Photo opp on the Palladio bridge at Bassano
Photo opp on the Palladio bridge at Bassano

Studying abroad in Venice last summer was truly a unique experience, one that could not be achieved in another city or with another foreign program.  Though enrolled in two art history courses, I rarely spent time in the classroom. Instead, my classmates and I explored the churches, palazzi, and scuole that not only house the city’s art, but are architectural themselves.  When not studying these monuments firsthand, we were in the conservation studios, observing and questioning the individuals responsible for protecting the city’s heritage from the ravages of time, pollution, pests and water, the latter problem being particularly Venetian.  One of my most memorable classes involved watching conservators restore, tessera by tessera, mosaics from the Basilica of San Marco, which was followed by a visit to the Orsoni Smalti factory to learn how the glass tesserae are produced. These two visits, along with the full hour spent examining Giotto’s frescos inside the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua with Antonio Stevan (the architect who designed its new entrance and climate control system), were the highlights of my six weeks abroad, opportunities made possible by the contacts which the Pratt in Venice faculty have cultivated over the past 25 years.

The research opportunities in Venice were also spectacular.  We had access to the Biblioteca Marciana as well as the libraries of the Fondazione Cini, Museo Correr, and Fondazione Querini-Stampaglia. For the Materials & Techniques class, I was able to take advantage of the Marciana’s collection of rare books, examining firsthand the illumination decorating three incunabula printed in Venice in 1470 and comparing them to illuminations done in manuscripts in the years leading up to the printing press’s arrival in Venice, in order to better understand how the introduction of printing affected local practices of book decoration. I was also able to unite my interests in art history and library science in my research for the Art History of Venice course, in which I studied the seventeenth-century library at the Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore.  The ability to return and reexamine the Library as my research progressed, as well as the access I had to restoration photographs in the archive, greatly aided my understanding of its role in the monastic complex and its place in the history of library architecture.

Beyond these educational opportunities, I also enjoyed the pleasant change of scene and pace that Venice provided. Taking boats, known as vaporettos, instead of subways and buses; getting lost amid the winding streets, which would lead to discovering something new; seizing the chance to practice my Italian during the mid-afternoon espresso break; trying every flavor of gelato at the nearby gelateria… these were all aspects of my daily routine that have been sorely missed upon by return, and ones that I look forward to repeating when I return as part of the Pratt in Venice program in 2010.

– Hilary Thompson, graduate student in History of Art/Library Science

Materials and Techniques students visiting the mosaic conservation lab at San Marco
Materials and Techniques students visiting the mosaic conservation lab at San Marco

During Pratt in Venice 2009, I studied printmaking at the Scuola di Grafica with Professor Joseph Stauber. The studio was absolutely beautiful and an inspiring environment for making prints. The ceiling was lined with skylights. The lighting in that studio was probably my favorite thing about it, as well as the green canal that ran along its side. In those six weeks I made pronto prints, a new printmaking technique I had mastered by the end of the program. Relief, silkscreen, etching, and monoprints were also a possibility. Woodcarving tools, screens, and any sort of tool one could need printmaking were available to us. Even outside of the designated studio times the printmaking studio could be accessed by request. Although hardly any of our classes overlapped with other program’s access to the studio, I found it very interesting to see what printers from other schools were making in that same studio, or what prints they had left behind.

The work I made during those six weeks were inspired by my experiences outside the studio. I would make many sketches of my friends as we traveled, and from these sketches I made prints of my excursions and the people I met. My prints did not live and die in the studio. They were not completed from beginning to end in one room, as what often happens in studio spaces. The prints and drawings I made in Venice have an extension of life to them that I think is specific to my experience there. The prints I completed in Venice were literally conceived in a world without a studio, or in fact, their studio was the world. Last summer was my first time abroad and it is still hard for me to part with the work that I made there. I am an artist who is inspired by life, and being submerged in a life that is unlike the one I have ever known was a renewal for my work. Studying what I love doing in Venice shaped my ambitions to reach toward broader horizons that I did not know were there.

– Jennifer Dodson, senior painting major

Nick van Zanten presenting his work at the final critique
Nick van Zanten presenting his work at the final critique

I look back on my time in the Pratt in Venice program as being an influential point in my life, not only a pleasant experience or an escape from my quotidian occupations but a chance to learn a great deal more about the world and my art than I could have otherwise.  I loved the experience of actually living in Venice, and the freedom that that gave me to explore the city and surrounding country.  Not that six weeks was enough time to actually see all of the city – I never ran out of places to visit, and would have liked to have stayed much longer.  My paintings in and after Venice were considerably better than those that I made before, and I think that this is due partly, of course, to the professors in the program, but also simply to the city, and the light and colors that I have seen no where else.  The paintings that I created of Venice are probably, a year on, still my best work.  If not a life-changing experience, these six weeks were, at the very least, an event that dramatically improved and influenced my work.

-Nick Van Zaten, junior painting major