An Umbrian Hill Town
Monte Castellians care more about preventing pigeons and cats from entering the studios than thieves, but, of course, they say there are no burglars. If Disney wanted to build a model Umbrian hill town, it would be larger than this tiny village of 90 exceptionally friendly residents, but if you’d like to eat healthy Umbrian cuisine in a dining room with a 12-foot square copy of a Caravaggio on the wall, and in a Medieval building constructed over Etruscan and Roman ruins and used to house nuns until 20 years ago, this is for you.
I found ICARTS, the International Center for the Arts, through an ad in Art New England. The school is most often used by universities such as The Art Institute of Chicago and the Maryland Institute of Art. student groups come with their professors for 3-week stays, but individual residencies are welcomed.
A Tower Studio
It was an odd studio space: the tiny tower, five floors up with dome-shaped windows facing three directions. My work table consisted of plastic tables dragged from other studios in the building and pushed together.
The Tiber flows far below, and when sitting on the terrace of another building for lunch, I could see Perugia, a 45-minute drive away.
Technical complications come with residencies abroad. I worked on paper and limited the size so I could transport the art and with cold wax instead of encaustic to avoid the problem of finding the right torch and fuel locally. The Gamblin Gamsol I use with cold wax was not available in Europe, and Blick would not send it because it is considered toxic by the USPS. My lungs vehemently protested to the Liquin used there until I talked the manager into letting me keep all windows wide open, risking pigeons flying in. Cold wax cannot be transported until it is sufficiently dry, so the third week I expanded into another studio area to work with ink.
The ex-pats who visited my studio, a designer and a sculptor, were the only other artists I met in Monte Castello, and they were the first people I encountered whose native tongue is English. I was thrilled with their excitement at seeing my art. They immediately dropped to their knees, excitedly designed a layout and declared that the work should be hung on one long gallery wall, though the 12 pieces also make a lively 2-D installation..
Liberation and Inspiration
I am somewhat mystified by this art. I intended to work abstractly and to experiment with a medium new to me, but here I was, surrounded by gorgeous pastoral panoramas, the kind landscape painters long for, and the art that emerged seemed unconnected to these gorgeous views. It seems more architectural and geometric in feel. Partly that is because cold wax works differently than encaustic. Beyond that, I see more gestural freedom than I have ever had, more movement, and more spontaneity. I sought these qualities, so perhaps this series reflects more my emotional state than place. Certainly being freed from daily tasks and responsibilities, as we are in residencies, is terrifically liberating.
What ICARTS offers
You are met at the Rome airport, fed 3 meals a day, and offered one field trip a week. While student groups usually go to Florence and Rome on buses, I chose less known Umbrian hill towns. Eros, the manager, who speaks excellent English and whose devoted attention would put anyone at ease in a foreign place, took me to Orvieto and Spoleto. I will never forget the frescos, as richly hued as when they were created in the 1200s, in the Parco Fluviale del Nera Abbey. They are said to have inspired Giotto for his art in Assisi.
If you want a residency in which your basic needs are totally cared for, and you don’t not mind being alone and surrounded by Italians (I sought this because I study Italian), you will love this residency. I was told the cost of the residency compares favorably with similar ones. The application process consists only of the director’s assessing that you are a serious artist. You could create a group from your NEW friends and attend. What better way to cement our bonds!