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Updated: Nov 29, 2020

Italy has summoned me to its corners once again; not for a holiday, but to participate as an artist-in-residence for 3 weeks. Arte Studio Ginestrelle is a restored traditional farmhouse, near the historic town of Assisi, Italy, which is famous for its frescos by Giotto. The studio is perched up on a hillside in the province of Perugia, Umbria, and provides a stunning vista where one imagines St. Francis must have once roamed. It’s truly a slice of paradise.

Marina, the director of the residency, picks me up at the Assisi train station. She is a kind and charming young woman, so welcoming that my initial excitement increases two fold as I sense the benevolent nature of the company I will be keeping over the next few weeks.

As we drive the 20 minutes outside of Assisi, through the winding streets that shrink into narrow back roads towards the farmhouse, she tells me that these roads were the pathways that St. Francis once walked and, most likely, made popular. Somewhere in these hills is the cave he retreated to, near the end of his days.

I know a little about his life from reading up on him before hand and watching films such as ‘Clare and Francis’ and ‘St. Francis of Assisi’, and I find his story moving and compelling.

This residency attracted me because I wanted to develop my art in such a unique setting and see what impact it might have. Also, I am intrigued and curious about what it takes to run an art residency.

I like the idea of eventually creating a space for artists in the Eastern Townships so that they may be granted necessary time to dedicate themselves solely towards developing their medium without too much external distraction. Arte Studio Ginestrelle is proving to be the best place to learn and research the ins and outs of such an undertaking. Marina is so generous with her knowledge and is very honest in letting me know how much sweat and blood goes into creating and maintaining such a project. And it is a lot! Clearly, this is a labor of love; it requires much time and energy. But Marina and her team are exceptional.

They cook up fantastic 2-3 course breakfasts each morning that we feast on in the gorgeously sunlit dining room. It’s a wonderful way to start the day. After a week of shameless indulgence, I consider eating less at breakfast, but I cannot resist, as the aromas and flavors are completely enticing. The smell of freshly brewed coffee, truffle asparagus omelet or raison pancakes topped with fresh fruit are all impossible to refuse. To top it off, their products – the eggs, the butter, the ricotta cheese, the prosciutto, the truffles, and the milk – are all organic and local. So why would anyone want to refuse such treats?

As these breakfasts are colossal, I am happily fuelled for most of the day and can focus solely on my art for hours at a time. I only become remotely hungry around 4pm, when the sun hits the south side of the house where I often plop myself down on a bench, lean up against the wall and eat the late lunch/early supper that I’ve assembled. The view is spectacular and the lazy, loner cat that roams about, often prances into the picture when he smells the savory goodness and hears the chiming and clinking of utensils and plates.

Even though we do drive into Assisi for the occasional visit to the paint shop or the fruit and vegetable store, a grocery truck comes by the residency once a week to offer us what ever we might be missing: biscotti, chocolate, chopped pancetta, truffle pesto, fresh cheese, cleaning products, batteries, etc. It’s beyond convenient; in fact, it feels a bit like we are being catered to!

It is of the utmost importance for this residency that artists have time and peace of mind to dedicate to the development of their craft. Everything is built around facilitating towards ‘art making’: the morning breakfasts; the way they cater to the fireplaces to insure that we are nice and toasty in whatever space we are working in; the weekly cleaning of our rooms; being available when ever we need something or have a question; providing lifts; offering suggestions for outings around the area for inspiration, such as viewing the Giotto’s frescoes, or the Porziuncola (the little chapel that Francis of Assisi repaired that now sits inside the enormous Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli), or attending the Good Friday procession that winds through the torchlit medieval backstreets of Assisi. I can’t explain the gratitude for having discovered this art haven. I love it so much I am already planning my return for next year.

Back home, in Montreal, I often feel like I’m wrestling to get into the studio. So many daily distractions pop up and seem to demand my attention and unfortunately my painting tends to take a back seat as a result. But this residency is an eye opener.

To have an entire 24 hours, let alone 3 full weeks, to immerse myself completely in all things creative (painting, writing and photography) has allowed me to engage with my art on a whole other level. The Italians, generally, believe ‘art making’ is important. I love them for that!

These Italians believe it is essential. This is why they have created this haven. It is truly an art ‘oasis’. They are visionaries in many ways and I am immensely grateful for this experience. I salute Arte Studio Ginestrelle for creating such a wonderful initiative.

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