A gallery of people doing what people do in Firenze… Thursday, Aug 29 2013 

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Who are the Directors? Monday, Jan 7 2013 

Directors of Tuscany: A Creative Journey.

Curt Labitzke, Associate Professor in the Studio Art Division of the School of Art, is a seasoned traveler in Italy.  He has directed five quarter-long School of Art programs in Rome and has traveled extensively through Italy with these groups.  Recently, he took a group of students to study in Leon, Spain for a quarter. As an artist and as an instructor, he has worked with a wide variety of media as well as a diverse student population, from those just beginning to develop their skills as artists to advanced graduate students.  Curt’s work is highly influenced by his travels throughout Italy and is characterized by large scale figures whose relationships evoke both the magnitude of the mythological as well as the  nuances of personal intimacy.

Cynthia Caci, who has co-directed seminars in Sicily, Tunisia and Tuscany, has a graduate degree in Art History with a focus in the art of the early Italian Renaissance.  She brings not only language proficiency in conversational Italian but also teaching experience that will provide an historical context to the seminar in Tuscany. Her entire career at the Univeristy of Washington has been involved in undergraduate education and in helping students align their personal, educational and professional goals with opportunities at the UW and beyond. Cynthia is the Assistant Director of C21 (Center for 21st Century Liberal Learning) in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Country life, Tuscan style Friday, Sep 9 2011 

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After breakfast, we loaded into our charter bus and took a short trip to a local market that sold fresh and aged cheeses (made on site) as well as a selection of meats, olives and cold drinks. We headed to the Casa d’Erci, a museum devoted to the history of agricultural practices that have existed in the area since the feudal ages.

Because the road to the museum was narrow, we took a leisurely 30-minute walk along a winding path, past fields, vineyards, gardens and woods.

We were met by Cristina (our guide at the Knife Museum) and the volunteer staff at the Casa d’Erci. We received a brief introduction to the organization, then set to work making bread in the traditional manner. Tuscan bread is infamous for lacking one important ingredient: salt. One story goes that this peculiarity of the Tuscan bread goes back to the 12th century, when the Pisans controlled the salt trade to damage their worst enemies, the Florentines. This made it too expensive for the humble people of the region to buy salt.

Each student was given a portion of the dough and kneaded it into distinct shapes. Romano and Luigi provided instruction and encouragement.

While the bread rose, we went for a tour of the museum that contains many interesting exhibits and artifacts related to agricultural practices and artisanal trades.

We then had a picnic outside in a beautiful setting. As we left, we took our individual bread loaves with us.

Casa d’Erci is a must see if you are in the Mugello. We will definitely return next year.

Back down to the bus and on the road to our second stop of the day, Castello Il Trebbio. This was the summer home of the second-most famous and powerful family in Florence, the Pazzi. The Castello had fallen into ruin and disrepair until purchased in the 1960’s by a couple who wanted to have a home in Tuscany (she was Austrian, he was Italian.) It is now a wine-producer and we were given a tour of the entire property.

The contrast between our two stops today illuminated the Tuscan countryside through the lens of the poor and that of the very wealthy.

A great field trip. We returned home (as we now think of Florence) incredibly happy and somewhat tired…

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.

Tuscany 2010 Reunion! Saturday, Sep 18 2010 

Santa Croce Thursday, Sep 2 2010 

Another day, another great Florentine church.

After breakfast, we went to the Franciscan church of Santa Croce. Designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, this structure holds the tombs (and cenotaph) of some of Florence’s great hits: Michelangelo, Dante, Machiavelli, and Galileo. The nave, originally separated so the monks of Santa Croce could worship separately from the people, ends in a beautiful apse that has been under restoration for the past three years.

Outside the church you will find Brunelleschi’s Pazzi Chapel and the Museo di Santa Croce (the former convent that has been converted into a museum to hold the works of the church). Two cloisters provide a quiet sanctuary and several students used the shaded spaces to draw.

We continued student conferences today. Those who weren’t conferencing yesterday and today were encouraged to go to the Pitti Palace to see the rest of the Caravaggio show that we first encountered at the Uffizi. It is the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death.

Tomorrow, we are off to Siena.

Something old and something new(ish). Thursday, Sep 2 2010 

Typically, we wouldn’t visit two museums in the same day, but today we encountered art that spanned nine centuries!

Out the door early this morning to be first (or nearly first) people in line for the Accademia. The Accademia was created in the late 18th century as a collection to inspire the artists who were studying at the Academy of Fine Arts (Accademia de Belli Arti) as well as to give them a standard by which to measure their work. It is home to Michelagelo’s “Slaves” as well as Il Gigante (“David.”)

Once in the door, we bought guides for all of the students and headed inside to quickly walk into the hallway that leads to “David” in all of his glory. An early entrance to the museum also affords you a view of the statue minus the hoards that will build and circulate around the base of the statue. No matter how many times you have seen the work in reproduction, there is nothing that can truly prepare you for encountering the David.

We spent most of the morning there — sketching and exploring the rest of the collection. We agreed to meet at 12:30 outside San Lorenzo at 12:30, giving everyone time to grab some lunch.

Our next stop was the Museo Marino Marini.  Marini was an early 20th century artist whose foundation is now in a deconsecrated church that holds many of his important sculptures, paintings and prints. As a contemporary of Picasso and Bracque, the influence of cubism is highly evident in his work.

We began student conferences today. This is a chance for everyone to check-in and talk about how the program is going, what they’re excited about, suggestions for change, etc.

Tonight, a group dinner at Casalinga, a neighborhood place. Mixed crostini, two types of pasta (penne al’arrabiata and ravioli with sage and butter), plus a mixed salad. Buono!

A Leonard Cohen concert in the Piazza Santa Croce was a temptation to go out for an evening passegiata, although the streets around the venue were roped off and no Cohen was heard. It was a nice stroll for those who ventured out.

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.

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!

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