I have been to Texas…and it is a very cool place.  Open, friendly people and a thriving arts scene.  Of course this is common knowledge, especially in the Southwest, but I’m fortunate to have had the chance to experience it first hand.  My hosts in Austin, the Richards / Zeugin clan, were wonderful.  The chance to have breakfast tacos and learn about Tex / Mex cuisine in general was just part of it.  Sharon Zeugin and her daughter Maeve and husband Clark Richards helped me to understand the complex and interesting Texas capital as well as anyone could.  Sharon prepared a reception and presentation at Katherine Brimberry’s Flatbed Press, an amazing center for the arts in Austin. About 40 people came to hear talks by Sharon and Katherine and me and saw a few slide shows about the La Romita experience!  You can see more of Sharon’s work  on her website, and more of Katherine’s work at Flatbed Press’s website. Sharon is of course holding a workshop at La Romita this year, July 29-August 12, and Katherine will be hosting a printmaking / sketching workshop at La Romita in 2013.

I then drove to San Antonio and stayed in an old hotel across the street from the Alamo, a tourist destination to be sure, but well worth the visit.  Thom Ricks hosted two presentations, one at his studio in Boerne and another at the arts center in Kerrville.  The arts are obviously very important in the Texas hill country; the Kerr Arts & Cultural Center in Kerrville  is a cutting edge space with an engaged, active membership numbering in the hundreds.  Thom is a consummate professional and I got to watch him in action teaching a course on watercolor at the center.  He and his partner, Jodi Stauffer have collaborated on five beautiful books…info here:   http://www.wix.com/circle4peace/thom-ricks .

..and you can find an article about his winning the award, Artist of the Year 2011, from the San Antonio Art League and Museum, here. I admit to having felt a bit out of my range following these curving roads past glowering Texas longhorn steer, but it was an adventure I look forward to repeating.

Next, from 80 degree Texas, I flew to 20 degree Salt Lake City and a meeting with La Romita’s many friends there.  Marian Dunn and Steve Sheffield (Steve’s next workshop at La Romita will be in 2013) hosted a gathering for about thirty past and future La Romita participants.  Steve’s wild colorful paintings cover the walls of his apartment in Salt Lake and make an interesting counterpoint to Marian’s studio where structure and composition highlight her intense use of color.  The black and white (snow) landscapes of Utah are certainly enriched by these two wonderful artists.

Salt Lake to Portland Oregon is an easy jump and completed my extreme weather trilogy….from sun to snow to rain.  Ken O’Connell is somewhat of a legend in this area and his workshops at La Romita are always highly anticipated events.  Former participants Dr. Phil and Judy Brenes hosted a dinner party in their Vancouver Washington home and we got to reminisce along with making plans for the coming season.  Another group met with Ken and I the next day down in Eugene, where Ken is Professor Emeritus at the University of Oregon, at the cutting edge Maud Kerns Art Center. Another warm reception eased my stress from my drive through rain and sleet and snow to get there.  My final night of the trip was spent at the house and studio of Benno Philippson where, as so often happens, the testimony of past participants overshadows what I’m saying.  It is not an exaggeration to say that attending a session at La Romita can be a life-changing experience and it is great to hear the details.  Benno’s followers are legion and his way of problem solving with his students is exceptional.  His background in architecture surely informs much of his art and is abilities as a teacher.

Overall this was a beautiful trip for me.  In preparing for it, I imagined it as a lot of work, but as soon as I arrived in Texas, met at the airport by Clark and Sharon, I realized that this was going to be a lot easier than I’d imagined.  La Romita is a festival of memories.  It is a festival celebrating the arts and culture of Italy and I’m reminded of the fact that what we bring to Italy is every bit as important as what we take away from the experience.  And that perhaps the most important outcome of all is lifelong friendship.  I thank every person I saw on this trip for reinforcing that reality.

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