We’re back in the States. For the last six months, we’ve been living the La Romita dream…not only through the pleasure and edification we share with our participants and teachers, as pleasing and edifying as that is…but through the cultivation of certain obsessive behavior. There has always been an exceptional beauty in the artistic endeavors of humanity and there are precious few places on this planet in which these endeavors have been manifest, recorded, and preserved as perfectly as they have in Italy. The instruction I hear over and over is to go deeper…to leave no stone unturned. The stones in this case are the basic materials…the building blocks, the mountains, the cobblestones, an ancient structure on every hilltop, and even the stone that’s ground ever finer in the preparation of true fresco.
Each person who comes to La Romita benefits from this logical obsession; an obsession nourished by Enza and Paola Quargnali and Enza’s husband Ben Benson, and now being realized and strengthened by the next generation, Alessandro Quargnali-Linsley, Amina Quargnali-Diehl and Lars Benson. This part of Italy is so enthralling not only because of the known treasures—masterpieces of the Italian renaissance, monumental constructions on impossible hillsides, majestic mountains cut by wild flowing rivers—but also because of its hidden treasures, by the very real sense of the discovery of the unknown. It would be immeasurably difficult for the occasional tourist, no matter how dedicated, to even imagine the depth and breadth of the treasures of central Italy. Each year we find new places to share with our visitors; the keys to works of art nearly forgotten on the walls of chapels so far off the beaten path that only a few locals know of their existence. (And when I say “keys”, I mean sometimes literally finding the keys to these places by knocking on doors of nearby farmhouses or asking strangers in the nearby piazza—the keys are usually entrusted to faithful locals—folks who are often sources of oral histories of these locales.) Enza and Paola and Ben have been searching for painting spots and artistic and architectural treasures in this area for decades and have nourished close friendships with historians and artists and restoration experts. Needless to say, my own forays in these directions are aided and encouraged by La Romita.
At La Romita it is our profound pleasure to open a window onto these treasures, not only to share what we’ve learned, but to share the sense of discovery. To be sure, we have become experts on this area, but as with any expertise, discoveries usually lead to new questions and then to new discoveries. Each group that returns from one of our day trips will return to share the knowledge of their discoveries, regaling us during meals with new stories of the places we know so well. This is the dynamic I’ve inherited in my job here…this vital and thriving interchange…a vitality and serendipity that feels so appropriate to our visiting artists and teachers and historians, and that is so stimulating to us at La Romita.