Last Days in Castiglion Fiorentino

After returning from Cinque Terre, our final project was due.  A long time in coming, I was very proud of the design proposal for a neighborhood garden.  Using my comfort medium, watercolor, I transferred and rendered the ideas for my presentation.  Regardless of how the professor felt about my decisions, I knew I was right.  There definitely was room for new ideas and rethinking others, but I have never been behind a design before this strongly.

Interesting feeling in your fourth year of school…. But that last week was not only about the project, it was about a conclusion of a life changing educational and cultural experience.  Of all the museums, travels, and grand artworks by the masters (ones the Ninja Turtles were named after), I learned the most from my own growth in seeing.  Seeing things in a way that removed the fear of trying to draw them.  If someone had placed an object in front of me before leaving for Italy and said “Draw this” or “Paint that” and had told me I could use whatever media I wanted, there would have been internal hysteria.  “What!  I can’t do that, I’m not good enough, it will never look anything like it.  I’ll never get it done! You must be kidding!”

The knowledge of my ability is something that I always felt very insecure about, especially with time restrictions.  When I realized that the studies and travels were meant for my education, and not for someone else’s enjoyment, it no longer mattered to me what I might think everyone else might expect.  What an amazing feeling.  Now I don’t mind, a sketch is a sketch, not a masterpiece, I mean have you seen Renzo Piano’s, Jean Nouvel, or Richard Meiers sketches? Least of all Gehry’s scribbles?  An idea on paper should not look like a photograph.  Great if that’s your skill but not important in the least.  The great architects of my time take ideas of form and space and transfer it from brain to paper.  Ideas then normally move into some type of 3D modeling anyway.  If an idea can come from your brain, then you should be allowed to draw it for your own reference, at least to start with.  I guess I must have some pent up emotions about this process, but with the realization that the pencil is my tool for my brain and not an alternative to photography’s perfection, perhaps there will be some resolution.

I give the most of my credit in understanding and ownership of artwork to my Italian watercolor teacher Gabriele Menci.  Our small class and his style of painting freely was the best introduction to drawing and artwork as relaxation that I could ever have.  Cultural conversation and immersion in the countryside with good company could never have had an alternative outcome.  I could have gone to study in Italy and only had that one instructor and a detailed guide to read of Architectural history and theory of the places we visited and learned just as much.  Maybe more actually. 

The important part now, looking back, is to remember my sensory experience in the place where I took the photograph, did the sketch, or started the watercolor.  The connection of my eye to my emotion and sense of space is something no person can ever take from me.  When I look at my painting, I remember those around me, the smell of the warm grass, the change in the wind as the storms approached, even the difficulty in remembering the lighting conditions as I started the painting versus the overcast current sky.  I remember the bitter beverages brought to us in the little side yard of the church, and looking to my dear friends Jess and Sally, hoping they will help me finish it so that we could show our gratitude for the instructor’s friend bringing us unexpected refreshments.  If you could have seen their silent, “I’m sorry, but you’re on your own.”  Great friends, but the stuff was seriously hard to handle.

The following is a stream of photos of Castiglion, historical photos of the town, and my design proposal for a community garden dedicated to a neighborhood that was accidentally bombed by the Allies in WWII. Also included is our Santa Chiara showcase.


Santa Chiara valley overlookMay 1st Castiglion Valle

These are photographs taken from a Castiglion Fiorentino history.

City from Valle di Chio end of 1800sP1100746

First years of 1900.  The Collegiata is without its tower.P1100747

March 2009, olive branch smoke in the hillsP1080697

Crossroads we crossed walking to watercolor class.  Octagonal church is at center.P1100754

February 2009, on our way to watercolorP1040833

City Hall 1918P1100758

Completion of the campanile of the Collegiata 1929.P1100773

( May 2009)P1110003


1930’s Valle di Chio photograph.  Towards the bottom is the Vasari loggia that frames the edge of the city square with the post office, and city hall.P1100755

Postcard from May 1939.


Aerial image showing the tower at the top of the city, the Collegiata with it’s tower, and at the top the study center in a U shape opening out onto the countryside.P1100752

Before the acciendtal Allied bombing.  This building (at center b/t road and fountain) doesn’t exist anymore.  The gate and church were rebuilt.P1100761

Bombing was meant for Arezzo rail lines, a city to the north, but also sitting toward the beginning of a short valley.  Bombing was at 1:24pm on December 19, 1943.P1100767

Destruction, photo taken from opposite side of gate on right.P1100770

May 2009P1080317

Castiglion in the distance.P1100775

Photographs of the site that I chose to design the garden.  The old hospital’s garden is now used by the neighborhood as a place to walk their dog, play soccer with friends, and as a route down to the train or north section of town.North East Wall

 View from site out into Chiana valley West panorama

View from edge of wall over rail tracks and valleyView out southwest corner

Site context studies P1110051

Early schemes P1110057


Pages from my project showing the location the bombing disturbed, the site of the old hospital garden for the project in neighborhood context, and watercolors of the neighborhood and its inhabitants. The garden was designed for passage, neighborhood food production on terraces, and a quite spot to contemplate and remember those lost.Lazzo Neighborhood Garden pg 1

Lazzo Neighborhood Garden pg 2 Plan

Lazzo Neighborhood Garden pg 2 long sec

Castiglionese from the history book.P1100777


The mayor and head of police of Castiglion Fiorentino looking at our projects during the Santa Chiara showcase.


All the watercolor students from Texas and K-State displayed for our teacher Gabriele.P1100807

K-State watercolorists with Gabriele and his wife Maria.P1100815


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