Lessons Around the Table

FALL 2019

by Nandita Baxi ShethCohort ’19

Numerous learning experiences at Spannocchia center around communal tables. Whether it was gathering for seminars around the Library’s grand wooden table, partaking of meals around the indoor and outdoor dining tables at Spannocchia, or gathering at a local restaurant; we engaged in the unique experience of co-constructing knowledge through entangled conversations extending beyond traditional classroom spaces. For example, as cohort 2019 arrived at Spannocchia after an action packed four days of topological studies in Rome, almost immediately we were tasked with making dinner as it was the cooks’ day off. Organizing ourselves into meal prepping groups, we gathered tools and ingredients, even using the abundant herbs growing on the estate grounds. Co-creating a delicious meal helped to develop bonds between members of our community and set the stage for many animated dinners to follow. Punctuating this ongoing rhythm were visits from Dr. David Driskell and Franca Marini, who joined us for meals after presenting their work.

Students around the table at Spannocchia
IDSVA around the dinner table at Spannocchia, June 2019. Photo by Nandita Baxi Sheth
Nandita Baxi-Sheth's artwork
The author’s artwork. Spannocchia. June 2019. Photo by Nandita Baxi Sheth

First we met Dr. David Driskell, accompanied by his nephew and assistant Rodney Moore. Dr. Driskell, at 88 years old, is a world renowned artist, scholar, and educator. The University of Maryland, where he taught, established the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of Visual Arts and Culture of the African Americans and the African Diaspora in his honor. His association with IDSVA is deep and generous, for example the David Driskell Fellowship is offered to support the education of select incoming IDSVA students. As Dr. Driskell offered us an overview of his wide ranging artistic and scholarly journey; I was particularly intrigued by his focus on practice and iteration evidenced in his ongoing series of paintings of pine trees surrounding his Maine studio. These painted meditations on nature exhibit a patience for deep looking and are a celebration of slow processes. In many ways this echoed our own immersive experience in the Tuscan countryside. After his presentation, Dr. Driskell was a delightful dinner guest, engaging us with stories as well as inquiring about our own creative journeys. Judging from the ongoing requests for photos with him, his presence was uniquely memorable.

The author and David C. Driskell
The author, with Dr. David Driskell, June 2019. Photo Courtesy of Nandita Baxi Sheth
Terri Pyle and Franca Marini
IDSVA student Terri Pyle with Franca Marini, June 2019. Photo Courtesy of Terri Pyle

Our second visiting Faculty was Franca Marini, an Italian multi-media artist born and living in Siena. Ms. Marini shared her current work of multi-media installations which extend her painting practice into three dimensional space. In her installations she “paints” with material, light, shape, color, and video projection. Her installations activate and complicate architectural spaces; infusing them with layered meanings. Observers become active participants in her works as they move through and make discoveries. Ms. Marini discussed her attention to themes of migration and immigration which sparked ongoing rich conversations as students made comparisons and connections between Italian and American responses to transnational movements of people. Classmate Terri Pyle (’19) recalls, “Like America, Italy has two sides to the refugee story: one side welcomes those dispossessed with open arms; the other side rejects “the other,” and sometimes with violence.”

True to the IDSVA spirit of community, as our group gathered for a meal at the end of a touring day in Siena, fortuitously, we met Ms. Marini again, at the golden hour of sunset and our lively conversations continued late into the evening. The opportunity to extend dialogue with important artist-scholars into informal spaces is one of the unique hallmarks of IDSVA. As we shared meals we forged new connections and were encouraged in our personal journeys as budding artist-philosophers.