classes done_ wider horizons ahead

We finished our classes in Castiglion and I headed down to stay the night with a K-State friend in Orvieto.  It was hard to move out of our rooms and get everything into our packs, but somehow it happened.  Heading out the door to the study center, our hugs, tears, and goodbyes cut our hike short down to the station.  Least to say we had plenty of time to wait for the gelateria to open and then a huge gelato to give a (first) farewell to Castiglion.  After returning for the last night of the festival, I hopped the train to Rome for a night. The next morning our train took us to the airport where we said our final farewells to Italy.

Last gelato at Coco Palm!P1110111

Me and all my stuff ready to travel europe for two weeksP1110114

Sunshine on the mosaics of the Orvieto duomoOrvieto duomo

ornate exterior with inlays, carvings, and bronze sculpturesP1110127

interior (much brighter than in march in the rain when we visited as a class)P1110141

Stained glass windowP1110144

The measures of Castiglion Fiorentino (each town had their own) with Gabriele’s paintings displayed for the festival.P1110157

Gabriele’s artichoke patch.  I was invited to dinner, and we had artichoke risotto for dinner that night.  Fun!P1110165


My last night there was a festival and I was invited up with some people from Santa Chiara to watch them from a rooftop terrace.P1110188


at the Cassero tower with my favorite tree in CastiglionP1110225

i wasn’t the only one leaving P1110230

all headed to the train stationP1110235

youth parade/rally/protest/reason to play loud speakers on flatbed trucksP1110240

urban roman plazaP1110242


a tearful goodbye for now to italy at the Trevi FountainP1110247


Castiglion_last painting, a fair, gelato, and agriturismo!

 The very last weekend was absolute bliss. That is, at least it was, as I look back now savoring that time through photographs. (sigh)

Toward the hilltop where we painted on our last outing for watercolorP1100853


outdoor classroomP1100879

vineyard to valleyMay 2 Chiana Valley vineyard

my view for the paintingP1100885

an interested landowner, off to burn branchesP1100891

learning about baby grapesP1100895

texture of new spring grape leaves, and the starts of grape clusters P1100920

Gabriele’s “forget-me-not” tiny purple flower and my dear friendsP1100931

Not so bad for a last trip out with the brushes.  Such a good time!P1100932

Gabriele being sad about us leaving.P1100933

Earbud playing Frank Sinatra to spider in the grasses.  Best photo ever :)P1100939

Castiglion from the eastP1100947

A fair in Castiglion and a fair in Kansas don’t differ that much, machinery.P1100948

Gelato at the Coco Palm, the most vareities of any time I was there. Creamy flavors.P1100959

Fruity flavors, pompelmo (grapefruit), kiwi, limone (lemon), fragola (strawberry).P1100958

Solar power meets medieval slate roof homes.P1100964

Truffle products and whole truffles, a product of Tuscany.P1100967

my friend Mr. Vulcano shows off his solar hot water tubes.P1100969

Carnival outside medieval wallsP1100976

Street after the morning rainP1100989

La CollegiataP1100997

Cafe Ignorante patioP1110010

ink wash sketchcafe ignorante

Visiting the agriturismo, la pievuccia, where my favorite wine in Italy was made, from Santa Chiara its just down in the valley.  Honey, olive oil, and wine, among other items are made on the farm.  Agriturismo is a program that the government supports, bringing turism money to the farmers of the area, encouraging them to keep growing the food of Italy. Learning why the bees left the this hive.P1110024

Standing in the Chardonnay vineyardP1110026

machines for wine makingP1110036

table tennis in the olive groveP1110048

Italian Garfield, my neighborP1110094

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

Cinque Terre_ paradise

The last free weekend in our schedule was reserved for Cinque Terre.  Although my friend and I should have been working on our final semester projects, we still went.  It was well worth the sacrifice. We had heard so many amazing reports of how beautiful it was and how amazing the terrain was to hike.  A very popular destination, later, our bed and breakfast owner said that in the high season (soon to follow our weekend) police will stop cars and make them turn around if they don’t have proof of a reservation of some type.  After all it is  Italy, and it is a tiny little place, so probably well deserved.  The whole five city area along the Liguria along the most northern part of the western coast of Italy is was made a National Park in order to keep some stability for the residents and natural systems.  Hiking the trails is only a low cost pass that goes towards the conservation of the area.  We stayed in Monterosso, the most northern of the five towns.  Going to Cinque Terre very high on the list for favorite places during my travels.

La Spezia train station, our second transfer of the morning.P1100388

First glimpse of the ocean off the train.P1100391

Monterosso beach on arrivalP1100392

Lunch in MonterossoP1100397

My partner in crime for the weekend, Jim.P1100393

At the trail beginning.P1100407

Trail from within vineyard at the top of our first ascent.P1100422

Shed on the vineyard terraces.P1100431

Vernazza, second city south.  A very popular photo for photographers selling work at art fairs in the US. P1100460

The first non-red poppies I had seen in Italy, and some lemons.P1100466

Vernazza harbor.P1100469

Rail line that connects all five cities and runs along the ocean.P1100475

Harbor of Manarola, fourth city from the north.P1100511

Dramatic swimming hole in Manarola harbor. P1100516

A map with north at the left showing all the cities.P1100522

Down the cliff from trail between Manarola and Riomaggiore. The easiest and most cared for part of the trail.P1100532

Cactus flowers.P1100540



Geology meets the ocean.P1100559

Mural done by local artist as memorial for those who built the stone terrace walls that covered the mountainsides.P1100560



Monterosso church very near our BnB.P1100595

Roof patio of BnBP1100612

BnB patio view to mountains.P1100611

Monterosso beach on SaturdayP1100614

Monterosso cemetery.P1100621

Castle fortress and German bunker from WWII.P1100637

Our few hours in the sun.P1100658

Patio to ocean past church.P1100659

Manorola vineyard hikeP1100674


See the tiny people on their balconies?P1100689


Sunday morning, storms rolling in.P1100702

Giant holding up the dance floor, or at least until it was bombed in WWII.P1100706


Leaving paradise.P1100724