The Barnes Artist Residency in Umbria is a medieval country house situated high on a mountain called Monte Acuto in Umbria, Italy. Overlooking Umbertide, a town of about 15, 000 inhabitants, our vantage provides endless views of the lush Tiber River Valley and the Apennine Mountains. Called the green heart of Italy, Umbria is perfectly situated within 2 hours reach of Florence or Rome.
The location is wonderfully preserved. The medieval hill towns of Perugia, Gubbio and Assisi are backyard playgrounds to the Residency, where Artists will find some of Italy’s most sublime artwork within a short distance. Major works by Piero della Francesco, Giotto, Luca Signorelli, Perugino and others are within an easy day trip. Umbria is known for its rustic cuisine including sausages, porcini mushrooms, black truffles and some of Italy’s best wines from nearby vineyards, such as Montefalco Sagrantino and Orvieto Classico. Regional artisans and craftsman continue the tradition of producing world-famous fine wines, food products, textiles, pottery and other crafts. There is so much to see and enjoy locally – architecture, art, history and culture – that visitors need not leave the area.
The Residency quarters are rustic and basic, supported by ancient wooden trave-beamed ceilings and surrounded by thick, stuccoed limestone walls. The surroundings are majestic and inspiring – the Residency overlooks the valley from approximately 700 meters high. But the true luxuries come in the form of time and space to capture and create your own Italian artistic experience. Included are elaborate communal dinners, often cooked on a large fireplace, where Residents have the opportunity to sample typical Umbiran foods and flavors, as well as discuss the day’s work.
Anna and I are closing on our first week here. The residencies hosts are Tim Conte and Victoria Barnes. The Barnes family has lived and summered at the Palazzo di Monte Acuto since it was purchased in he early ‘70s. Victoria attended elementary school in Umbertide, and when she and Tim graduated from the BFA program at Indiana University they came and spent a full year on the mountain, then at PAFA.
Over the years the Barnes’ have cultivated lifelong Italian friendships, and consider the house on Monte Acuto home. Always passionate about the arts, the family feels it is time to open up this unique and magical place to artists seeking to hone their craft, and immerse themselves in the Italian culture. The house was bought by fellow painters Robert and Nancy Barnes 41 years ago and is now being transformed into a beautiful artistic community with 5 studios and a residency apartment.
Victoria and Tim and have been wonderful hosts, cooking us traditional Umbrian meals, teaching us Italian, and introducing us to the local customs. There is plenty for a painter to be inspired by here, whether it is the local landscapes, interiors of this beautiful home, still lives, or just having a dedicated studio with few distractions to sculpt or paint abstractly.
Anna and I have been settling in this week, getting our bearings. We are living in a beautiful little apartment of our own, complete with a living room, kitchen, bathroom and studio. Just outside of the bedroom door we have a stone patio with a view of our own olive tree and the Umbrian Valley. We have been woken in the morning by the neighbors roosters and greeted with Cafe Lattes and crepes made by Victoria. After which, we have been off to work on paintings or reading until lunch time around noon. Lunch has been a variety of wonderful foods like homemade pasta, arugula salad, risotto, frittatas, etc., and then we have been off either painting or visiting the region. We spent an afternoon in Umbertide, a quaint little town with a wonderful market on Wednesdays and medieval castle at its heart. Today, after lunch we visited Gubbio, a medieval hillside town only 25 minutes from the residency. Tim escorted us, showing us through this magical walled city on the side of Monte Ingino.
We spent the afternoon walking up the streets, level after level, and taking a hike all the way to the top of the mountain where we were greeted with a breath taking view of the city, valley and a LARGE bottle of water…for the descent, we rode what was essentially a steel human sized birdcage down the mountain. For those of you wondering, “why didn’t you take the cage up and walk down?” – good question. All I can say is, the “bird cages” are pulled up by a steel cable 40 ft. high off the the side of a large mountain….which at first was pretty intimidating to some of the entourage, but after hiking to the top, it seemed the lesser of the two evils going down. A visit to the gelatoria was definately in order when our feet touched the ground.
The reward for our adventure was a smiling Victoria, who greeted us with Umbrian sausage (easily the greatest sausage I have ever eaten) along with a large salad, rosemary potatoes, risotto with artichokes and peppers, sauteed local beets, and vino. Chocolate chip cookies (which are delicacy in Italy) and for dessert. Speaking of desserts….So far Victoria has made us 3 different pies, an espresso and apricot roll, gelatto, and peach pastry.
I have started four paintings already. The ladies brought back beautiful white roses for me to paint, a still life of a terracotta bust of Jesus, a landscape, and an interior of their kitchen. Tim and Victoria have been such inspiring people to be around and such gracious hosts. They have helped us adjust to the studios, jet-lag, and our new home. I am really looking forward to our next three weeks here…..