Springfield, Ohio — Earlier this summer, Wittenberg University Associate Professor of Art and Department Chair Ed Charney and Assistant Professor of Art Alejandra Gimenez-Berger taught the first-ever "Watercolor and Art History Summer Study in Rome," which offered students the opportunity to take two distinct courses in one study- abroad experience: "Watercolor," a studio course, and "Art of the Eternal City," an art history course. From May 26 to June 15, 11 students experienced firsthand the architecture and treasures of more than 2,600 years.
On Monday, Aug. 31, the Deer Gallery in the education wing of the Springfield Museum of Art will open a four-week long public exhibit of the work that was inspired by the architecture, scenery and art treasures of Rome. The exhibit will also include many of their sketches as well as the finished watercolors.
Gimenez-Berger explained that the students began their art history course before leaving the United States when they were assigned a piece of architecture to research. Each then presented their findings in front of the class at the specific site and follow-up with a final paper at the end of the course.
"All of the students had studied these things on paper," Gimenez-Berger said. "Rome is such a fascinating city. The city has been inhabited continuously, and the architecture is a layering of 2,600 years of civilization - when a structure collapsed and fell into its foundation, the next building was built on it and so on. The students were overwhelmed by the layers found in Rome – they saw the parallels of how each style developed."
Charney noted that a prerequisite of at least one basic drawing course was required for the watercolor class, and that one of the goals of the class was to teach the students to understand and learn to accommodate the difficulties of location work.
"There is so much to see in Rome that it can be overwhelming," Charney said. "The students brought a skill-set to the course and had to adapt it to the new environment. They had to learn to develop a lens that enabled them to look for the small vignettes within a scene. We help our students develop their ability to visualize, to crop selectively and make informed decisions about the details they choose to represent in their early training as artists. An excursion such as working outdoors in Rome requires them to apply their foundation skills to the dynamics of working in a public place. The students would begin their sketches on site and continue to work on them in their rooms. Many of the paintings were completed after our return. Post-course production allowed the artists to re-do sketches, spend time on the details, and try other compositions before framing their work for the exhibition."
Kirsten Bildsten, class of 2012 from Westerville, Ohio, took both courses and said she was surprised at the intense and busy class schedule.
"I knew that we were only going to be in Italy for a short time, but I did not realize how demanding the time constraints would be," Bildsten said. "I did not mind though because I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I was willing to learn and visit as much as time allowed."
In addition to Bildsten, Adam Bodnar, class of 2012 from Upper Arlington, Ohio; Megan Bundy, class of 2010 from Canfield, Ohio; Kristina Herman, class of 2010 from Cincinnati, Ohio; Lauren Luecke, class of 2010 from Mahtomedi, Minn.; Geoffrey Naunheim, class of 2009 from St. Louis, Mo.; Kali Parmley, class of 2011 from Rushsylvania, Ohio; Bradley Roberts, class of 2011 from Hilliard, Ohio; Jessica Thomas, class of 2011 from Springfield, Ohio; Melaney and Melinda Thurman, class of 2010 from Urbana, Ohio, traveled to Italy for the summer study opportunity.
"The students carried their sketch pads and were drawing continuously," Gimenez-Berger said. "The presentations took place outside on the squares of the city in front of the facade of the architecture they had researched. They were often complemented by strangers who wandered up and listened to them."
"I presented in front of the Trevi Fountain," Bildsten said. "There were a few listeners from outside of our class, but I presented very early because the fountain gets too crowded mid-day and too dark to observe at night, so there were not very many people out yet for my presentation."
Bildsten describes the opportunity as "stressful, hectic, jam-packed with activities, AMAZING, irreplaceable, and I loved it. I wouldn't trade my experience for anything."
Since joining the faculty in 2000, Charney has had his work exhibited in numerous galleries, including Gallery 100 at Cape Girardeau, Mo., Union Street Gallery in Chicago Heights, Ill., Gallery Alexy in Philadelphia, Pa., and Chatahoochee Valley Art Museum in LaGrange, Ga., among others. On Nov. 6, Charney will have a show of recently completed paintings at The Keny Gallery in German Village in Columbus, Ohio as a new member of that gallery. The exhibit will feature regional landscapes done with the character and passion of Grant Wood and an existential devotion to nature (as a subject) like George Inness.
Gimenez-Berger's research has earned fellowships and grants from the American Society for Hispanic Art Historical Studies, the Gladys Kieble Delmas Foundation for Independent Research in Venice, and the Samuel S. Felds Fund, among others. She joined the Wittenberg faculty in 2007, and she was one of four specialists selected to choose the 90 treasures to highlight the 90th anniversary celebration for the Dayton Art Institute.
Written by: Phyllis Eberts