The Town on the Hill: Coming and Going, by Amy Feiereisel

In 2016 we were lucky to have artist and writer Amy Feiereisel as one of our Resident Assistants. Inspired by her experiences in Sicily, she wrote a collection of short stories, The Town on the Hill: Stories from Sicily during her time in Tusa. She has been generous enough to allow us to share a selection of these stories here on our blog. The entire collection of nine stories is also available in print here: https://www.amazon.com/Town-Hill-Stories-Sicily/dp/1520841949.  We will begin at the beginning with the story Coming and Going:

 

Coming and Going

 

The town was full of buildings for sale. The buildings were of all sorts; homes, churches, stables, and once gilded palazzos that crumbled from floor to floor until the sturdy stone shells cradled nonexistent ballrooms. The people were old. No babies were born. The younger residents came back to visit their relatives and eat nostalgic food and sigh about how the immortal bar with the hanging jasmine tendrils was now for sale too, about how they had made eyes at the other adolescents in their youth. But finally there were no youths left to make eyes, and not enough paying customers to make the bar worth running.

The only businesses in town were the grocery stores, the butcher and the cheesemaker, the hardware stores to supply building material to the rich summer people from up north who throw their hands up at the crumbling palazzos and build gaudy bright residences from scratch outside town. The bank had been robbed recently, and they caught one of the men, who everyone said must be from Palermo. His two accomplices ran into the woods on the edge of town after being chased through the town cemetery, and haven’t been seen since. No one was too worried by them. As one man said, “They weren’t armed, or someone would have been killed.”

The women did their shopping between ten and noon each morning, which is when the shops bustled with activity and smiles were given like gifts. But once they disappeared into shadowed kitchens to make the mid-day meal, the men occupied the streets and it was uncomfortable to be a woman in town, especially alone. When female visitors are invited to visit, often American relatives with cousins in the area, they are a spectacle, a disgrace, and welcome entertainment. They do not stay very long.

This is how I found the town when I came to it.

But it was beautiful too, in the way only a dying thing can be. Not romantic in any traditional sense, but romantic in the loneliness of a long and beautifully laid street, totally empty. Romantic in the way the trash is put out on hooks, so that the thriving cat population (perhaps the only thing thriving in this particular place) cannot reach it. At midnight the warmly lit streets were full of gently swaying, neatly tied trash bags slipped onto sharp hooks suspended by rope from balconies. Nothing compares to the sight. The weather was unpredictable, the way it is in the mountains located just above the sea, and the light magnificent, richer than any other I’d seen.

I had been invited to the Professor’s house for a dinner of eggplant pasta with ricotta salata, the dishes he always served to company, accompanied by the same kitchen show, “Do you see the cover of that magazine? They took that picture at the chef’s restaurant, but we’re going to make it much better here, right now. Now grab the tomato sauce…” And I expected the stories he told while we ate (about the pasta’s birth in Paris, about the pitfalls of liberalism, about the Italian opera set in Scotland) to be recounted just as they always were.

But the professor, for once, was less interested in talking about himself and demonstrating his intellect. He’d had a hard week. A friend visiting from far away had been held up in several airports and the phone lines in the town were all down – the stress of wondering and worrying had taken its toll. Then when the friend had arrived, things hadn’t gone exactly like the professor might have wanted.

Another classmate from junior high had died (not suddenly, but still), and the Professor had dressed up in his nicest cotton shirt and wool slacks and smart jacket to attend the funeral.  He was somber afterwards and didn’t change out of his nice clothes immediately. He forgot or chose to ignore the regular dusting of his ceramic dining room chandelier.

This time when he spoke, he spoke softly and contemplatively. He smiled as he remembered:

There was a couple who were not a couple at all. The woman had been married, but her husband was dead. She owned a bar, and it was not looked upon badly, for she was a widow after all. The man was a master carpenter who now directed his son in their mutual endeavors, as his eyes had started to fail the winter prior, and his hands shook slightly when he held anything. He had a tuft of snowy hair that always stood up on the left side of his part, which was strange, considering his maniacal tidiness observed by everyone all his life.

The woman and man had been high school sweethearts, and it had been generally believed they would marry. But the woman chose a slightly older and wealthier man at the mature age of 17, and her sweetheart had never really forgiven her. When her husband died she opened a bar only three buildings and a stationary shop away from his workspace. It had been forty years since the opening, and every day at 11:30, the man set down his tools to walk over to the bar and order a drink. Nowadays he barked at a local boy (the Professor in his childhood) to grab a hold of his arm and walk him down the street. He ordered his drink and she brought it to him, and he sipped it as they traded barbs.

“You whore, that dress doesn’t become you in the least.”

“I pity a man like you, a sack of skin and bones, blind and helpless.”

“You smell worse than a mountain goat, and you’re less handsome than one, too.”

“I pray you collapse of a heart attack, but not within my eyesight so I needn’t deal with your body. Take a walk over the hill, and get trampled by the boars.”

“I hope you live forever, you old hag, so you might torture your own kin with your dreadful, insufferable presence.”

And so it went on, and on and on, until the glass was empty and the noon bells rang, and the man made his way back up the street. What they said to one another was shocking to strangers, but it was also something else. If the man was late, the woman would come searching for him, wringing her hands. As soon as he was located and his health determined fair, she launched into a dizzying tirade against him and his lazy ass, but with a certain tenderness lacing the assault. The man sent his grandson to explain what had happened to him once when he was ill and could not come. The woman sent back a scathing note and a crock of soup and a dried sausage, which she told him to choke on, so that it might finish him off.

It was love, but uncompleted. Love of the best and longest and most stimulating kind, and the two never tired of it. The Professor saw something noble in the interaction, something pure, and something he approved of immensely.

I asked what became of the couple, and the Professor sighed.

“Dead, of course.”

All the great people were dead, and only the wicked had survived. The way things always were and would always be.

When I left a few weeks later I was undecided on whether or not I would be back.

The most romantic and terribly beautiful thing of all was in the way the people lit up when they spoke of their childhoods and of any time that came before the present one. It was a beauty hard to experience and impossible to stand. They couldn’t help it, but it was driving everyone out.

Updates on Recent Resident Artists: Gwynn Zivic

Gwynn Zivic, an award-winning designer with St. Louis-based firm Mackey Mitchell Architects joined us in 2016 where she worked on a suite of watercolor and ink drawings, as well as some cyanotypes investigating the landscape and the Norman and Byzantine architectural motifs observed in the local architecture. Here is a link to a post written about her experience at Officina Stamperia del Notaio: 

http://www.mackeymitchell.com/blog/2017/02/02/sabbatical-sicily/

Gywnn states:

" MESMERIZED BY THE COLORS AND ORGANIC FLOW OF WATERCOLOR, I FELL IN LOVE WITH CHASING THE MOVEMENT WITH HAND INKED LINES. EVERY CONTOUR A NEW JOURNEY. EACH PAINTING A UNIQUE LANDSCAPE."

zivic

Updates on Recent Resident Studio Assistants: Amy Feiereisel

Amy Feiereisel was one of our outstanding resident studio assistants in 2016.  Amy has many talents and passions (food, language and art among them!) Not only a strong painter and illustrator, Amy is an eloquent writer and Tusa gave her a lot of material. She was busy writing during her stay and we are so happy to share that she has now published a collection of short stories inspired by her time in Tusa! 

Amy Feiereisel: The Town on the Hill
The Town on the Hill is a short collection of stories set in a small town in Northern Sicily, from the perspective of residents and outsiders. It combines travel and food writing with fictional stories in a very particular, bizarre, and beautiful place : Sicily. Each story can be read in less than thirty minutes, and each stands entirely on its own. However, read as a whole, the character of the town and its people emerges, rising up from the cool shadows of crumbling walls.

If you enjoy travel writing, literary realism, or falling down rabbit holes, The Town on the Hill offers a dive into the unique culture and daily life of a small corner of Sicily.

Note from the Author: I wrote this collection of short stories in the summer of 2016, while living in a small hill town on the Northern coast of Sicily. The town itself seemed a character to me, and its inhabitants endlessly complex and compelling. I had never written fiction before, but somehow it felt right in that dusty, walled place between the Mediterranean sea and the faded sky. Many of the stories are ‘real life’ re-imagined; there really was a Sirocco dinner party, I almost drowned at the beach, and a good friend truly stole funeral monuments without realizing it. Others are entirely fabricated from my own mind.
— Amy Feiereisel

Amy has been so generous to allow us to publish some of the short stories here on our blog! Stay tuned, as we will be posting them periodically - they are poignant and poetic and so worth the read. Pick up your own copy of the collection here

Updates on Recent Artists-in-Residence: Devin Kovach

It is great to see what artists take away from the residency and where they go next, so we love to keep in touch. Here's what 2016 Artist Devin Kovach has been up to:

Devin Kovach visited us for about a month last summer from Rome, where he teaches Printmaking at Temple University's Rome campus. During his residency at Officina Stamperia del Notaio, Devin worked on some experimental pieces and created new work for the two-person site specific exhibition with Serena Perrone, read more about it here: Something is About to Happen. He also worked on some cyanotypes with fellow OSN artist/instructor Andrea Buffolo, which led to some exciting new work.

In January of 2017 he reunited with Serena and Andrea in the studio of Andrea Buffolo in Venice where Devin created some cyanotype banners that became part of a solo exhibition at Intragallery in Naples, An Eye Wide Open, part of a series of exhibitions at Intragallery highlighting young American artists in Italy. The show was very well received and had some great press! Here are a few images of some of the pieces in the show. Visit Intragallery for more details. Congratulations Devin, the work is fantastic and we were so happy to have you as an Artist-in-Residence!

Updates on Recent Artists-in-Residence: Mariah Dekkenga

We love keeping in touch with our Artist-in-Residence and seeing what they've been up to since their time in Tusa. Here's what 2016 Artist Mariah Dekkenga has been up to:

After returning to Doha, Qatar, Mariah became an Artist-in-Residence at The Fire Station, a 9-month program for Qatar-based artists. Read more here:

http://www.firestation.org.qa/artist-residence-2016

Congratulations Mariah and we look forward to sharing more of your work!

Updates on Recent Artists-in-Residence: Michael Perrone

We love keeping up with our past Artists-in-Residence! Here's what Michael Perrone has been up to:

Michael Perrone, Assistant Professor of Painting at Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar joined us in 2016 from Doha (via Cappadocia, Turkey) and spent 7 weeks as an Artist-in-Residence with fellow artist Mariah Dekkenga. During his stay he worked on a series of four paintings, pictured below. These were developed after the series Ibrahimpasa, which you can see at this link: 

http://www.mperrone.com/index.php?/studio-work/ibrahimpasa/.

Following his residency, the next series took shape - Black Monuments: 

http://www.mperrone.com/index.php?/studio-work/black-monuments/

Michael Perrone, Tusa series

Application Period Open for Summer Residency, July 2017! We are accepting applications through March 15, 2017.

We are now accepting applications through March 15, 2017 for our upcoming Summer Residency season, to take place in July of 2017. 

We accept individual artists, artists working in collaboration, and try to accommodate partners, children whenever possible. The residency is self-funded and includes lodging in a private bedroom in a single or shared apartment with kitchen and bathroom, plus designated studio space in a communal, multi-use workspace.  At the end of each residency period, artists are invited (but not required) to exhibit work or give a public presentation or workshop, reading, or film screening. The work of each resident artist will also be featured online as well as in a periodical print publication that documents each residency season.

We welcome artists working in all disciplines including drawing, painting, works on paper, artists' books, printmaking, photography, film, fibers, sculpture, installation, and writing. We will do our best to accommodate artists needs - but please bear in mind that we are in a rural location with limited access to art supplies and materials, limited public transportation between the train station and the town itself, and at times, unreliable cellular and internet connections. It is a great opportunity for artists who are seeking contact with nature (hills, forests, and beaches) and small town, agrarian, rural Sicilian life, and the chance to ruminate on new work or create work in response to the location with the materials at hand. Wonderful towns and cities with rich history and vibrant contemporary art scenes, including Palermo, Catania, Cefalu and Castebuono are accessible by train, bus or rental car, as well as the Aeolean Islands, which are just a ferry ride away from various ports located along the coast. Tusa is situated on a hilltop at between 600-800 meters above sea level, with the coastal fishing and resort portion of the municipality, Castel di Tusa (also the location of the train station), just a 10-20 minute drive down the mountain. 

We encourage artists to express in a proposal not only the scope of the project or work they would like to do while in residence, but also to specify what materials they wish to use so that we can assist artists in locating the materials and resources they need ahead of their arrival in Tusa. It is also advantageous to arrange for supplies to be sent or to bring them with you if there are specific items you absolutely need and are not easy to source locally. 

For the upcoming 2017 season, we welcome artists who are interested in both short and long-term stays, on average 2-4 weeks in duration from approximately July 1-July 31, 2017. The average cost per person ranges from 250-300 euro for the first week, and 200-250 euro for each subsequent week. Partners or children who will not be requiring use of the studio space or a separate bedroom can stay the duration of the residency at half cost. Lodging and studio space are included in the cost. Additional expenses not included in the residency cost would include: meals and groceries, local transportation (driver for hire, local bus, and regional trains) or rental car, personal art materials/supplies, and personal cell phone or mobile wifi hotspot device. The studio is equipped but to ensure you have uninterrupted service it is recommended to set up an international data roaming plan with your regular carrier, or purchase an Italian mobile device when you arrive in the country (such as Vodafone, Wind, TIM, etc.).

TO APPLY:

Apply via email to officinastamperiadelnotaio@gmail.com. In the subject line, write "Application Summer 2017". Please send in the body of the email:

A proposal for the research or work you would like to do while in residence (even a vague idea is helpful - we know it is an organic process subject to change!); a link to your website or online portfolio, which dates you wish to stay, whether you will be coming alone or with a partner or dependent, and if there are specific considerations or needs you would like us to know about. As PDF attachments, include an artist's statement and CV, and lastly, 5 jpeg images characteristic of your work.  

We will be accepting applications through March 15, 2017 and notifying applicants of acceptance by April 15th, 2017 for residencies starting July 1, 2017. Please keep in mind that space is limited, so if your application is not accepted for the 2017 season, if you request us to, we will hold on to hold on to your application and roll it into the applicant pool for the following year. 

Before applying, please visit the website and read more about the Residency, Studio, Printshop and Accommodations, location, and transportation, and be sure to check out our links page where you will also find some helpful information about travel, sourcing materials, and more. If you have questions, please email officinastamperiadelnotaio@gmail.com or submit through the site. We look forward to your application!

 

Artists at Work

Now that the summer's first residents have arrived, settled in, and eaten plenty of pasta, the studio is buzzing with artistic activity. Here are some shots of the Artists in Residence and Resident Studio Technicians hard at work!

Devin, Andrea and Aubrey have been doing quite a bit with cyanotypes.

Aubrey has been sketching both from inside and outside the studio.

Michael set up his canvases and has been painting.

He's planning to start working in film in the following days (having recently found an old projector in Cefalu).

Mariah set up shop on the second floor of Palazzo Mugavaro, where she can occasionally be seen taking a break on the terrace.

The sawhorse tables are always covered with notebooks, paper, and a plethora of art supplies. Things are exactly as they should be. Stay tuned for a little about the artists at play!

Summer 2016: Open for Business!

Finalemente! It’s both a relief and a thrill to be able to say that our 2016 Artists in Residence program has officially begun.

The studios are equipped, the print shop open for business, and our first resident of the summer, Devin, arrived from Rome on June 19th and immediately began working. Only a few days after arriving he salvaged some old wood (previously Sicilian funeral props for flower wreaths) from the countryside and fashioned a viewfinder easel, bringing another piece of Tusa into the space.

Our second and third residents, Michael and Mariah, made the trek from Turkey and settled into Casa Mugavero just a few days later, bringing canvas, stretchers, and stories from their travels to share.

The studios are starting to feel lived in and used, as paper is tacked up, canvas hung, and chemicals poured. People take turns filling the space with music, and just this week the first prints were processed.

 

For more information on the work being made the summer, head over to the Artists Residents tab for bios and blurbs - and stay tuned here for more stories from Tusa and Officina Stamperia del Notaio!

Officina Stamperia del Notaio: Creating a Space

We began arriving at the end of May to complete the work that had begun in the summer of 2015 - the creation of Officina Stamperia del Notaio's physical home. The studio space and print shop were constructed, but now it was time to fill them. We also had to prepare Casa Mugavero (a former palazzo destined to be another home for artists) for its first residents.

                The long empty palazzo was our first order of business, as it had been abandoned for nearly thirty years. Underneath the dirt and dust was a uniquely beautiful picture of the past; carved utensils and an ancient sausage grinder in the kitchen, painted tiles in the bedroom, delicate linens left in deep drawers. All the wooden furniture in the space was made by a former owner and woodworker, from a chest of drawers opened by a skeleton key to a towering armoire, each piece inlaid with a different pattern.  We scraped the shutters, stained the steps, scrubbed the palazzo from top to bottom, brought in new mattresses and plumbing, scoured the kitchen, painted the walls, and in the final afternoon, hung the curtains and placed the chairs to the chorus of many opinions.

                Across the square were the studios, which were seeing their own fair share of excitement. The empty space was filled with ideas of how to organize and structure the space, and then it was actually filled with salvaged furniture, fresh wood, and the sound of drills and saws. Slowly but surely, and not without both comical and unfortunate setbacks, the space began to take shape and pull together. The most exciting episode would have to be the savage Sirocco winds that swept through Tusa in the second week of June. The Sirocco originates in the Sahara and hits Sicily suddenly and violently; this particular one lasted twenty four hours and flung open the heavy iron doors of The Loft, broke the latches and windows in the studio, and ignited hundreds of wildfires in the countryside. The sky was thick with hazy smoke and the air hot as that in an oven, but life went on in typical Sicilian fashion, culminating in a dinner party set to a soundtrack of screaming winds just outside.

 The carefully constructed print shop was filled with materials and got a new door. But it wasn’t complete until Serena’s beloved press, Ginestra, could finally leave the darkness of the magazzino and take her rightful place in the center of the shop. Tusa is well represented in the studios, from the shelving and boards made of local wood to the specially created steel stand for Ginestra.

Throughout the entire process, friends and strangers stopped in to see old spaces becoming new. Some had never seen the courtyard that lies behind the palazzo, and others remembered the studios as a communal granary. One remarked that the “stones were happy” to be given new purpose and filled with energy after so much time had passed.

As our first artists arrive and begin to make work, we like to think the stones approve.

Constructing the Printshop

Entrance to the Prinshop prior to renovation

Entrance to the Prinshop prior to renovation

In early summer of 2015 "Ginestra", (a Lazzarini Firenze model etching press I had found in Urbino the previous November) was finally ready to be received in Tusa at the Officina Stamperia del Notaio. After traveling by truck from Urbino to Reggio Calabria, boarding a ferry, and transferring to a new truck, I got the phone call that the press was not going to be delivered for at least another day or two, but shortly after, I received another call saying the truck actually was nearing the highway exit for Tusa and would be up in town any minute. Naturally it was in the middle of lunch so Nikki Martinez (who was visiting at the time), my dad and I ran to the entrance of town to meet the driver and guide him through the narrow and steep streets to OSN. In true Sicilian fashion, all is well that ends well and the press got safely tucked away for the summer while we began a gut overhaul of Ginestra's new home. Formerly used as a chicken coop and a storage space for long-forgotten scrap material, furniture, and even old remnants of objects belonging to Allied troops that passed through the area in WWII, the stamperia began to take shape.

Through the rest of the summer Alfonsina and I collaborated with her team of contractors and skilled workers to figure out the best way to turn the small space into a functional printshop. Floors had to be reinforced from below and above to support the weight, new floors poured, walls resurfaced, sealed and painted, electricity and plumbing installed, lighting, doors and windows added and existing ones enlarged, new rafters and ceiling beams added, primed and painted. We even punched an opening through the wall of the main studio space to join the rooms together. It was a top to bottom make-over. Alfonsina, who has a keen eye and immense attention to detail as well as a passion for restoration, conservation, and the salvaging and reusing building materials, tirelessly forged ahead to create a new space that preserved the old architectural details including a niche in the form arab arch, the beautiful wooden rafters, and made use of salvaged wooden doors and shutters, tiles, light fixtures, and even a deep sink and marble slabs for the countertops. It was amazing to see the floor plans we drew on napkins and scraps of paper becoming a tangible space, changing day by day. Friends from near and far, including Andrea Buffolo, generously lent a hand painting and cleaning and the team made immense progress by the time I had to leave at the end of August to return to teaching in the States. Now begins the fun task of setting up the printshop, bringing Ginestra into the space and getting her rolling, and outfitting it with supplies and materials in time to host our first printmakers in 2016.

I look forward to posting photos of the completed printshop soon and I can't wait to begin making prints in the space. Stay tuned for news and updates.

Ginestra: A Press Arrives in Sicily

Ginestra blooming in Tusa

Ginestra blooming in Tusa

 

I spent most of 2014 in Italy, first doing a long 3-month residency at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica in Venice, then in Tusa, Sicily, laying the groundwork for Officina Stamperia del Notaio with my co-founder and collaborator Alfonsina Bellomo. In the fall I was based in Cortona where I was teaching drawing with the University of Georgia’s Studies Abroad Program.

The fall in Cortona was inspiring and watching the atmosphere change through a veil of plants each evening from the printmaking studio had an influence on my work. The quiet evenings in the studio reminded me of the months I spent there as a student ten years earlier. While reflecting on my future plans for Officina Stamperia del Notaio in Tusa, I came to the decision to seriously begin looking for an etching press to buy to construct a printshop component of the residency space in Tusa. I was able to learn through my fellow colleague and printmaker Sergei Tsvetkov and some contacts in Venice that a Lazzarini Firenze model press was for sale in Urbino.

After the end of the semester, I returned to Venice for a while and paid a visit to Urbino to view the press with fellow artist and collaborator Andrea Buffolo. We traveled by train and bus from Venice to Urbino via Bologna and Pesaro on a dark, foggy late November night, and upon seeing the press I decided to go ahead and make plans for the purchase and eventual delivery of the press in Tusa. In December I returned to Philadelphia and continued work on Officina Stamperia del Notaio and plans for Due South with Marianne Bernstein and Cindi Ettinger.

In May 2015 I returned to Italy and in June, after an excursion to the craters of Mount Etna my press finally arrived in Tusa. Because the resilient and tenacious ginestra is one of the first plants to take root in the rocky lava covered landscape on the slopes of Etna, and was blooming profusely across the island in that season when my press arrived, I felt Ginestra would be the perfect name for this press. Once it arrived and we placed it safely in storage, we could begin the work of turning the pollaio adjacent to the residency studio and exhibition space into a printshop and a home for Ginestra. 

The construction began and I headed back to Venice to work on another small project at the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica and to collect some more materials to take down to Tusa.

Traveling by train from Venice to Rome and Tarquinia to spend a few days visiting friends, we proceeded, loaded with printmaking materials tools and even acid trays, to board an overnight bus and ferry from Rome to Tusa.  

Arriving in Tusa, Alfonsina and I continued to make progress on Officina Stamperia del Notaio’s little printshop, and we ran a cyanotype and alternative process photography workshop with Andrea Buffolo, welcomed Marianne Bernstein and some of the artists from Due South, and hosted an author series called Tusa Nero su Bianco. You can learn more about all of these projects by visiting those links on our main page!