our bodies in new ways. Self-care took on a new meaning and personal choices about what to do with your body had an impact on your entire community.

Season 2

logo for Refrangible featuring 3-D cube made of quilt-like sections.

Episode 1: Clothing and Identity: Who Wears What, and Why? 

How do you choose what to wear each day? Is it a matter of practicality, social expectations, or cultural identity? Or have you just been putting off doing the laundry, and this just happens to be your last clean shirt?

In episode one of season two of Refrangible, a podcast from the Center for Design and Material Culture, we’re exploring the intersection of clothing, culture and politics. Or, put more simply: Who wears what, and why?

logo for Refrangible featuring 3-D cube made of quilt-like sections.

Episode 2: Clothing and Identity: Revisiting Our Past, One Stitch at a Time

In our first episode of season two, we posed a question: Who wears what, and why? We wanted to explore why folks dress the way they do, and what happens when a third party uses clothing to either impose an identity or steal someone else’s. As we were planning out that episode, we realized there was more to this discussion than we could possibly fit in a single episode.

So we decided to break the topic into two segments. So, today, we’re looking at the roots of American clothing and how those roots impact our modern-day relationship with clothes.

logo for Refrangible featuring 3-D cube made of quilt-like sections.

Episode 3: Commodifying Culture

In episode one of this season, we touched briefly on the idea of appropriating – or perhaps, more accurately, commodifying – culture. Who really gets to reap the rewards, financial and otherwise, of a specific culture’s iconography, spirituality and history? In this episode, we’re reexamining the commodification of culture: and what happens when appreciation turns into appropriation.


logo for Refrangible featuring 3-D cube made of quilt-like sections.Episode 4: Uncomfortable Objects: Art and Death

Think about an object that makes you uncomfortable. Now, ask yourself: Why do you tend to side-eye that particular thing? In this episode of Refrangible, we’re talking about objects that may send shivers down our spines.

Season 3

logo for Refrangible featuring 3-D cube made of quilt-like sections.Episode 1: Home Sweet Home

In this episode, we examine what defines a “home” — and what happens when it’s taken away.


logo for Refrangible featuring 3-D cube made of quilt-like sections.Episode 2: Troubling Objects and the Illusion of Luxury

In this episode, we examine how luxury home goods in southern plantation houses obscured the true ugliness running just under the surface.


logo for Refrangible featuring 3-D cube made of quilt-like sections.

Episode 3: Domestic Classrooms: The Intersection of Home and School

From a practice cottage to a home management house, UW-Madison has a long history of live-in learning experiences. In this episode of Refrangible, we examine the university’s history of domestic education, and the lessons 21st century educators can pull from those experiments.

Thanks to our guests for this episode (in order of appearance): Barbara Tensfeldt, retired and professional volunteer; and Dr. Elizabeth Hooper-Lane, senior lecturer of art history at UW-Madison and an academic staff member at UW-Oshkosh.

logo for Refrangible featuring 3-D cube made of quilt-like sections.Episode 4: Childhood Toys and Our Connections to the Past 

Whether it’s an alien-fighting space robot or a cherished family heirloom, we all have a special place in our heart for our favorite childhood toys. In this episode of Refrangible, we take a closer look at that connection, and how it shapes us as adults.

Thanks to our guests for this episode: Mark Chester, Karla Chester and Nikki Hollander (a.k.a. Grandma Kitschy).

Gianofer Fields

Gianofer Fields was the Center for Design and Material Culture Producer in Residence in 2021-22. Having worked at WBEZ: Chicago Public Media, Fields is an award-winning journalist and the creator, curator, and producer of Radio Chipstone, a radio program on WORT Community Radio in collaboration with the Chipstone Foundation.

This program is available through the generosity of Lydia A. Black and the Lydia Childs Eskridge Fund and the Chipstone Foundation