Week Two — Scouring the Oltrarno for “treasure.” Monday, Aug 30 2010 

After multiple journeys taken over the weekend by smaller groups (Cinqueterre, Verona and Sachile in the Veneto region), we gathered today after breakfast to view the calendar for the week (including two out-of-town day trips to Lucca/Viareggio and Siena). Museums and sites will include the Accademia, the Museo Marino Marini and the church of Santa Croce.

First activity of the day: an Oltrarno Scavenger Hunt. The group was divided into three teams:

Team San Frediano: Danica, Collin, Charla, Stephanie, Hannah & Lexi

Team Santo Spirito: Whitney, Win, G’iana, Elena, Sunny & Kate

Team San Niccolo’: Ariana, Joan, Kendra, Phillip, Chrissy, Leslie & Ann

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Here was the challenge:

  1. Provided with a map, you will scour your assigned neighborhood, collecting information on the monuments indicated by the icons on your map. Icons include churches, tabernacles, palaces, parks, bridges, towers, museums, etc.
  2. Once you have located a monument, you must document it visually (photograph, quick sketch, etc.) and record any relevant information that you learn from the site.  For example: Tabernacle at the corner of Via S. Giovanni and Via Pisana. Madonna and Infant Jesus with young John the Baptist. Plaque indicates it was painted by Andrea Del Sarto in 1525. Candles and artificial flowers placed at the base.
  3. Points will be assigned both to the quantity of monuments documented and to the quality of the information gathered.  In terms of quantity, points are weighted in the following manner to account for density of monuments and scale of the neighborhood:

Team Santo Spirito – 1 point per monument

Team San Frediano – 1.5 points per monument

Team San Niccolo’ – 2 points per monument

Additional bonus points for locating the signs that are posted around Florence, indicating the water level of the 1966 flood.

The teams assembled, developed their strategy, and set off to inventory our neighborhood.

We gathered again in the studio at 2:00 to let a little color into our lives. Contained in the students’ art packets were a set of water colors and a brush. Curt provided a demonstration of techniques to use water color, water color pencils, and other water-based media. The students worked on color swatches and other experiments to grapple with the new materials.

The clouds opened and a refreshing rain fell, cleansing the air, cleaning the sidewalks, and cooling the temperature to a chilly 71 degrees. Very refreshing. The weather report for the coming days shows the return of the sun and temperatures in the low to mid-80’s.

We headed out for a group dinner — another great meal at Il Gatto e’ La Volpe. Prizes were awarded for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners for the Scavenger Hunt. Team San Niccolo’ took home the gold. Everyone did a great job and more than 360 monuments were catalogued.


Team USA 2010! Sunday, Aug 29 2010 

Fra Angelico, Savanarola and the Monks’ “studioli” Friday, Aug 27 2010 

Our destination today was the religious complex of San Marco, including the church designed for Cosimo de’ Medici by Michelozzo and the attendant monastery that is now a museum. The hand of Beato Angelo (Fra Angelico) is everywhere.

The monks’ cells (“studioli”) each contain an individual fresco intended to inspire their prayers and reflections. Prominent themes were scenes from the Passion of Christ, predominantly the Crucifixion. While Fra Angelico designed all of the paintings, the work was carried out by assistants. The Library is a beautiful room, also designed by Michelozzo, that contains several display cases containing exquisite illumination manuscripts and the materials used to create them.

Our weekend begins at noon on Friday. There are numerous groups making plans to travel to the Cinque Terre over the weekend. For those remaining, the is a mini-day-trip planned for Fiesole on Saturday and a trip to the Ciompe Antique Market near Santa Croce on Sunday.

The Uffizi Thursday, Aug 26 2010 

Out the door early this morning to be the first in line at the Uffizi Gallery! And, we were.

We spent the morning at the Uffizi, viewing works of art that most of us have only seen in reproductions. One student reported goosebumps at walking into the room with the large scale altarpieces by Cimabue, Duccio and Giotto.

We reconnected in the afternoon to look at all of the drawings that everyone has made thus far, including the night time exercise at the bank of the Arno, the drawings made in the Museo del’Opera, and those made from the viewpoint of San Miniato. Everyone continues to spend time in the studio, making additional sketchbooks and reworking previous drawings. The energy and the work ethic are both high.

We gathered for a group dinner at a local restaurant: appetizers, a first course (primo) and a second course (secondo). The majority of the group even had room for gelato on the way home.

Off to San Marco tomorrow morning.

A Tuscan Romanesque Treasure and a Bella Vista Thursday, Aug 26 2010 

Undaunted by the heat, we set out early this morning to make the trek to San Miniato al Monte to view the skyline of Florence from another vantage point. The walk takes about 30 minutes, not including a stop at Piazzale Michelangelo for a group photo and catching our collective breath.

When we reached the complex of San Miniato, we first took a walk through the cemetery where one can find the final resting place of famous people like Carlo Collodi, creator of Pinocchio, and Frederick Hartt, the Italian Renaissance art historian.

We then took a brief walk through the church itself before setting up outside for a drawing assignment. The results of the two drawing exercises were encouraging for everyone — it is apparent that this group is going to make great progress over the next several weeks.

After lunch, we opened the studio (which, by the way, is the former ballroom of the converted 16th- century palazzo that is our hostel home) and everyone worked on their sketchbooks, journals and drawings. We had some presentations based on the research projects that the students did before the trip in preparation for the Uffizi, which we are visiting tomorrow.

Day Two at the “Opera” Wednesday, Aug 25 2010 

Our second day in Firenze began with breakfast and a morning spent in the studio making sketchbooks. After a brief introduction to the history of paper, Curt demonstrated multiple binding techniques and then everyone was set loose to design and create their own personal travel journal.

We broke for lunch around 12:30 and agreed to meet at the Museo del’Opera del Duomo at 2:30. The students were asked to bring two pieces of paper and drawing pencils.

We gathered in the courtyard that, according to historical record, was the place where Michelangelo worked on the David (originally meant for the façade of the Cathedral.) Under normal circumstances, this area would hold Ghiberti’s panels for the Gates of Paradise, but we were informed that they are currently under restoration. Cynthia gave a brief overview of the museum and then everyone dispersed to view the collection. Their assignment: to find two pieces that interest them, write down as much information as they can find from the wall text, and then make two drawings from the works.

The evening was free to explore new restaurants and get better acquainted with our adopted home for the next three weeks.

All present and accounted for! Monday, Aug 23 2010 

Planes, trains and taxis — and a lot of walking. That’s how we arrived, but despite the challenges (lost luggage, broken down trains, and pretty toasty temperatures), we’re here!

Day 1 began with breakfast at our hostel, a renovated 16th century palazzo, and a brief orientation to map out our first day in Firenze. As is our tradition, we walked past the Palazzo Pitti and across the Ponte Vecchio to the centro istorico (historical center) of the city on our way to the Duomo, the cathedral of Santa Maria del FIore.  The line to climb the cupola was not daunting, so while we queued up, Curt dashed off to the Mercato Centrale to order panini for lunch.

The climb up the cupola (all 463 steps) is not for the faint-hearted. At the first stage, there is a stop where you can view some of the plaster models for large scale sculptural figures of bishops and saints as well as some of the external architectural elements of the cathedral. At the next stage, we found ourselves at the base of the dome (where it meets the drum) and viewed Vasari’s frescos that span the entire inner surface of Brunelleschi’s structure. More steps, narrowing corridors, people-jams, and finally, fresh air and blue sky. Like Mallory (or at least the myth of Mallory), we conquered our “summit” and a 360-degree view of Florence and the surrounding hillsides. It is a great introduction to the city that will be our home for the next three weeks.

After our descent, we walked to the Mercato Centrale, picked up our panini and a cold drink, then walked over to a nearby park, Piazza Independenza, to picnic on the grass. The panini, by the way, were made up of prosciutto, mozzarella, and sun-dried tomatoes on a crunchy roll. Magnifico!

Next, it was time for errands. A visit to the local  phone shop to rent pre-paid phones, some shopping for sundry items, and a walk through the San Lorenzo Market to check out the wares (lots of leather, ceramics, t-shirts, souvenirs, etc.)

We regrouped at 5:00 for a more in-depth orientation and then a short presentation by Andrea, one of the staff members at our hostel, who told us both about the history of the building as well as the social services that the income from the hostel provides to the community.

Our first group dinner was held at Il Gatto e’ la Volpe (The Cat and the Fox), near the Bargello Museum. Menu items included bruschetta topped with the incomparable Italian tomato and entree items including pasta, salads and pizza.

We then walked to Ponte Carraia, the bridge closest to our home, and the best gelateria in the universe. It was at the bulkhead of the River Arno that we held our first drawing session, under a nearly full moon and with the lights of the palazzi that line the river reflecting in the dark water.  These drawings, executed in less that 10 minutes, will become the baseline for the students to assess their progress over the next four weeks.

Off to bed — buona notte!

Last Gathering Before We Meet in Florence! Tuesday, Aug 10 2010 

Date: Thursday, August 12th
Time: 5:00 – 7:30 p.m.
No admission fee.
On Thursdays, there is a Farmer’s Market at the Olympic Sculpture Park. Curt and I will bring some blankets to spread out and we can all check out the market, grab an ice cream or other culinary item from one of the many stands, and enjoy a picnic as we gaze out at the gorgeous view over Elliott Bay.

Several prepared food vendors will be on site including the TASTE market booth. Each week TASTE Restaurant will serve a seasonal panini along with a side dish using ingredients from one of the participating farms as well as featuring pastry chef Lucy Damkoehler’s doughnuts made with seasonally available ingredients.

Beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) are also available. For those 21 or older, there is a wine-tasting (four tastes/$5).

This Thursday, live music by Jovino Santos Neto
5:30–7:30 pm
Jovino Santos Neto performs hot Brazilian Jazz for a summer night.
See you there, explorers!