Assisi, Italy


Sitting at a table in the “outside” studio here at the Arte Studio Ginestrelle, we are surrounded by constant birdsong, the sound of the little brook running in a nearby gully…

We’re actually having a hard time remembering how many days we have been here.  We have both managed to produce quite a lot of work and remain active and busy, but this is truly an isolated place and time seems to have slowed down.  Beyond the knowledge that it was in the mountains “behind” Assisi, we really knew nothing of this wonderful place and it has been a journey of discoveries for us.

Initially we thought that perhaps it was within walking distance of Assisi and that we could choose to “go to town” whenever we wanted, however the intial taxi journey from the train station quickly dispelled that.  From the valley floor up to the town of Assisi was quite a trek followed by a great deal of winding road and switch backs as we skirted the town to eventually squeeze through one of it’s ancient gates onto a narrow road that began on yet another ascent into the Monte Subasio area.

This road continued for about 8 kilometers and then branched off into a “one-lane” version that was in serious need of repair…the next 4 kilmeters spent bouncing and jostling as we continued to climb.  Then we turned off this road onto one of gravel and rock and continued upwards for another 3 kilometers!

Ginestrelle is truly on top of a mountain commanding views that allow us to look at countryside many, many kilometers away.  It is in the center of a Nature Preserve, but in no way fits our concept of wilderness.  People have been living and cultivating in this area for at least 2,000 years and ancient farmhouses and structures can be seen all around.  The forest is largely deciduous, elm and oak being the dominant species, and there is profound groundcover of native flowers, and ivy and blackberry that is surprisingly dense.  Ginestrelle is the local name for what we call Scotch Broome, which is native to this area, and in our time here we have watched the mountains turn yellow with its flowers.

We are housed in a 19th century farmhouse which has been tastefully refurbished–It is a large 3 storey structure that has kitchen and dining areas on the ground floor, with bedrooms on the 2nd, and studio space on the 3rd level.  Delicious breakfasts are provided by the staff, and shared in a large dining room and the other meals we cook for ourselves in a smaller kitchen/dining room at the rear of the house. We are currently sharing this space with 4 other artists–2 from the U.S., and 2 from Australia.  Our evenings are spent together, but we all have separate studio spaces and our days are filled with artwork.  Once a week a mobile “mini-mercato” arrives at the residency with a friendly man and his wife who drive around these hillsides selling their wares to the local people.  Much of what they sell is made locally and the cheese and salami have been remarkably good…the Perugian chocolate…phenomenal!

The Residency Staff organizes trips to town for groceries, laundry and art materials, and also some visits to nearby sites.  One afternoon was spent at the hilltop hermitage where St. Francis spent a great deal of time.  We wandered among strange little chapels clinging to precipitous cliff-sides, paths winding through high mountain vegetation, and because it is not peak “pilgrimage” time, we felt a serene tranquility over it all.  Last week we spent a delightful day in Perugia where we re-acquainted ourselves to sights we haven’t seen for many years.  There is now a brand new cable car “MiniMetro” that whisks you up to the Centro, but once there, little seems to have changed and it still has the wonderful charm that we remember.

An unexpected element has entered this adventure and that is the fact that traveling by ourselves, without the responsibilities and expectations of students is a truly enjoyable experience.  We took a long, slow coffee and then dawdled down into the “artists” area of the city where we found a tiny trattoria and had lunch at a table outside in the sun.  We spent a couple of hours there and then walked down the hill to one of our favorite places in Perugia, the Porta Augusta–the giant portal in the old Etruscan walls where we sat on the steps of a tiny church and simply enjoyed the view.  What a treat.

Last week we celebrated Souheir’s birthday with a day in Assisi.  We had a very nice lunch at a local restaurant and then went on a tour of some Roman ruins that were discovered in the “clean up” of the 1997 earthquake.  Dinner was shared back at Ginestrelle and John had organized a birthday cake–a great ending to a wonderful day!

John has been working on the first of four paintings based on Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons, that are being produced for the Istituto Venezia, and while he was initially frustrated by the fact that he could not get some of the materials he wanted, he adapted his work and feels that he has made a really good start on the series, beginning with “Summer”.  Souheir has begun work on her drawings and paintings of Sacred Symbols–with St. Francis surrounding us, this was a “natural” starting point.  She has also been working a great deal on the computer, finalizing details and plans for our upcoming Art&Soul trips and residencies in Arizona, New Mexico and Italy.


Yesterday was spent in the beautiful town of Spoleto and on Sunday will attend an annual festival at the tiny church only 2 kilometers from Ginestrelle.  On Monday we’ll catch a train to Venice where we will spend a few days visiting friends and then begin our journey back to Montana.  It has been a wonderful adventure that has, of course, increased the fondness that we feel for this country, but summer in Montana is calling us and we are looking forward to being home as well.

Enjoy the photos!