The Accademia and en plein aire… Wednesday, Aug 31 2011 

As is our tradition, we had an early breakfast and were out the door by 7:30 this morning to head over to the Accademia. While Michelangelo’s David is the big draw, the museum’s collection includes painting, a musical instruments, a gallery of plaster casts and a special exhibition of Lorenzo Bartolini.

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The students were required to create one postcard from a work in the Accademia. David was, of course, a popular subject not only because of his iconic status in Western art but also due to the convenient seating afforded. After the museum, we had a several hours break to grab lunch or, as some have learned, to take a mini-nap.

At 2:00, we met in the studio and then walked to a nearby park on the Arno to sketch panoramic drawings of the buildings on the other side. Because today was much cooler, it was quite pleasant, even if sitting in the sun.

Tonight we had a group dinner at Mario’s — choice of a primo (typically pasta, but here also includes ribolitta), a secondo (meat course) and water. Lots of food and great conversation.

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Strategies for drawing + a little show and tell. Tuesday, Aug 30 2011 

We began the morning in the studio, getting some logistics clarified as well as talking about expectations for putting in studio time. Then, each student brought out two things she/he has worked on over the past week and talked about their methods, their successes and frustrations, and things they wanted to learn. Everyone had drawings and paintings that they felt good about and can use as a benchmark for their progress over the next few weeks.

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We broke for lunch, agreeing to meet at the Museo del’Opera del Duomo at 2:00. The collection includes sculptural works taken from both the facade and the interior of the basilica as well as the Campanile and the Baptistery. Sadly, Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise are in restoration, but Mary was able to tell us a bit about them based on her research. Paige also gave us a glimpse into the della Robbia workshop as the museum contains numerous teracotta works by Giovanni, Andrea and Luca.

We then took a smaller group of students to Zecchi, the oldest art supply store in Florence. Multiple purchases were made including a mezzotint rocker, brushes, paper and even a t-shirt or two!

Dinner was on our own. Tonight many of Florence’s museums were open, free to the public, from 7 – 11 p.m.

Siena by Train Monday, Aug 29 2011 

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We caught the 9:10 train to Siena this morning, a 90-minute ride to one of the most beautifully preserved hill towns in Italy.

As is our tradition, we climb any tower we can find, so upon entering the city’s campo, we queued up to climb the Torre Mangia. Fortunately, it was a short wait and we soon found ourselves climbing the 400 steps required to emerge on the top with a spectacular view of the place often described as urban-planning-meets-bowl-of-spaghetti. The streets are all curvilinear, twisted and labyrinthine.

Once back on the ground, we stopped for a slice of pizza and a cold drink before visiting Siena’s incredible cathedral. One envisioned to be one of the largest in Tuscany (thus spurring Florence on to build her colossal dome), the dream was cut short by the plague in the mid-14th century when Siena ran out of funds and out of people. The building program was adjusted and the cross-arm of the basilica plan was re-purposed to be the nave.

The Duomo of Siena is a visual cacaphony of patterns, colors and textures — completely different from the serene and understated interiors of Florentine churches like Santo Spirito or Santa Maria Dei Fiori. The beautiful pavimenti (floors) are made up of marble mosiacs of multiple scenes from the Bible.

Some in the group went on to visit Santo Domenico where the head of Catherine of Siena is kept. Catherine, along with Frances of Assisi, are the two patron saints of Italy. Catherine’s body remains in Rome (where she died), but her head returned to her home town and is enshrined in a tabernacle in Santo Domenico, along with her right thumb and the chain she used to scourge herself.

We caught the 4:18 train home. Tomorrow — studio time and a vist to the Museo del’Opera del Duomo.

Friday already? Friday, Aug 26 2011 

We have reached the end of our first week in Florence. Temperatures remained high today, but we have the promise of a break in the weather this weekend.

Today’s objective? Monument? Document! The students, in three teams (San Frediano, San Niccolo and Santo Spirito) scoured the neighborhood for monuments (tabenacles, historical markers, unique buildings, gardens, etc.) to photograph and document. Prizes for first, second and third places included mini-sketchbooks, Florentine paper and small etchings of the Duomo. The assignment is a great way to re-orient yourself to a place — by looking up instead of at the sidewalk, you find how visually rich the neighborhood really is.

We augmented the awards ceremony with pizza from La Mangiatoia. As is traditional for our program, we end in the early afternoon on Fridays for those who are interested in weekend travel. Itineraries we are hearing include Lucca, Pisa, Viareggio, and Rome.

Have a great weekend!

The Cinque Terre Thursday, Aug 25 2011 

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Today we took our water colors, paper and brushes to the Cinque Terre, one of the most breathtaking locations on the planet.

Our chartered bus met us in Piazza Tasso and it was a two-hour journey to La Spezia. If you don’t have a car, the only reasonable way to visit the Cinque Terre is by train. We bought tickets to Monterosso, the town farthest north.

After disembarking from the train, the group divided into smaller units, each with its own agenda (food, swimming, beach time). The weather was hot and the water incredibly refreshing. One vacationer chastised us for making the students work!

We were back home in Florence by 7:00. Showers, dinner on our own, and a sound night of sleep!

La Galleria Uffizi Wednesday, Aug 24 2011 

In an attempt to get out the door and over to the Uffizi to be in the first in line, breakfast was a rushed affair as we booked it over to the most visited museum in the world. Perhaps it was the warm temperatures that inspired other early-morning risers, but when we arrived, we found ourselves behind at least 100 other people. Fortunately, we were in the museum by 9:00.

For many of the students’ research projects, the works of art that they focused on are located here. This extensive collection, only a portion of which is on display, includes works not only by Florentine artists but also those from Siena, Venice and Rome.

We reconvened in the studio in the afternoon for an introduction to water color in preparation for our visit to the Cinque Terre tomorrow. The assignment: create two water colors on site (or, make a light sketch to water color later) and to make a postcard.

The postcard assignment has each student creating two postcards every week. The directors will keep one postcard from each student for every week of the program. Upon return to the US, the postcards will become part of an exhibition in Parnassus, a coffee shop in the UW’s School of Art.

Dinner was a tavola fresca in the classroom: salad, cheese and two types of bread, fruit, olives and a variety of chacuterie.

Early morning start to a 460 step climb… Tuesday, Aug 23 2011 

We were out the door at 8:30 this morning, determined to get to the Cupola of Santa Maria dei Fiori before the lines started to wrap around the basilica. Today’s temperatures are going to continue to be on the high side and we had a daunting task to accomplish: climbing the 460+ steps to the top of Brunelleschi’s Duomo.

Our strategy worked: we walked right up to the ticket booth and began our ascent. The first stage is at the top of the drum where you are able to view Vasari’s fresco of the Last Judgement, churning with tortured souls and monstrous demons, culminating at the top with Christ, Mary and the Saints amidst a choir of angels.

Continuing up more steps, now passing between the structures of the inner and outer domes, until we emerged at the top and the 360 degree view of Florence.

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Upon our descent, we stopped at the statues of Arnolfo di Cambio and of Brunelleschi and learned about the lives and their work from Emily and DangLan. Then, off to San Lorenzo market to attend to some important errands (cell phones, sim cards and ATM machines.) Lunch was delicious panini from a stand in the Mercato Centrale eaten in a park nearby. We had a few hours to shop before returning to our studio for our first classroom session.

Andrea, who is one of the staff of the Foresteria Gould, gave us a brief orientation and history of the Waldesians, their social work throughout Italy, and specifically the social efforts of the Florentine group. We took a tour of the palazzo’s beautiful enclosed garden and then had a lovely reception with sweets and cold beverages. Then, back up to the classroom to continue our general orientation and to begin our first studio project: book binding.

This evening, everyone was on their own for dinner. Groups headed out to experience the wonder that is Tuscan cuisine.

Il Primo Giorno Monday, Aug 22 2011 

Today saw the arrival of the 2011 Tuscany Travel Team. Weather problems on the east coast caused delays for some and the resulting lost luggage. We are confident that everything will arrive in the morning.

After a brief orientation in our classroom (the gorgeous Aula Magna, former ballroom of the palazzo) and the distribution of maps, the calendar for the week, and emergency contact cards, we walked to Il Gatto e’ La Volpe for dinner. The weather continues to be on the warm side, so we took a leisurely pace and stopped at several points to discuss the art and architecture of the city. The Piazza della Signoria provided opportunities to talk about Savanarola and multiple sculptures (both originals and copies) that decorate the square.

Dinner began with mixed antipasti (and the kind of tomatoes you can only find here) followed by a choice of pasta, pizza or a entrée-sized salad.  On our way back toward the Oltrarno and Carraia Gelateria, we became participants in a street peformance.

Jet-lagged, sleep deprived but excited to be here and to begin our month together in Italy.

Almost ready to begin! Sunday, Aug 21 2011 

We are looking forward to the arrival of our students within the next 24 hours. Several are in Florence already; the majority will be coming in on Monday.

They are arriving to am amazing place. They are also arriving at the top of the summer heat (apparently, it has been a cool summer, by Tuscan standards, until just a few days ago!)

We will be posting to the blog daily, so stay tuned!