The 2008 Program Saturday, Sep 27 2008 

The following entires are from our inaugural program. Read on!


Our final day… Friday, Sep 19 2008 

We woke up this morning to rain and the gloomy skies mirrored the sadness that we all felt as we began to pack up and begin our individual journeys home. Two of our comrades had already departed last night due to early flights out of Florence today, so the rest of us were heading to the railroad station in Perugia to catch trains to Florence and Rome. A caravan of six cabs showed up at 10:00 and we all jumped in.

At the station, the Roma group had to leave first (about 12 of us), so hugs were distributed and we boarded. The Florence group had another 30 minutes to wait for their train.

The departure plans for everyone were different, although we found ourselves on some of the same flights over the next few days.

Arrivederci, amici! Arrivederci, Italia.

We are looking forward already to our first reunion back in the States!

Perugia and birthday celebrations Thursday, Sep 18 2008 

With our guide, Diana, at our disposal, we walked down the hill from the villa to catch a public bus to begin our journey to Perugia. After one transfer in Ellera, we then continued on our way to a “people mover” — an elevated light rail tram that took us straight up the hill to the city center.

Perugia is a medieval town, in much the same way as Siena, as well as a big university town. We walked around for awhile before heading off to an exhibit of modern art at the Palazzo Baldeschi, From Corot to Picasso and From Fattori to De Pisis. The exhibit drew from the Phillips Collection in DC as well as the Ricci Collection (which contributed the bulk of the paintings by Italian artists.)

Lunch was on our own and the rest of the afternoon was spent strolling and buying Perugina chocolates for gifts. On the way back to the villa, some of us got off at Corciano for a gelato and then walked the rest of the way. Another gorgeous day.

At the villa we had a great dinner that ended with birthday cake (baked by Bibi, the matriarch of the Vasta family) to celebrate the 21st birthday of one of the students (actually, her birthday was the next day, but since this was the last day of our program, we took this opportunity!)

Arrivederci to Firenze and Hello Perugia! Wednesday, Sep 17 2008 

Everyone turned out on time, packed and ready to walk the few blocks to our charter bus. We said goodbye to the staff at our hostel — a fabulous group of people who made our stay a memorable experience. Many thanks to Caterina, Mara, Massimo, Tomaso, Franceso, Lorenzo, Marzio and Luca. We will miss all of you!

The drive to Perugia took about two hours, giving just about everyone a chance to nap. Our first stop was at the Perugina Chocolate Museum — home of the Baci and other famous sweets. We took a tour of the factory and got our fill of free samples.

Then, it was off to Assisi. The day couldn’t have been more perfect — sunny, clear and just the right temperature. Assisi is THE pilgrimmage site of Italy and receives millions of visitors every year. Saint Francis is the patron saint of Italy. The town itself is quite small and contains numerous churches beyond the upper and lower basilica of the cathedral. We grabbed panini and pizza slices to go to take the edge off the chocolate high we were experiencing.

We boarded the bus in the late afternoon and journeyed another 45 minutes to the villa near Corciano that would be our home for the last two nights of the program. Deep in the countryside, the villa is run by the Vasta family as an international school. There was also a group of photography students from Montana who are spending an entire term here.

The accommodations were very nice with some of the rooms being refurbished right before our arrival. The villa is situated near a park and many students went off to explore.

Dinner was served outside (a bit chilly), but still lovely. Our plan is to go into Perugia tomorrow to spend the day. Diana, one of the staff at the villa, has offered to accompany us since we will be using public transportation. Several students went with Diana after dinner to Corciano, about a 20-minute walk, for gelato.

Artists Reception and last minute errands. Tuesday, Sep 16 2008 

This is our last day in Florence before we depart for the Umbrian portion of our journey. After breakfast, we lined up all of the tables in the studio and everyone put out the work they have done during this seminar. This was the first opportunity to truly appreciate everyone’s efforts and the progress that each individual has made during this intensive studio-based program. For some of us, it was emotionally overwhelming!

The afternoon was spent in last minute errands — primarily shopping for gifts and momentos to bring back to the States. We kept running into each other and checking out each other’s shopping bags!

Our final program dinner in Florence was back at the same restaurant where we ate our second group dinner and Mario did a fabulous job, once again. It was awards night — every participant received a certificate of completion (designed by Meg and signed by the instructors) and a Piccolo Davido — a three-inch plastic recreation of Michelangelo’s “David.”

Everyone was reminded to get packed tonight as we’ll be out the door tomorrow morning, bright and early, to board our charter bus and head off to Perugia.

Our final week in Italy Monday, Sep 15 2008 

Our weekly orientation brought us face-to-face with the undeniable fact that we have five more days together before the program ends. We reminded ourselves to stay anchored in the moment even though thoughts are turning toward the logistics of getting ourselves back to the US.

The morning was spent in studio time in preparation for our “Artists Reception” tomorrow morning.

At 1:00, we met at the bus stop near the entrance of Santa Maria Novella train station and boarded several local buses (the #7) that wind their way up the hill to Fiesole. The weather has turned decidedly cool and quite windy. Our objective in Fiesole: the Archeological Museum and Roman site that includes a theater, baths and other structures. They were busy installing large sculptures by a contemporary artist in several places within the site. The Museum contains Etruscan artifacts as well as a significant collection of vases and other ceramics. It was pretty chilly, so we kept warm by taking lots of photos.

Some of us went next door to the Bandini Museum with it’s collection of ceramics from the della Robbia workshop as well as panel paintings from the 13th – 15 centuries.

The bus ride back to Florence gave us one last birds-eye view of the city skyline that has become so familiar to us over the past month…

Santa Croce and art in the piazza. Friday, Sep 12 2008 

Santa Croce was our destination this morning. This Franciscan church holds “name bragging rights” as the site of Michelangelo’s, Machiavelli’s, Gallileo’s and Dante’s tombs, amongst other famous Italian glitterati of the past.

The church itself is immense — funded by the Medici and with chapels furnished by some of the most important families of the Florentine renaissance including the Bardi and the Baroncelli with fresco cycles by Giotto and Taddeo Gaddi.

The Museum of Santa Croce is especially interesting, with frescoes, sculpture and panel paintings by the likes of Cimabue, Bronzino, Allori and others. The Pazzi Chapel in the corner of the cloister, designed by Brunellschi, is a haven of visual harmony (only slightly disturbed by the nearly ear-splitting noise of workers hammering inside!)

After the museum, the students set up outside in the piazza to work on their drawings and water colors. They were instructed to try something new — a different angle, a new palatte — to build on their previous work.

Our plan to go to Lucca tomorrow for the Feast of the Holy Face (two days worth of activity around the veneration of a wooden crucifix with the unusual image of Christ with eyes open) was thwarted by a railway strike.

A rainstorm, complete with hail, arrived in the late afternoon and brought the temperatures down considerably. Whoo hoo!

We had a social hour in our studio with pizza from La Mangiatoia in the early evening. Some students braved the rain to go out a little bit in the evening.

A day in Siena. Thursday, Sep 11 2008 

We boarded the train for Siena around 9:15 this morning, fully prepared for a smoking hot day (temperatures in the low 90’s). The hour and a half train ride gave more than a few students a chance to catch up on some sleep.

The climb from the train station to the historical center of Siena took about 20 minutes, but the first glimpse of the campo of this medieval city was worth every step. We began by climbing the Torre del Mangia, the tower (388 steps) associated with the civic building on the Campo. The view toward the rolling countryside as well as of the maze-like streets of the town were impressive. We then took off to find some pizza a la taglia (by the slice) and then to visit the Museo Civico where Simone Martini’s “Maesta” and the Lorenzetti brothers’ “Allegory of Good and Bad Government” frescoes reside.

Students were then free to explore the rest of the town independently, including the Duomo where series of marble inlays on the floor are the highlight.

We caught a 5:00 train home. Many students expressed that this was their favorite cathedral yet.

Museo Archeologico, more student conferences and a religious procession. Wednesday, Sep 10 2008 

The “museo del giorno” today was the archeological museum that holds an impressive collection of Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Etrucan art. The museum’s holdings suffered extensively in the aftermath of the 1966 flood and restoration of important pieces continues today.

Individual conferences with students continued through the end of the afternoon — all 21 were wrapped up by the end of the day.

Dinner that evening was at our neighborhood trattoria, San’Agostino. Stefano provided another fantastic menu of bruschetta, primi (baked pasta with ricotta and artichoke or spaghetti with pecorino/pepper/butter) and an insalata mista.

While we were eating, a large processional (2000+ people) proceeded down the street in front of the restaurant and toward Santa Maria delle Carmine. It was in celebration of a while marble status of the Blessed Virgin Mary which was carried to the church and placed at the high altar. We watched as members of various religious orders as well as lay people walked, prayed and sang, holding paper luminaries.

Natural history and some amazing waxes! Tuesday, Sep 9 2008 

This morning we headed out to the Museo Zoologico and “La Specola”, very close to our hostel. The museum contains an amazing collection of fossils, minerals, taxidermied animals and birds, and the most unusual portion of the museum, 100’s of anatomical waxes created in the 18th century.

Individual conferences continued through the afternoon. A group of students went to the Palazzo Strozzi to see a silent film from 1927 that was part of a film series associated with the Impressionist exhibit that we saw last week. The film was shown at the Odeon, an amazingly beautiful theatre with luxurious seats. Several naps were reported.

We brought food from a local rosticceria, La Mangiatoia, to the hostel for dinner. Trays of lasange, roasted vegetables, salad, and pizza bianca were served. Only four students interested in gelato afterwards!

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