I am just back from a terrific two and a half weeks in Europe. This first post is about week one and a wonderful time in Porto Ercole. Although I had checked out reports of what to expect weather-wise, I foolishly chose to ignore them, being sure all would be balmy and bright. I packed as if going on a summer vacation in July and, surprise (duh), arrived to blustery wind and rain. But it really did not make a big difference because I was about to spend a week learning techniques in my newly discovered world of watercolor and thoroughly enjoy my long-established interest in eating great Italian food and drinking lovely Italian wines.
Mita Corsini Bland, our hostess, arranged for Tish Seligman, a very talented author of several books on watercolor painting, to teach, inspire and encourage ten of us in the art of watercolor. I was feeling a bit intimidated when several of the other ladies enrolled in the class were showing some of their paintings on iPads the first night that we all met for dinner. Yikes!!! They seemed very professional to me. I have been a working girl all of my adult life but I had never painted portraits or anything like what I was looking at. I had sketched a lot of dresses and, in the last year, a few botanical watercolors — but all of a sudden I felt in over my head!. Nevertheless, our teachers’ encouragement ( saying nice things about something only a mother could love— and I am not even sure about that!) and the fact that everyone in the group was either so kind or so encouraging —(maybe the glasses of white wine and yummy pasta for lunch everyday helped a bit as well), I mustered courage and started — tentatively — to paint.
My fledgling interest in watercolor has been inspired by botanical studies, focusing on the work of Maria Sybilia Merian and Alexander Marshall. I like both of their styles — particularly as it bold and strong and not the least bit insipid or precious. I have even started collecting hand-painted engravings from a 1725 portfolio of the work of Merian. I also find her to be an extremely interesting woman: brave, pioneering, and bold in her art. In 166, at the ripe old age ( for those times) of 52 and just divorced, she received a commission from the Dutch government to go off into the wilds along the coast of South America for two years to study and record the insects of that world. Pretty strong and modern stuff at that, or any time, for a woman to do.
Mr. Marshall is famous for his flower paintings, but his talent for insects and animals is no less skillful. Both of these artist were born in the 17th century, yet their work is graphic and bold. More about them in another post. Here are some examples of their work:
But back to the present. The first evening Mita’s sister, Daisy, gave a cocktail party for our group and we were transported into another world when we trooped into this glorious square on the port.
The first day, after some instruction and a marvelous lunch, we all selected our spots of inspiration and started our first painting. My stylish and funny friend Frances Schultz is not only talented, but looks the part! She is the archetype of a romantic artist: note the poetic tilt of the hat, the smock, the artist’s apron . . . the only give-away that this is May, 2013, are the leggings.
And the lunches….well, not enough can be said about this subject so I shall keep it simple and straightforward. I have found that purity of flavor comes from simplicity and good ingredients, and the sensitive palate of the cook in Italy. I know there are great restaurants and chefs through out the world, but that is not my point. What I love about this type of food is simplicity and authenticity. Roberto, Mita’s cook, has the ability to achieve this without fuss, without fancy ingredients, simply capturing the season. My writer friend Frances talks about our wonderful lunches and dinners on her blog, francesschultz.com ( okay — tried to get this to link to make it easy but just tried and it did not work, help! Please just copy it into your browser!)
I hope Mita does not mind me posting this photo…we women never like photos taken of us (I hate mine now) but that is another story. I think it shows her Italian spirit: generous, fun, artistic, and totally unpretentious. It does not adequately illuminate her organizational talents: keeping 10 women together and on time, at the right place with constantly changing weather(worthy of General Patton!), done with grace and charm. Love the expression ” like herding cats’ and, indeed, we resembled that! Brava to you, Mita!!
I was thrilled when I discovered that my friend and fellow designer Adrianne Vittadini was going to be part of our group. We occasionally run into each other at Sette Mezzo in NYC, but both of our travels keep us busy.
And the group…Well, being a loner, I am always a bit circumspect about group activities but I have late in life discovered that when you share a specific interest or, better yet, a passion, with a small group of people it is wonderful and makes for a great group dynamic. Everyone was good-natured, helpful, encouraging, and generous. All liked to laugh, eat, drink, and shop as well!! We had such fun and I feel so lucky to have met every one of these ladies.
Although I took a zillion photos, I leave you with this one: a wonderful place and a wonderful time. cr