Mark’s favorite place to celebrate his birthday is New York City, so that’s where we went for his 54th. It was his birthday, but I had such a great time it felt like my birthday. For our first evening we had tickets to the Art Book Fair. This was our first trip back to NY since Covid began back in 2019. I had never heard of Printed Matter, or this event, so I thought it would be fun to check it out. The building where the fair was held was four stories, and every floor was crowded. There were hundreds of vendors and artists attending. I am glad we discovered Printed Matter because I met Ingrid Schindall, of IS Projects in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and added a few lovely books to my collection. I chose the first book, CONVERGENCE by Michelle AM Miller, because the form caught my attention. The more I looked at the book, the more I learned. The case, which was organic in shape, had been 3D printed. Some of the pages had been laser cut. The production techniques were so similar, yet so different from my own. If you go to Michelle’s website you can find the link to an audio recording that accompanies the book.
The second book I chose was created by Ingrid, titled of this place. It is an unbound book of her poetry printed on various cotton and abaca handmade papers. It is housed in a box with a clear spine. The box pays homage to a special design, created when over 1200 books were found missing from a library. The boxes were on the shelf, but because the spines were opaque no one could tell the books were missing. The librarian was quite upset to uncover this crime. Ingrid told me she chose this box style so the unbound pages of the book could be seen easily. She also explained her decision to leave the pages unbound was so the reader, by shuffling the pages like a deck of cards, could have a different experience with the book each time and place it was read. My favorite poem from the book is Everything Has Been, it reminds me of the saying, “There is nothing new under the sun”.
The colors Ann uses in her paintings are so rich and vibrant, it makes me happy to look at the images. I can almost “see” the birds taking flight right from the pages. Blue Song, 2008 and Yello Fello Yello, 2018 (pictured below, on front of book) are two of my favorites.
Michelle AM Miller
of this place
TALAS is a bookbinding supply store, also offering fine art papers. It is my favorite bookbinding store because the quality and variety of merchandise is superior. I try to visit TALAS every time I am in New York City, so a brief Uber ride from Manhattan and I was standing outside the door. I rang the bell and a voice answered, “can I help you?” This was the beginning of what turned out to be a fabulous day. Mark and I were greeted and welcomed by Aaron Salik, President of TALAS, and super nice guy. I told Aaron I had just returned from Monte Castello where I had taken a class on The Art of Paper, and that I had visited the Fabriano Paper Mill. Of course, TALAS carries Fabriano papers, and Cave Papers.
Aaron and me standing in front of a magnificent door, created by Aaron’s sister using layers and layers of cut paper.
Aaron was very generous with both time and knowledge, and I learned a lot on this visit. When we headed back to Manhattan I had lots of inspiration, and a few new tools. I also bought a dark green leather goat skin that I will be using to bind a new book I have been working on. I am excited and a little nervous about this because it will be the first book I have bound in leather. I am also planning to use the foil stamping machine to place the title on the front and spine of the book. Coincidentally, the title will be Convergence, but it is a completely different kind of book than Michelle’s that I talked about earlier.
INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR THE ARTS PART ONE
Hindsight is 20/20, or at least I am hoping it is because I am freshly home from International Center for the Arts in Monte Castello di Vibio, Italy and I want to document this fabulous trip in detail. I went there for a class, The Art of Paper, taught by four of the most accomplished artists in the fields of papermaking and bookmaking, Carol Barton (Popular Kinetics), Amanda Degener (Cave Paper), Helen Hiebert (Helen Hiebert Studio), and Denice Carbone (University of the Arts). For anyone interested in this magical place, here is the link to their website: https://www.icaitaly.com/ David Voros is the director of ICA. David transitioned here from South Carolina where spent many years teaching art at University of South Carolina.
L to R: Denise Carbone, Carol Barton, Helen Hiebert, Amanda Degener
Rockstars of the paper world
David Voros (photo credit Beth Stockdell)
Each morning began with a chef prepared breakfast buffet complete with pastries, and most importantly, Italian Coffee! There were 10 of us student artists, and we were divided into two groups which made the student teacher ratio quite personal.
My first class was Pop-Up Structures with Carol Barton, author of The Pocket Paper Engineer.
Her website is https://www.popularkinetics.com/ and she also has a Wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carol_Barton I had taken her course many years ago (2013) in Baltimore at Pyramid Atlantic, but I was overdue for a refresher.
After a beautiful four course lunch prepared by chef Katia and her assistant, Federico, I went to
my second class, bookbinding, with Denise Carbone. https://www.uarts.edu/denise-carbone This is one of the classes I had not experienced before and I learned so much about bookbinding from Denise! The first book we made was from the 14th century, called Italian Limp Leaf Binding with Nap. (A nap is a small flap on the front and back covers to protect the pages inside the book.) To begin, we folded large sheets of cotton paper and cut them into signatures. Then we sewed the signatures together with a decorative kettle stitch pattern. This stitch pattern reminded me of fancy underwear, because once the book was covered no one would see it, but I knew it was there. Secondly, we used sewing frames to attach the book block to cords. That was a lot of work to accomplish in one class, but we did it! Dinner again was a four course treat with which we were thoroughly spoiled most days throughout our stay at ICA. More about the talented Chef Katia soon.
Carol and me back in 2013 at Pyramid Atlantic
My text block ready for stitching.
After a good night’s sleep I was off to my second day of classes. We used A-day, B-day course scheduling, so I had two new teachers and two new art forms to learn. First class of the day was with Helen and we used paper weaving techniques to make a small book. Helen is another teacher I had previously studied with, but she is so full of enthusiasm and creativity any time spent with her is inspiring. If you don’t know Helen Hiebert, check her out at https://helenhiebertstudio.com/ . She also hosts a very informative podcast, Paper Talk, at: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/paper- talk/id1108636248 .
Amanda Degener taught my second class of the day, papermaking. Another amazing instructor! More about her can be found through the following links: https://www.cavepaper.com/ and http://amandadegener.com/about/about.html I had made paper before on a small scale with my kitchen blender, but I wanted to know a more professional method using real equipment. This is a little funny because the school did not have a paper beater machine. One of the natural fibers we used was kozo, which we boiled in a large gas-heated kettle and then beat to a pulp using a 2x4 plank, how is that for “real equipment?” Just proves that resourcefulness and determination are major qualities of most artists.
Kozo fiber ready for boiling in Amanda’s class
Woven paper book cover I made in Helen’s class
Amanda volunteered to lead a tai-chi group at 7:00 am each day. Almost recovered from jet-lag, my goal was to make it to this group this morning, however I was still too sleep-ee to make it to tai-chi. Spoiler alert – I never made it, not even once during my stay.
In Carol’s class today we moved on to V- folds and platforms. In Denise’s class we added covers to complete the books we began making on Monday and put them in the press to dry.
Carol showing examples of commercial pop-ups
Hand decorated papers drying in the studio
People of Monte Castello are so friendly! I look forward to my short walk to school to see their smiles and hear the chorus of “bon journo” along the way. I found the village bakery today and the rest of my trip will be so much sweeter! In Helen’s class today we made two types of hinged lanterns. In Amanda’s class we formed sheets of paper from abaca, pressed them, and hung them to dry. We also coated the marbled and decorated sheets (which we dyed on Tuesday) with gelatin to make them stronger. Paper making is messy, I am glad I had my waterproof shoes, apron, and gloves.
Woven paper lantern
Hinged screen lantern
Adding a cover to the Italian Limp Leaf Binding Book Project
Friday is for field trips! Our first stop of the day was at a small church with a storied past, Santuario Madonna Dei Bagni. As the story goes, a man, whose wife was very ill, went walking through a field and the Virgin Mary appeared to him from a tree. He prayed to the Blessed Virgin for healing of his wife, and when the man returned home his wife was all better. News of this miracle spread, and people from all around started coming to this tree to pray. Eventually a church was built around the tree. Today the remains of the tree can be seen, encased in glass behind the altar. But, the story doesn’t end there. People who came here to pray for their friends and family began to place plaques on the walls of the church depicting how their loved ones died. These range from being trampled by a horse, to automobile accidents. The walls of the church are covered in these plaques as seen in the picture to the right.
Plaques depicting how people met their demise
Onward towards Deruta for coffee and pastries before we visited the pottery studio of the Nulli family. We witnessed the skill of the artisans as pots were thrown and painted. A few of us even had the opportunity to try it for ourselves. I could not resist purchasing two beautiful coffee mugs.
Mr. Nulli helps me as I give it a try
A plate by Nulli Pottery
Hand painting a bowl
The highlight of today’s trip for me was the Fabriano Paper Mill, which dates back to the 13th Century. https://fabriano.com/en/history/ This is the place where fine papers have been manufactured ever since. In fact, watermark technology was invented here in the 1400’s. Fabriano is the paper chosen by many famous historical figures throughout the years, such as Raffaello, Michelangelo, Ludwig Van Beethoven, and Giusseppe Garibaldi to name a few. Today, Fabriano Paper Mill is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We were given a demonstration of how paper is made by hand at Fabriano, and then we toured the museum which documented the evolution of technology in the art of papermaking and watermarking.
An ancient pulp beater
Tools used for weaving watermarks into reed deckles
A brief pictorial history of the evolution of water mark technology.
To cap the day we found ourselves in Assisi at the Cathedral of Saint Francis. It was quite a hike from the parking lot to the top of the mountain where the church was located. Some in our group did not make it which made me sad. Had there been forewarning, perhaps a taxi could have transported them to the top. We walked a little over four miles that day on steep inclines. https://www.cbsfa.org/
Nuns and Monks of Assisi enjoying a cool afternoon treat
Monument to Saint Francis
We passed over one hundred little shops on our walk in Assisi today, but time was limited and we only got to explore a few of them. Posters covered the town announcing that the Pope would be visiting tomorrow. I was happy we were here today, because I am uncomfortable in large crowds of people. On the bus returning to Monte Castello we were all exhausted and many of us fell asleep. I called home to talk to my family first, then I had a restful nap as we travelled along the highway.
A Note About the Food
Dinner of course was deliziosa as usual.
I mentioned Chef Katia earlier, but she deserves special recognition. The food she prepared for us each day was both beautiful and delicious, and there was so much variety! Below are only a few examples of the exquisite dishes she spoiled us with. Combined with regional wine, both red and white, these meals will long be remembered.
Interior of the Cathedral of Saint Francis of Assisi
Chef Katia and her assistant Federico in the kitchen
(photo credit: Ron Shaull)
Examples of Katia’s artistry
Today we took a trip to Fongoli Winery for a wine-tasting experience. https://www.fongoli.com/en/
We were greeted with warm hospitality and welcomed to take a walk through the vineyards and explore the farm. Fongoli is a family business entering its fifth generation of vintners. All in all we tasted about five red wines and three white wines. I still have a lot to learn about wine, but most of them tasted good to me. This farm also produced olives and olive oil. I ended up purchasing eight bottles of this oil as gifts for friends and family. I was planning to ship it back to North Carolina but soon found out shipping charges were near to the cost of the oil itself. Now I had no idea how I was going to transport these glass bottles back home without breaking them. Luckily, I had just had a bit of wine so I didn’t worry too much about it in that moment. Cosi e la vida! After the tasting our group divided. Some wanted to visit a second winery and some chose to return to Monte Castello. I was in the latter group because I was looking forward to doing some reading before dinner. There is so much to see and do here that free time is a rarity.
A selection of wines at Fongoli
Aging barrels in the cellar at Fongoli
Olives hanging from the branches
Older vintages stored in the cellar , tagged and dated
Going to the outdoor market in Perugia today reminded me of going to the flea market on Sunday afternoons with my grandfather when I was a little girl. There were all types of merchandise at the market, old books, linen, costume jewelry, furniture, and pottery were a few. I came upon a large box full of old skeleton keys. My daughter has been collecting keys for years so I offered up 3 Euro in exchange for one of them. After perusing the market I headed down the street further into the center of town. David had told us that Perugia was known for chocolate, so I found the chocolate shops and made a few more purchases. I would put the chocolate with my olive oil, which I still didn’t know how to carry home. Next, I made my way to the National Gallery of Umbria located in the Palazzo dei Priori where I found lots of religious art dating back to the 1200’s. https://gallerianazionaledellumbria.it
Documented from Assisi 1341-1347
Ditych circa 1340-1350
Madonna and Child with Four Angels
Crucifixion with the Virgin and Saint John Grieving
The border is of Saints and Prophets
When we met back up to get on the bus we had a mini show-and-tell with the items we had all gathered. June had a lovely book of dress patterns. Amanda had an old book with tons of character. Of course, there were many bags of Baci chocolate, and some had truffle oil. Beth had found a duffel at the market she planned to use to take her new treasures home with her to Arkansas. That’s it I thought! I need another suitcase for the olive oil and my problem is solved. What a weekend! But I am missing classes and want to get back to creating.
A view from Perugia, just before an afternoon rain
The fun continues! See PART 2 of this amazing adventure to read more about what happened at the International Center for the Arts.
Hard to believe we have all been here over a full week now. Time is passing too quickly. In Carol’s class the day began with a pop! We learned about non-adhesive props, which as the name implies are supports which do not require glue or tape because they are cut from the base layer of paper. I was careful to take good notes because the measurements for this type of pop-up are tricky.
In the afternoon with Denise, we began working on a more modern binding. We started by sewing the text block and attaching the end papers, then we used a guillotine to cut the edges perfectly sharp and square. I would like to add a guillotine cutter to my studio when I return home, I loved the clean edges of this book. Towards the end of the class we chose papers for the spine and covers. I picked out a green color palette using some of the papers I marbled last week.
The guillotine cutter
Detail of my hand marbled paper
We used Thai Unryu paper today in Helen’s class to make bendable papers by embedding copper wire and string between two layers. One of the projects I made using this bendable paper was a window hanging. You can see it above my head in this picture. The sunlight coming through the paper makes the jewel tones vibrant. Our group had so many ideas for bendable paper. There were table runners, lanterns, bowls, etc. Terry had a wonderful idea to embed LED lights between the papers for her table runner. I think I might try that for a special Christmas window hanging when I get back to my studio.
Window hanging made using Thai Unryu paper embedded with string
Two lanterns and a bowl I made with bendable paper
While my group was upstairs in Helen’s class, the other group was busy downstairs with Amanda making a giant sheet of handmade paper. David built the custom mold because he wanted this paper for a painting he was planning.
My birds eye view for watching Amanda’s team make a giant sheet of paper
Amanda prepares to pour the first bucket of pulp into the mold as David and the others look on waiting to help
After lunch, when my group went to work with Amanda, we were busy applying dyes and gelatin to the dry papers we had made. We also began planning pages for the sample book containing all the various papers we had made, both Eastern and Western.
Denise worked with Amanda to design this project because Denise felt it was important for us to learn this method, another old-world binding technique. A long cover sheet was folded into thirds, the center panel was a common back for both parts of the book, Eastern on one side, Western on the other. Four holes were then stabbed through the cover and pages of the book. Then they were laced with wet goat leather and wrapped. As the leather dried, the binding tightened and made the book strong. The book was flipped, and this process repeated on the other side.
Today we had our final classes with Carol and Denise. Carol gave us patterns to use for making three-dimensional pop-up structures, a pyramid, a box, a tent, and a cylinder. She showed us examples of commercial pop-ups, then gave us creative time to experiment with the forms we had learned. Then we prepared our work for the community show that would happen tomorrow (Thursday) night. David told us the Monte Castello community was quite supportive of the school, and they were interested in what we had accomplished.
Clockwise from top left in the photo is Amanda (dark blue sweater) Ron, David, Carol (taking photos), Suzanne, Terry, and Denise (with the cute hat).
I combined a floating platform with a spiral to make this comic-book like pop
Three of my completed books ready to show
After lunch Denise held a special session to teach us how to make folded paper wallets. We used Tyvek for this because it is more durable than most other papers. There are nine different pockets to hide things in this simple wallet, business cards, credit cards, tickets, ID, or other small paperwork. I will definitely make more of these in my studio to use as gift-card holders at Christmas. When the wallet making session wrapped up we used our class time with Denise to place covers on the more modern binding. I am happy with the way all my books turned out.
It was heart-warming that so many people turned out to see our showcase.
A Note About the People
The setting for this experience was beautiful and inspirational, but what made this time in Monte Castello most memorable was the people. I always feel like I am with my tribe when I’m with paper and book enthusiasts, but this group was extra special. They were cheerleaders for one another, they made careful observations and thoughtful suggestions. They took time to listen before responding. They had an intrinsic caring nature which was so refreshing to be a part of. I am going to miss the camaraderie of this outstanding group. I was in Group A
Ron Shaull, Group A
Beth Stockdell, Group A
Amanda Martin, Group A. (photo credit: Beth Stockdell)
Terry Engelhart, Group A
Lore Spivey, Group A (me)
Daria Wilber, Group B
Judy Bennett, Group B
Susan Maki, Group B
June Burden, Group B
Suzanne Solis, Group B
The Art of Paper Students and Instructors, September 19 – October 3, 2022, International Center for the Arts, Monte Castello di Vibio
BACK ROW L to R Judy Bennett, Susan Maki, Suzanne Solis, June Burden, Daria Wilber, Ron Shaull, Lore Spivey, Amanda Martin, Terry Engelhart, Kyle Carbone (Denise’s son) FRONT ROW L to R Beth Stockdell, Amanda Degener, Carol Barton, Helen Hiebert, Denise Carbone (Photo Credit: Beth Stockdell)
Our interpreter, Victoria and our tech support, Gabrielle
Today began with an early morning bus trip to Florence! Many of my friends were planning to go to the Uffizi gallery https://www.uffizi.it/en.the-uffizi to see Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, or to the Accademia Gallery https://www.accademia.org to see Michelangelo’s David, but I was going to Agostino Dessi’s Mask Studio!https://alicemasks.weebly.com We got off the bus beside the Arno River where other tour busses were dropping people off. It was raining, so I took out my umbrella and realized it was broken. It mostly still covered me but one side of it was flopping down making it hard to see. I was careful to go to Google Maps on my phone and drop a pin so I could find my way back to the bus when the day was done. I joined Carol, Helen, and Susan and we walked to the Basilica of Santa Croce together. The rain stopped as we approached the church. Inside I saw the tombs of Galileo and Michelangelo most notably, but many famous people were buried there.
Tomb of Galileo inside the Church of Santa Croce
Duomo, Florence, Italy
After visiting Santa Croce I set out on my own towards Alice Masks. I had found this magical little place back in 2008 when I was last in Florence. I have never been anywhere else like it in the world, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to visit again. I had emailed Agostino’s daughter, Alice a few weeks back to check store hours and let her know I was planning to drop by. I come from a theatre background. I majored in theatre at University of North Carolina, Asheville, and received my masters at University of North Carolina, Greensboro. I taught theatre and communications for 17 years, and each year I would make masks with my students. The masks began as simple paper creations, and transformed into papier mache, and eventually plaster casts of the students’ actual faces. Agostino makes his masks from a variety of materials including leather, metal, and of course paper. If you have seen the 2006 film V for Vendetta, Agostino made those masks! https://www.warnerbros.com/movie/v-vendetta
I was allowed to take pictures, but as good as these photos are they don’t convey the otherworldly atmosphere of the space. Surrounded by characters like Pinocchio, nature fairies, and even steampunk rabbits, it is easy to get lost in imagination.
Alice ad Agostino in their studio/shop
Door to Agostino Dessi’s shop, Alice Masks
Thousands of these masks line the walls of the small shop. If you ever have the chance to go to this place, I highly recommend it. There is so much to look at it is almost overwhelming. I was in the shop for a long while just taking it all in. I bought a mask for my daughter, Morgan and one for myself. Agostino kindly signed both. This was the highlight of my day!
Leaving Alice Masks, I stopped in a little shop to get a new umbrella and dispose of my broken one. Then, I headed to the Florentine Market. David, and his son, Eli had told our group this was the best place in Florence to purchase fresh foods, or to have a meal. The market had many unusual fruits and vegetables not easily found elsewhere, especially in the US. I bought some truffles, truffle oil, and balsamic vinegar. My mouth watered as I thought about a freshly baked loaf of bread dipped in the olive oil from Fangoli, and this balsamic vinegar. After the market, I found a pizzeria and had lunch. Just as I went inside the rain started again, and it was heavier than before. I was happy I had a new umbrella because it didn’t stop raining for hours.
After lunch I went in several bookstores, paper stores, and leather goods stores. I bought a red rolling suitcase to carry my olive oil and chocolates back home. The rest of the afternoon I wandered the ancient streets of the city, until an hour before it was time to meet back at the bus. I took out my phone and pulled up the pin I had dropped when I got off the bus this morning. It said I was 45 minutes away. I didn’t think I had walked that far, but the pin was beside the river so I thought maybe I had just lost track of my distance. I began walking toward the pin following the directions Google Maps was giving me. I walked, and walked, and walked, and nothing looked familiar. I was getting outside of the city. I sensed something was wrong, but this pin was all I had to go on to find my way back. When I finally arrived at the place where this pin was, I found myself under a large graffiti covered bridge. Remember, as I walked all this distance I was holding my umbrella and pulling my new red suitcase along with me – and the rain did not stop. I was a pitiful sight I’m sure. I walked underneath the bridge and around an industrial looking building to see if maybe I was just on the wrong side of the river? But I didn’t remember ever crossing the river in the first place. It is now 5:20 and I am supposed to be back at the bus by 5:30. I searched Google Maps for the Duomo because I remembered it was near the bus lot. The search told me that I was 4.2 miles away from where I was supposed to be! So, there I stood, soaking wet, lost, and thousands of miles and an ocean away from home. Don’t panic, I told myself- but I was starting to panic. It was now 5:28 pm. I knew I was supposed to be at the bus in two minutes, but I didn’t know where I was.
I only knew I had been walking for over an hour in the rain, and that I couldn’t trust Google Maps. Technology was my usual friend, that friend I can never rely on. Oh, the battery on my phone was going dead too. I realized that if my battery died I wouldn’t even be able to call for help. Then it occurred to me I did not have a number for anyone in my group anyway. I was truly alone. I didn’t even speak the language of this foreign country. There was no sign of the rain stopping. It didn’t really matter because I was drenched anyway. I wondered if the bus would leave me? I had money so I could get a taxi to the train station and return to Monte Castello that way. I wondered if my friends would be upset with me for making us all late to our dinner reservation? I wondered how I was going to get myself out of this mess? Call a cab? Keep walking? Then I spotted a restaurant with a glowing green sign. I had an idea. It was a long shot, but I thought I would give it a try. I ran towards the restaurant juggling my umbrella, my suitcase, and my cell phone. At 10% cell battery I frantically typed into the translation app: “I need help. I am lost. I need to get to the place where the busses drop off the tourists.” Just then a lady and her daughter came out of the restaurant. I showed them the translation on my screen, and they showed me mercy. The daughter began typing something on her cell phone. She held up the screen for me and written in English it read: “We are going that direction. We can give you a ride to a point but you will still have to walk a short distance.” Should I get into a car with a stranger? I have been taught all my life never to do that, but these women seemed kind. Besides, I didn’t have time to worry about all the things that might happen to me, I could only wonder what would happen if I missed the bus- which I was now five minutes late for. Doing something at this point was definitely better than doing nothing. I said “grazie” and the daughter helped me load my suitcase and umbrella into the back of the car.
NOT where I was supposed to be at 5:30 pm
The car was black and smelled of leather. As I seated myself in the back I felt some of the tension ease. However, there are two bus stations in Florence, the main public transport depot and the tourist bus hub which some of the local busses also serviced. The daughter tried to explain this to me, and asked me which one I needed to go to. My stomach tightened. Then I remembered that Santa Croce was a short distance from the drop off point, the first place I had visited earlier in the day. “I should have stayed with Carol and Helen” I thought to myself. I took my Santa Croce entry ticket from my purse and handed it to the younger woman. There was conversation in Italian, and the older woman kept driving. She seemed to realize where it was I needed to be. We were in the wrong lane to make a necessary turn, so she beeped the horn and someone let her over. About a minute later, I SAW THE BUS! Just then my phone rang, it was David trying to find me. Everyone else was on the bus. I took out 20 euro and tried to give it to the women but they would not take it. “It is not necessary” they told me. “My bus! That is my bus!” I said. “Thank you, thank you, grazie, grazie, you saved me!” Then the tears began. I was so relieved. I looked at my watch and it was 5:45. I was only 15 minutes late, which considering my conundrum, I thought was pretty good. The daughter helped me gather my belongings. As I walked towards the bus, the black car pulled away. I don’t even know their names. I do, however, believe in angels. Visibly emotional, I stepped on to the bus. “How did you get a ride?” someone asked. “Where did you get your suitcase?” someone else asked. I quickly apologized to the group and took my seat, unable to say anything else in that moment. Then someone said, “Don’t worry, Amanda just got here too. We weren’t going to leave you.” I slowly calmed down enough to tell everyone what had happened and why I was late.
Saturday 10- 1- 2022
Our final field trip and the day before departure.
Bittersweet. The destination: Orvieto. Getting off the bus, I was damn determined not to get lost today! I DID NOT drop a pin on Google Maps, but I DID take pictures of my surroundings for a few blocks. I saw the office of the Carabinieri (police) as we walked by and made a mental note of it. We were free to explore the city until 5:00 pm. I planned to be back at the meeting point by 4:30 this time.
Getting off the bus in Orvieto
Our designated meeting point in Orvieto
David had told us that Orvieto had been built on top of a defunct volcano, and the qualities of the soil had allowed ancient Etruscan civilizations to dig caves beneath the city. Since I had shopped plenty yesterday, I wanted to see the caves. I was lucky to walk up to the ticket vendor at 11:28 am just two minutes before an 11:30 cave tour was to begin. Everything in black on this map picture is above ground. Everything in red on this map picture is below ground. There is a maze of over 800 caves beneath Orvieto. https://www.orvietoviva.com/en/orvieto-underground/
These presses were used to produce olive oil in the caves
An Etruscan well over 80 meters deep
Archaeologists believe these small cavities in the walls were used to breed pigeons as a source of food for people living in the caves.
Entrances to some of the caves had to be blocked because they lead directly under and into basements of above ground homes of the city residents.
I did not get lost this time, and I made it back to our meeting point in plenty of time. We left Orvieto and went to Marmore Falls, the highest waterfall in Europe. I took some of my best pictures at this place, it was so beautiful.
Marmore Falls, or Cascalla delle Marmore
View of a rainbow from top of Marmore Falls
Katia prepared us a very special dinner on our final night together. It was Daria’s birthday, and Katia even made a cake for her. The memories of this trip, the friendships I’ve made, and the lessons I’ve learned will be forever in my heart. I do hope we stay in touch, and maybe even meet again in the future. Tomorrow will be an early start as we need to be on the bus by 5:30 am to make the two-hour drive into Rome. My flight leaves at 12:50 pm, so I will have a little time to hang out at the airport. I am a little homesick and miss my family dearly. I will miss the spectacular views, the friendly people, the narrow streets, of course the bakery, and even my little apartment in the village. I will miss the camaraderie, the stories, the adventures, the creative time, and the inspiration given to us by our teachers, our friends, and our surroundings.
The delicious cake Katia made for Daria’s birthday
My flight went smoothly, and I arrived home at 5:50 pm local North Carolina Time. My family met me with flowers and hugs. There was a lot of catching up to do and many stories to be told from all of us.
Time to go home to North Carolina
A final view of Monte Castello di Vibio as our bus leaves for Rome
Sometimes it is easy to fall into the pit of artist’s block. Self doubt, lack of ideas, infrequent recognition of work, time commitments, and everyday distractions are all demons trying to drag us into the pit. Our job as artists is to stay out of that pit. I was looking through my daughter’s sketch book and I came upon several pages of nothing but stars she had drawn. “Hey, this is really cool,” I told her, “Why did you draw all these stars?” “When I can’t think of anything else to draw, I draw stars, because I have to draw something.” That was a lightbulb moment for me, I have to create, something. The creation is the important part.
When there is “nothing new under the sun” what does it mean to create? The artist takes an idea and placed upon it their unique, personal touch, resulting in a variation unlike any other. This yields one completely original possibility among infinite combinations. We share the same universal themes. We love, we hurt, we want, we need, and sometimes we hate. But, we never find the exact same answers to life’s questions. The view is different from every window though we all live in the same house.
But what about when you are trying so hard to create and getting nowhere? You’ve drawn an entire sketchbook of stars. Consider this story by Steven R. Covey from his book THE 7 HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE PEOPLE:
“You come upon someone in the woods working to cut down a tree. “What are you doing?” You ask. “Can’t you see?” They reply, I’m sawing down this tree. “You look tired!” you say. “How long have you been at it?” “Over five hours,” he answers, “and I’m beat!” This is hard work. “Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?” You ask. “I’m sure it would go a lot faster.” “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,” the man says emphatically. “I’m too busy sawing!”
I “sharpen my saw” many different ways. I go for a walk in the woods. I visit a museum and soak up the creative energy of the place. I read blogs of fellow artists. I write in my journal. I clean my studio. I watch documentaries, and yes, sometimes I browse Pinterest. So you might be thinking some of these are the “everyday distractions” I mentioned earlier.
They could be, but purpose makes the difference.
I think of these activities like ladders. I can fall off the ladder, spending hours wandering aimlessly through websites, advertisements, and mental garbage. I can “take the day off” after visiting the museum to go out for lunch and shopping. When I do these things I am continuing to fall into the pit, and the further I fall the harder it is to climb back out.
OR I can climb the ladder, focused on my goal of achieving new creative heights. It is not easy. There is no easy way.
The difference is between distraction and determination.
Elizabeth Gilbert explains it like this in her book BIG MAGIC:
“The fun part is when you’re creating something wonderful, and everything is going great, and everyone loves it. But such moments are rare. You don’t get to leap from bright moment to bright moment. How you manage yourself between those bright moments, when things aren’t going so great is a measure of how devoted you are to your vocation. Holding yourself together through all the phases of creation is where the real work lies.”
I have been in the pit. I believe we all fall off the ladder at least once, but I hope reading this helps someone out there to get their foot up on the first rung.