by Jan Clouse, posted by Deb Shaw
View of Masseria Montenapoleone, photo by Charles Clouse, © 2015, all rights reserved.
By tourist industry standards, Puglia is undiscovered territory. Situated down at the heel of Italy’s geographical boot, facing east to the Adriatic Sea, it is generally ignored in favor of the High Renaissance attractions of Rome, Florence, or Siena, the style consciousness of Milan and Venice or the casual flair of Naples.
Nevertheless, with its own earthy appeal and cultural heritage of pre-historic, medieval and Byzantine sights, Puglia can be irresistible for visitors ready to hike, bike, or drive through its bountiful landscape. It supplies the largest portion of Italy’s olive oil from its ancient trees, and its typical cucina povera depends heavily on delicious seafood, fresh, seasonal vegetables and the famous Pugliese hearth bread.
The olive groves and almond orchards, the rugged coastline and lush meadows filled with wild flora are a painter’s paradise. And this, in particular, was the attraction for Margaret Best’s latest botanical painting workshop/travel excursion. Five botanic artists (Ana Brito, Jan Clouse, Jane Maycock, Carole Schumacher and Leslie Walker) along with one husband/guitarist (Charles Clouse) and a guide (Kiloran McRae) joined Margaret for an 8-day immersion in art, food and visits to this land that time forgot.
Artists’ studio at Masseria Montenapoleone, (featuring from L to R) Jane Maycock, Carole Schumaker, and BAGSC members Leslie Walker, Margaret Best and Ana Brito, photo by Jan Clouse, © 2015, all rights reserved.
The workshop was based at the rustically elegant agriturismo farm, Masseria Montenapoleone, which besides most comfortable accommodations, provided us with a large airy studio, well lit by walls of windows. At the opposite end of the room from the studio space was a huge fireplace right behind the table where we gathered for fabulous lunches and dinners.
We were introduced to the Masseria by our host, Guiliano Monteneve, who gave us a leisurely tour of the property with the assumption that along the way each of us could find an appealing botanical specimen to paint. Across the path from the main cluster of buildings was an almond orchard interspersed with fava bean rows, further on were olive trees, some many hundreds of years old, a meadow of wildflowers, a path leading to a pre-historic grotto, and everywhere unique indigenous blooms.
Leslie Walker found a beautiful Polygala myrtifolia to paint. Photo credit: Leslie Walker, 2015, all rights reserved.
Besides the ubiquitous red poppies scattered across the springtime fields, there were small pale lavender wild irises, a dark red orchid, a nameless neon blue ground cover, and furry borage everywhere–including on our dinner plates. Most of us spotted several possible specimens on the walkabout, and by the following morning in the studio everyone was ready to draw. As we settled in, each of us had a large table of our own, plenty of space to spread out, and our drawing pencils sharpened.
Margaret got us started on our first day with a meditation to bring us into the time and spirit for art. As always at her workshops, she had a spiral bound syllabus of information and instructions; this one appropriately titled “Postcards from Puglia.” Ahead of time she had emailed us a few instructions, among them was to rule off several “postcard-sized” formats on our favorite paper to help us compose our paintings, and to bring a few finished pieces with us. Personally I found the “ready format” a real help in focusing and cropping the blooming Acacia branch I had chosen, though my “postcard” turned out to be a double-wide affair. I was productive enough, though, to complete two additional postcards of dried acorns gathered on one of our field trips.
A montage of Leslie Walker’s subject: (clockwise from upper left) Polygala myrtifolia, dissection sheet; Leslie’s finished painting; Leslie concentrating on her subject. Photo(s) courtesy of Leslie Walker, 2015, all rights reserved.
We settled in to a comfortable routine. My husband, Charlie, played guitar to start us off on a couple of mornings, and then shifted to the back of the room or outdoors on the patio where Leslie was working, for her own private concert. Our quiet concentration was broken around eleven each morning when Michele, our personal waiter, laid out a couple of plates of sweets and took our coffee, tea and cappuccino orders.
Long, very productive days in the studio were a gift of undistracted time to draw, paint, and ask my mentor for advice, just when I needed it most. One of the real treats of the week was that Margaret could guide each of us in proportion to our skills and needs as both colored pencil and watercolor artists.
Interspersed with art time, were some extraordinary sights and experiences—an evening visit to the seaside town of Polignano a Mare, another to the rampart city of Ostuni with a dramatic view of the Adriatic. One morning we toured the Giardini di Pomona, where Paolo Belloni is dedicated to sustaining traditional fruit tree species, including over 350 varieties of figs. Another day we shopped the weekly farmer’s market in Locorotondo, buying assigned ingredients for a dinner to be prepared by celebrity chef Tiziano Mita, and finished the morning with a tour of the UNESCO World Heritage town of Alberobello, known for its concentration of curious conically shaped stone houses called trulli.
Hanging the Exhibition with Alessandra and Giuliano, photo by Jan Clouse, © 2015, all rights reserved.
The workshop week ended, not with a routine sharing of work within the group, but with an elegantly mounted evening exhibition that our host Guiliano had envisioned even before we arrived. Here we met a large gathering of neighbors, friends, and folks who had shown us the wonders of Puglia during the previous week. Guiliano and his family had ingeniously transformed our studio into an art gallery, with suspended panels that featured each artist’s bio, personal quotes and work, including the pieces we had brought with us. And the masseria’s chef, Antonio, prepared an incredible array of antipasti and desserts for a very social and international group of about 75 guests.
The “Vernissage,” Gallery opening exhibition, photo by Jan Clouse, © 2015, all rights reserved.
Altogether the week was an energizing and inspiring introduction to a botanically rich yet otherwise little-noticed part of Europe. Guidebooks should definitely make note for Puglia: “painters welcome.”