Artnotes: Acknowledgement

At St Peter’s  Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas 16 x 24″  40 x 50cm  400.00    (this was inished in the studio; all other paintings en plein aire)

On Monday, we mailed a package from the Vatican Post Office in Rome.  I got out of the car this time, and was distressed to see the marvelous piazza of St Peters chock full of chairs and barriers.  It is one of those incredible spaces that depends on its pavement to be open or peopled, not looking like cattle pens.  I have a book with an etching by Piranesi (1700s) of this very site, and he has people scattered throughout, and it is just right.

Crows on the Tree, Foggy Day  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/newspaper  17 x 23″   41 x 63cm  110.00

We went back on Saturday to have lunch with Artnotes friends from Cleveland.   We walked across the plaza this time, and it bothered me less.  In fact, the avocado wood barriers didn’t bother me much at all, but those black chairs (I would estimate 750 or so) were still a distraction.  This time I could see other things.  I could see the triple rows of columns, with the bouncing off, filtering through, casting shadows.

Three nuns in mouse grey and cream habits were perched on a column base, eating a “to go” lunch.  One, maybe a little older than me (or was it just the wire-rimmed glasses?), was hanging out over the sidewalk, try to avoid a drip on her wimple.  There was a certain charm to it.  This day, I saw many nuns and priests, the latter wearing their “Roman” collars, many quite young with earnest expressions.

View at Collevecchio  Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  14 x 16″  35 x 40cm  275.00

We were early for meeting our friends, so we wandered around the Vatican neighborhood.  There is almost a visible line where the souvenir shops end (12 rosaries for 10 euros), and neighborhoods begin.  We stopped at an antique store at the very cusp and bought an item I’ve been seeking for some time-  it will be a Christmas present.

Collevecchio, in Fog Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  8 x 20″  20 x 50cm  275.00
We found our restaurant, which was in the souvenir district, and it was quite nice.  It was small, the owner was a young-ish woman.  She recommended I try the beef, which was prepared in a modern way.  Everyone else had pasta, which they all seemed happy with.  The restaurant had a back room, where people with children sat and ate while the kids tried to catch their fingers in the sliding door.  It was marvelously normal, and we got to know and really like the friends who treated us.

Our friends took pictures of the food, and of us altogether.   We hugged and hoped to meet again.

Walking away, Blair and I passed a bench with three refugees sitting on it.  One was sneezing madly, to the point I finally exclaimed, “Salute!”  The three, formerly invisible, looked up and smiled wildly at the acknowledgement.

PS.  we painted side-by-side at Santa Severa, the beach not so far from Rome


The Pink Castle  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  15 x 18″  37 x 41cm  275.00
L’Isola della Pescatore Ristorante (and the pink castle)  16 x 20″ 40 x 50cm  275.00

landscape, Painting in Italy, Rocca Malatina, workshop

Artnotes: YIKES!


Mowed (at the Pieve Trebbio)  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  12 x 18″  30 x 45cm    275.00

Today we painted at the Pieve di Trebbio, an old church site at the edge of Rocca Malatina.  We’ve been painting with a new found friend here in Rocca.  She is from Milan, only here for the summer, but she has been a dream.  While Blair and I can paint together, sometimes a third person gives us the impetus we need to GET OUT THERE.

2018-08-18-4881View from the Pieve di Trebbio   Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  16 x 24″  40 x 60cm   300.00

Rocca Malatina has been agog with activity.  We just celebrated Ferragosto, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.   There was a procession, with men bearing the Mary statue on their shoulders, followed by the Rocca Malatina band, and a collection of “the faithful”.  That evening there was a community dinner (in fact, the fifth night of community dinners), followed by dancing and fireworks.   On Sunday last we went to see the clowns, who entertained children and adults alike.

We went to lunch on Ferragosto at a friend’s house.  There were 28 at the table, which gives me confidence for the 9 I have scheduled tomorrow.

I have been astounded that we have so much personal interaction here.  In fact, we were never so busy in Paris.  People stop by with baskets of tomatoes and zucchini, or just to visit.  Of course, there are the Moroccan “touts” who come by with rolling baskets of dish towels and Kleenex, underwear and potted plants.  I almost always buy something.

2018-08-15-4857Roses in a wicker basket  Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas 16 x 14″  40 x 35cm  SOLD

Harika had a traumatic visit this week from a German shepherd who was “on the loose” – the big dog chased Harika, crying and barking, around the yard, before Blair was able to remove it.  Harika barked for over an hour and seems permanently affected (PTSD).  The next day a friend, who has multiple dogs, came by and had a remedy.  It is a bottle which plugs into an outlet, giving off a vapor (all natural, of course), to calm the pet.  Harika became unusually docile and quite affectionate.  I had to turn it off during the night.

2018-08-18-4876Harika on the Watch  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  10 x 14″  25 x 35cm 175.00

2018-08-18-4882Rock-hard Pears  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  12 x 18  30 x 45cm  275.00

We’ve painted all around our yard with our painter friend.  She helps me see what used to be just a boring rock-hard-pear tree in an entirely new light.  Whenever I paint a lot, especially outdoors, I see beauty everywhere.  Yesterday I found myself admiring how good the flies look in the golden sunshine, against a dark background:  yikes.

2018-08-15-4856From the  Windows in the Tower  Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  12 x 24″  30 x 60cm   250.00

  1. We are having a little show at the Zocca Town Hall:reflections show

Especially in Summer

Especially in Summer


We painted outdoors this week, with two wonderful painters in Cetona, Tuscany.  They were repeat students, who we’ve known for ever so long.   One we met shortly after her birth 17 years ago; the other is her sister of 14 years (we celebrated her birthday on Tuesday!).   We used to paint in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris together.

We stayed in a rental apartment in Cetona, with incredible views on all sides.  The air was perfumed with jasmine and little leaf linden.   I sold a painting I made there.  I also cooked a birthday dinner with 2 cakes (bought from delicious Italian bakeries, tiramisu and apricot sacher torte).  We had a wonderful time.


Some of the most ancient human settlements in Italy were at the base of Mt. Cetona (then Citona), dating to the Paleolithic period.  Cetona itself was founded around 900.   It is a town built on a hill, and one climbs up or down wherever you are headed.   There was some significant urban dentistry performed here not so long ago, pointing building stones, smoothing out streets.  Vestiges of old hand-hammered iron handrails remained and the layout was still medieval.   The town is very very clean — there was no gum, no cigarette butts; not even bird poop on the streets.  When I accidentally dropped a bottle of prosecco on the pavement on the way to the car, it was as if a bomb went off.   No windows opened.


There were sun and clouds, and the last day of our painting we stood on a hillside and painted.  The rains came, we all piled into the car; the rain stopped and we got out again.  Sheep grazed on the hillside, guarded by geese.

We drove to Stimigliano afterward to put that apartment to sleep until September.  Everyone is outside there, trying to get cool. I am struck by how much they are like the birds, roosting and moving a few feet to visit with others.   The cafes enjoy serving drinks and ice tea to all.


We are at Rocca Malatina now, where our friend, I, is adding to our floral heritage.  She’s struck a positive note with Ludovico, our regular gardener, who doesn’t believe in weeding or fertilizer.  They are always picking mushrooms, and I pray nobody is poisoned.  I stick to store-bought.

We went to Miani, our local but very equipped nursery.  We got dirt and bark and plant food, to feed new yellow flowers (st john’s wort), hostas and sun-patiens.  I got my very own tarragon, known here as dragoncello (isn’t that a great name?), which I added to salmon I also bought in town.   While at the plant store, a man was throwing discontinued items from a neighboring store into the dumpster.  We stopped him and took a very large turkey platter, 13 champagne glasses and two coffee cups.   Blair was tempted by an espresso machine, but we held back.


I am struck by how nicely this universe works, especially in summer.

Laurie and Blair PESSEMIER

en plein air

Where You Grew Up

“If Italy could get its tourism act together, it would be the most visited country in the world,”  a friend expounded over drinks on Friday night.  We all have the best tourist experiences here.  We were recounting to him our visit to Tarquinia, which externally had all the romance of visiting a series of cow sheds, but the Etruscan tombs beneath the ground were extraordinary.

We drove to Tarquinia via Viterbo, with friends, and onto Cerveteri, with a lunch outdoors, all a stone’s through from the Tyrrhenian Sea.  An unpopulated beach, with a couple of charming Sengalese selling whatever you might need, was a perfect respite from the hot, sunny necropolis’.  Our guest and I bought flower-lined umbrellas (against the sun) from a Bangladeshi confined to the restaurant.   A perfect day, all within an hour of here.  We dropped our friends off at Fiumicino airport.

Blair and I love Italy, with or without visitors.  Yesterday we went to Orte to paint.  The sun was in the wrong position.  I forget that I admire it from the highway coming from Florence, which means it is at least after 1PM when I see it.  So we pressed on, looking for other painting sites.  On the way, we passed near a local streetfood truck, serving sausage and broccolini sandwiches, and we couldn’t resist.    In the end, we painted quite close to our own town.

We visited the peony garden on Saturday.  There were more than 600 varieties of peonies and 200,000 plantings over about 40 acres.  We were almost the only car of people there, because unless you were in the know, you’d never find the place by the directions on the internet.  It claimed to be in Vitorchiano, near Viterbo, but in fact it was four miles away.   The delightful fragrance announced the place.  The preponderance of bused-in older folk made me feel like a teen-ager.

We’ve been spending the late afternoon sitting on the benches in Stimigliano, drawing pictures of the locals as they sit around rehashing local events.  We visit while drawing (I’ll include some pictures next artnotes).  A local, 68 years old, tells us how his son works in Chicago, USA.  “And he says Americans never stop:  they’re always working, always earning money”.

I guess it all depends where you grew up.

​Grape Vines  ​Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acryic/canvas  15 x 18″  38 x 46 cm  275.00

Laurie and Blair PESSEMIER

en plein air, landscape, paint, Stimigliano, workshop

Artnotes: Just Dandy


When we first bought our home in Stimigliano, Italy, we were told the apartment upstairs was unoccupied.  We later found out that in fact, in the 70 square meters (700 sf) above us, a family raised 7 children in the 1950s and 60s.  Now that the parents are passed, nobody knows what to do with the place.  For the last six months, someone has come by about every month to brush off the balcony and check on things.

In any case, Harika has been barking wildly at a new presence on high.   I saw someone leaving with a suitcase, but in fact they were back later, same suitcase.  I tried to tell myself, maybe they’ll be wonderful, like Olivier with the piano on rue d’Assas in Paris.  But today, while I was painting a picture of my recently purchased geraniums, a man in a decidedly black suit passed by.  Harika barked her “don’t bother my mother” bark, and he went into our building.  At first, I thought he was a dandy.  Then, an undertaker.  No, I thought, with that van dyke beard he could be a devil-worshiper.  I made a mental note never to let Harika out alone – he might see her as a sacrifice.  I tried not to panic.  “He could possibly be a Jehovah’s witness, or a Mormon,” Blair pointed out, citing the black suit.

It’s really turned to summer here in Stimigliano.  The heat is OFF and I actually had a mosquito buzz my ear two nights ago.  I must get screens.  We don’t really plan on being here much in the summer, with the Apennine house and a trip to the USA in the offing.  We have managed a few local paintings this week, and I felt oh so happy in the sunshine.

​A notice had been posted there would be no parking or driving in our little town last Sunday. It went on about some event in the Piazza Orsini.  Not wanting to miss out, we joined the congregation in front of the castello.  The castello is a lovely late medieval building I had hoped at one time to incorporate in a renovation workshop.  On Sunday, there were chairs, and lots of folks we’d never seen before.

There were several saxophones set out on the steps, and a group of young players filed out to deliver their recital.  When I see the saxophone, I think of my nephew, Marshall, who plays.  He has his own sax, and I heard play him with a contemporary group at Connecticut College in December.  I’ve reached an age and realization when I can feel like I am watching my own family when I see people of similar age and talent to them.  My own “family” takes on the family of man, as if I am deeply woven in the fabric, and this or that thread is pulled closer to me.

The music concluded, we all applauded, at which time the students retired and the instructor, and four other musicians appeared.  The star:  Emiliano Rodriguez, the “dandy” who was living (in fact just staying overnight) upstairs.  I had a hard time disguising my laughter, and Harika can walk free again.


en plein air, paint, workshop

The Bluest Skies


We went to a marvelous art show this week:  the work of Alberto Pasini, an artist from the Parma area.  He visited Persia in 1855 with an official entourage, and made the sketches and paintings from that trip  into his life’s work.  There were over 100 images in all, but 6 of monumental scale, shown at the Salon in Paris in the 1860s.

The exhibit was spectacular on many levels.  As our friend G, who accompanied us, said, “…just the clothes from times past were so much more interesting and beautiful than today.”  Colorful cottons and silks, worn in dramatic style made the people in the pictures seem fantastic.  Camel trains with colorful tents; a caravan waking at dawn;  fruit and vegetable markets, all provided extraordinary subject matter.

Pasini’s eye lent itself to dramatic perspectives, of which he was a master.  A scene on the steps of the blue mosque in Instanbul is large enough and perfect enough to step into.   Huge landscapes, with clouds casting shadows on the plains beneath, were chock full of human and animal vignettes which enhanced the picture (not always the case).   The brilliant sense of sun and shadow was the inspiration I most came away with:  was the world brighter, crispier 175 years ago?  Maybe.

The air was terribly polluted yesterday in the Pianura Padana (the Po Valley), where Parma sits.  I had to use my inhaler, something I’ve only done once since leaving Paris.  I am lucky to live at a higher elevation, which is less affected by the smog.  Besides the horrible effect on health, the pollution changes the sky color to a more whitish-beige-blue.  When modern pollution enters an area it is hard to see those beautiful colored skies Pasini or even the impressionists painted.  I recall the day a photographer attending my painting workshop in Paris said, “what has happened?  Why is the sky is so dull?”  And I realized then, that the light I had moved to Paris for was no longer.

The light around Rome remains quite lovely, especially in the surrounding hills, like Stimigliano.  It is very golden/yellow.  It is such an important thing to a visual artist.  Of course, being able to breathe has its own merits.

The grounds of the Fondazione Magnani-Rocca are beautiful by themselves.  The enormous trees were just in bud, and the peacocks were displaying their plumage.  After a delicious lunch, we visited the foundation’s permanent collection, including Renoirs, Morandis, and Cezannes, before climbing the hills back to Rocca Malatina, an hour away.


Civita Castellano, en plein air, landscape, Rome, Stimigliano, workshop

Lucky Girl


​Harika is dog-tired.  She’s spent this entire day in bed, even when we went out to paint.  She’s been spending all her time with the painting workshop, and now that they’ve gone back to Connecticut, she’s flat out.  She went to Rome (it took 2 hours to get there on account of an overturned propane-tank truck); then two painting days in Civita Castellana; on Thursday, she rose early to see them off.   Blair and I are pretty beat, too, but couldn’t resist today’s blue-sky-sunny view of Stimigliano.


We haven’t painted outside for many months before our recent painting workshop, and it’s taken all of our effort to get back on that track.  I have become addicted to painting on newspaper – it takes all the pressure off:  if the picture doesn’t turn out, crumble it up and start another.  Yippee.

BUT: once in a while it’s nice to make a bigger commitment.  We are both getting back into the en-plein-air groove.   It looks like we might have a show here in May, featuring our paintings of the area.


We drove a great large 7 person Citroen van for the workshop.  Harika insisted on squeezing in between the three in the middle seat; luckily all were dog lovers (otherwise she stays home).  We all bought ancient-greek style dishes made in the original red and black way while we were in Civita Castellana.   The artisan used a single rabbit whisker in a porcupine quill holder to achieve the effect – everyone wanted to buy it, but thankfully he refused.  We’re always lobbying for a bigger brush.


We’re planning a big Easter do in Rocca Malatina.  I’ve ordered meat, and will make asparagus; agretti; white beans and fennel; and a few of the usual fare.  I love the idea of Easter and Spring, tulips and iris coming into bloom.


I am in conflict about our two Italian homes.  On the one hand, Emilia-Romagna (Modena) is much more sophisticated (not to mention the house); on the other hand, the Roman-ness of Stimigliano is extremely appealing (and I can write on the walls).  And really, if this is my biggest problem in life, I am the luckiest girl on the planet.