The Barnes Artist Residency – Part II

I believe what makes this residency stand out is the dedication to provide an authentic Umbrian Italian experience. A friend of the Barnes Artist Residency, Renzo, took us on a morning adventure to the top of a neighboring mountain where we toured a beautiful church, a monastery, and what we thought was a deserted fortress….

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We entered Badia Monte Corona through a passage that took us beneath the Cathedral. We were confronted with a candle lit church (still in use) that was built from the stones of Roman ruins somewhere around 700 a.d. The pillars were completely unique because they were salvaged from Roman temples and they were supporting the large Cathedral above. It was beautiful and quite poetic to think about the ancient history manipulated into the foundation which supported the towering church above.
As we climbed, we eventually reached the Franciscan Monastery Eremo di Monte Corona, at the pinnacle of the mountain. The monastery was closed, but we quietly crept in to see the renovations being done to a beautiful church on the grounds. There were very old frescos and a remnants of what must have been a statue of St. Michael, although I guess it could have been St. George….my middle name is Michael so I have my biases. All that was left was a dragon and a foot. As we were leaving we were greeted by a smiling monk. Renzo talked with him and shared a few laughs, in the end he kindly and graciously asked us to leave. It was the nicest I have ever been thrown out of anywhere.
On our descent we found what appeared to be an old castle of sorts with high walls and a tower. We were in for another surprise! While we were looking for a way in, a man barked at us from the huge wooded gate. Thankfully we had Renzo who was proving very valuable in these situations. After some smooth talking, the man allowed us entry into what was essentially a gated community. There were 7 or 8 homes built within with their own yards and grape vines, a small road connecting the “town,” and a little center well with 1176 carved into the side. Around every turn we were greeted with expansive vistas.
Our last stop was San Giuliano Delle Pinatte which was rumored to have a few secret frescos. However, we were unable to get in, even with Renzo’s charm.
After a few days of painting and enjoying Umbria, I was itching to see the Museo Morandi. So, we concocted a plan to drive to Bologna, visit Morandi, hit Florence for a few days, then back to Monte Acuto. Italy is full of adventure and there is no way to control it. I have found it best to not resist, sit back and let the Fates guide you. When we made our way into Bologna, we were not certain where the Museo Morandi was. Tim had the faint recollection that it was by “the tower.” Whatever that meant….After some treasure hunting, he found the tower, we also found a beautiful plaza with a fountain of Poseidon/Neptune (not sure which) along with lunch, but no Morandi…..I followed Tim who wandered looking for the Museo Morandi. It was amusing to watch him drift through the fog of his memory toward our promised treasure. Just when all was right, and he found the X that marked the spot, we realized that the treasure was gone. Morandi’s work had moved; fortuitously right next to where we parked. When we did find Morandi’s legacy….well, all I can really say is, that I am so thankful that we decided to go to Bologna first to see these magnificent little paintings. These quiet thoughtful moments had such clarity that I will forever be impressed by them.
As we left, I stopped and bought a copy of La polvere di Morandi (Morandi’s Dust), sat with a cafe dopio thinking about the exhibition, and then set out for Florence. That however, will have to wait for the next post….Arrivederci!


The Barnes Artist Residency – Part I

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I am so excited to have been awarded the Barnes Artist Residency! I am spending the month of July in Italy, painting alongside Anna Fox Ryan, Tim Conte, and Victoria Barnes.

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…..