Written by Carma Fountleroy, Photography by Nancy Coviello
In October, Maestro Roberto Paolinelli arranged for his ceramic students from Casa Italiana Language School in Washington DC, to experience the best field trip imaginable.
For more than a decade, Maestro Roberto has been teaching Italian Renaissance Castelli-style ceramic painting at Casa Italiana. For a million different reasons, before 2015 it was not possible for Maestro Roberto to accompany a student group to Italy. This year he agreed to accompany students to his hometown Pescara, Italy, where he was a professional artist and gallerist until his retirement to Northern Virginia. Roberto, along with his brother, artist Albano Paolinelli, guided students to ceramics museums and artists workshops throughout the Pescara and Chieti provinces of Abruzzo. (You can learn more about the art of Albano at: http://www.albanopaolinelli.it)
The visits to the four ceramic collections were one of the main highlights of the trip, not just the collections themselves but the enthusiastic and knowledgeable curators. As it turned out, each museum opened specially for our group. This was due to scheduling as three of the museums are in very small towns and usually only open on Saturday and Sunday. Since we needed to visit on Thursday or Friday, they made an exception. The welcome at each of these places could not have been warmer or more enthusiastic.
We started with the Acerbo Museum in Loreto Apurtino. The displays were breath-taking examples of the work of Francisco Grue, considered by many to be the all-time master of Castelli-style of painting. Next we visited another ceramic center, the village of Rapino. There we were met at the museum by a resident and enthusiastic guide, Antonella. This museum also has a school which offers ceramic workshops throughout the year. Our next museum stop was in Castelli where the collection holds not only wonderful examples of traditional Castelli ceramics, but also some of the original ceiling tiles from the Church of San Donato. Our final museum visit was to the Paparella Treccia-Devlet Museum in Pescara which was closed due to a change in special exhibitions. The museum agreed to open specially on Saturday morning for our group to visit. It is housed is a lovely preserved Palazzo in downtown Pescara and has a wide-ranging collection of Castelli ceramics.
Another highlight was the visit to the ceramic studios of working artists. While visiting both Castelli and Rapino it was obvious due to empty shops that such studios are in decline, yet the ones we visited had extremely talented working artists. Highlights included Antonio Di Simone in Castelli and Giovannina Tosca in Rapino. Giovanna’s Facebook page has lots of images of her work.
Bittersweet was the recognition that hand-painted ceramics was the economic staple of small Italian towns for centuries but now the traditional artisans and workshops are slowly disappearing. With the declining post-recession market for such goods, modern industrial aesthetics and the departure of young adult populations for training and jobs in urban areas, we realized how precious and fleeting a moment in time we experienced and treasured.
When we visited Rapino and Castelli we seemed to be the main attraction in town as on a Fall weekday there were few other tourists. The nice part about standing out in this fashion was how curious, friendly and helpful everyone was to us. We could not have received a nicer welcome. Many visitors to Italy are amazed and perhaps disappointed that many people speak English. Refreshingly, this is not the case in Abruzzo’s Adriatic coast or in Pescara where Italians spend seaside holidays. How refreshing to spend a week where English wasn’t spoken ubiquitously. At one highly recommended seafood restaurant, the 20s-something staff brought out their tablets to provide Google translations of their fresh daily menu.
There were many wonderful moments, so it is hard to select just one. One fond memory is that of the visit to the Castelli Bottega or Studio of Antonio Di Simone who has spent a lifetime practicing and mastering Castelli ceramics. During our tour of his workshop, he showed us ceramic molds from his grandfather’s time dated in the 1870s. Also the visit to the Church of San Donato in Castelli was memorable. Another would be the meal we shared in the home of Albano and Gabriella Paolinelli where we were fed delicious local dishes and showered with warm hospitality.
Want to take a class? For information on the ceramic classes taught at Casa Italiana, see their website at: http://www.casaitalianaschool.org or call the school at: 202-638-1348.
Photos from the trip by Nancy Coviello are available on Flickr at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/necworld/albums/72157659954911716