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


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


Painting in Italy

​ The Street at Farfa   Blair Pessemier   Acrylic/canvas  12 x 24″  30 x 60 cm

The priest raised his finger to his lips to indicate “hush.”  Then he proceeded to bless the room, us and our paintings.   We were painting in Farfa, Italy, an abbey-town about 30 minutes from our house, and from Rome.  There were six of us, our first week-long painting workshop of 2018.

We were painting on the porch of a trattoria, where we were to have lunch.  It was raining cats and dogs.  In fact, Harika refused to leave the house the weather was so bad.

A woman from the restaurant brought out a plate of cookies that she made.  This is my image of Italy:  a smiling woman with a plate of food coming my way.  “Everything will be alright.”  The blessing may or may not have helped my painting:  city views, with their tight perspective, are always a challenge for me.  It could have been worse.

​ Dog in the Road, Farfa  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas 18 x 13  46 x 33 cm

It has rained every day in the month of March here, near Rome.  Antonio, a Stimigliano local, points out “last year not a drop for 4 months!!!”   I tell him this is a disaster, we are entertaining four painters from the USA, intending to paint “en plein air”.  He shakes his head.

​  Campanile Vescovio   Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas   18 x 13   46 x 33

Our first day was slightly better – we painted at Vescovio.  Again, the restaurant where we were to eat lunch generously opened their terrace to our easels.  By the afternoon the sun had some out and we could paint in the nearby fields, transferring the colors of the Italian spring onto our canvases.

​  Fields at Vescovio  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  12 x 24″  30 x 60cm

Sunday was not as lucky for painting.  Instead, we visited the Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola (named after the goat herders who founded the town).  It is an exceptional place, started as a fort, but finished in the second half of the sixteenth century as a summer house for the Farnese clan.  I am astounded how modern the Renaissance could be:  we took pictures of murals to inspire our own walls.

I haven’t painted outside in a long time, and felt challenged by the task, particularly in the cold and rain.   Luckily, each day the restaurants we have eaten at have fireplaces, to cook at, and to impart the feel of light and warmth.   The best part of our trip together may have been our lunches:  not just for satisfying ourselves, but to see all the people around us.  Italy is so much about breaking bread with those we love.

Back of Church at Vescovia  Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas 12 x 16″ 30 x 40cm   ​

Two views of the boat basin in Borghese Gardens:


Blame it on the Weather


Stimigliano in Snow  Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  18 x 15″  45 x 38 cm

​As you likely heard, there was SNOW in Rome this week.  The last time it snowed was 2012 and before that it was in the last century.  People went completely crazy and Stimigliano was no exception.  Children and adults alike threw snowballs and made snowmen.  I saw the best broccoli eyes ever; three days later there are carrots everywhere.  And my red glove.  I lost it just before the snow, dropped on an off-the-beaten track.  Despite retracing our Harika walk steps, it only emerged this morning, with cat poop on it.

The most surprising thing was that our entire borgo was excavated, using shovels!  We had between six inches and a foot of the white stuff (being a bit higher up than the city of Rome) – and the scraping of our cobbled pavement went on for hours.   Next day, we had a broken pipe, a big one, which served the entire community.  We went out for lunch.

​Snow Scene out the Window  Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas 8 x 20″  20 x 50cm

Life is always surprising here.  I like it, mostly, although my best friends remain up in Rocca Malatina.  We’re headed up there to pick up three paintings I sold, this week, just for a few days.  They have had multiple feet of snow.  We were really lucky not to have had to pay for heat in the frigid temperatures they are experiencing.  We’ll be back down here for a week long painting workshop.  We are looking forward to it.

​Galaxy Corbeau Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/newspaper  25 x 17″ 63 x 43cm

Being shut-ins, like we were (in a place they use shovels to clear snow, you really don’t want to be driving), we came up with every so many more ideas.  I went hog-wild with my constellation paintings, and Blair is trying to launch a new gig:  Portraits in Rome.

He is proposing to paint portraits of tourists who come to visit the Eternal City.  He will meet with them for an hour or so, during their visit, deciding on a style of painting and location.  He will make sketches and take some photos and in a few days to a week:  portrait!   You can check out his site at:  www.portraitsinrome.wordpress.com    We’d love to hear what you think of the idea.


​Sign of the Whale   Laurie Fox Pessemier  Acrylic/newspaper   17 x 25″ 43 x 63cm

I picked a few lemons off the tree I’ve been stealing from – they were as hard as rocks.  I defrosted them and made marmalade, although it is more like candy.  I was unable to get the timing right on a batch of blood-orange marmalade two days later, and it is like soup.  I blame the weather.


Just the Facts


This feels like the longest winter of my life.  Yes, I am warm in the apartment near Rome, but I want to be playing outside.  And now we are facing the icy blast from Siberia:  I planned on it being warmer.  I hope my outdoor painting workshop in the Borghese Gardens next Sunday will be possible.  The show must go on.


I like winter, at first, when the trees display their beautiful limbs senza leaves.  All the mosquitoes die – yippee. There is so much brilliant angular LIGHT.  The sky directly above is unimaginably blue.  At night the stars are fantastic.   But as we drag into February, and I am still painting flowers in the house, or painting from photos, I get cranky.   All this, as Rocca Malatina sits under a near meter of snow.​

So, I spend time sorting books in my library.   I find great happiness in alphabetical order:  it is a fact.  I have been thinking about truth, and facts and physical laws.   To watch Richard Feynman explain how drops of water all cling together to make surface tension makes me relax.   I can count on it.

I watched a video this week from the Intercept, where Glen Greenwald and James Risen debate about political allegations and the need for proof.  I respect Glen Greenwald’s sentiment that proof is necessary in journalism – in everything really.  But I’d rather be outside watching the crows.

Santuario St Faniamo  Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  27 x 46cm   11 x 18″

Everything seems so uncertain at the moment.  We are approaching an election here in Italy next Sunday, the 4th.  I am hoping to paint-through-it.    The former president, Berlusconi, could actually win, even though he is 80-something and cannot serve because of a felony.   Another candidate is just 31 years old.  Everyone is promising the population more money.  The Fascists here are the real thing.  It’s most disconcerting.

Meanwhile, I try to live my life the best way possible.  We picked up another 30 boxes of books in Florence this week.  We saw Montepulciano under snow, on the way.  We hired a man from Nigeria to help us load the books in the station wagon, precariously parked on an ancient Florentine street.  Among the books is a guide to Florence architecture.  It is such a beautiful city, I look forward to studying each stone in chiseled, unmoving detail.

Laurie and Blair PESSEMIER


Artnotes: The Library


​Finally, after weeks of delay, the new bookcase was delivered on Monday.  Our American 1-2018-02-11-4496Library in Stimigliano has over 1,250 donated books, of various genres, available for circulation.   We found a lovely antique wooden bookcase, slightly over twelve feet (3 meters) in length for sale in a second hand lot.   Because brown furniture is so out of fashion, and we are among the few people who have a twenty foot long wall, unpierced by windows, we were able to buy the libreria for very little money.

Needless to say, this maneuver has put crimp in our painting this week.  I use the library as my studio, as well, and my painting surface was piled with books for three days.

The next day, we went to Rome, and scoped out painting sites for an April engagement.  We visited the boat basin in the Villa Borghese Gardens, and are eager to give it a try.  We were in Rome for a meeting of the American Business Group.   Blair and I have always been involved in the business of painting, as well as the act of painting.   The ABG has the most interesting speakers, and this was no exception.  We heard from a recently retired journalist with a long career at the New York Times, speak about fake news.  It made me seriously consider quitting Facebook, which targets people for what fake news they receive.  Google is king of the news targeting department, although not necessarily fake,  and depending on your profile feeds you different information when you “google”.   Which explains to me why Blair and I always get different results.  I won’t go into detail about the biggest purveyor of fake news, which you can certainly guess.

In the Grove  Blair Pessemier  Acrylic/canvas  13 x 18  33 x 46cm

On Friday, we drove to Montelibretti, to visit Libelulla, an olive oil operation.  They have an “adopt-an-olive-tree” business (www.libelluladopt.com), and we are thinking of teaming up with them to offer olive painting tours.  We strolled acres of olive groves, and visited the charming town of Montelibretti.   It’s just a little more than a half-hour from where we live, and the same distance from Rome.  We might bring our Rome-city painter there in April, if she would like a break from the ancient stones.   A full-fledged olive-grove-hills-of-Rome tour is in the planning.


I still have to organize the subjects and alphabetize the library, but the unpacking and shelving is complete.  I am using a cataloging program on the Internet to register each book, so they can be checked out.  We’re headed up to a snowy Rocca Malatina for a few days, to see friends and celebrate Valentine’s Day.   Red and white paint.




I have finally got into the swing of 2018, and have been working on my goals.  One challenge is to finish my Art of Slow Travel book. I really don’t like doing that, and my 10 pages or 20 minute a day goal isn’t much of a motivation.

The thing about projects that I don’t want to do, is that I can find incredibly interesting other activities.

This week I latched onto a serious “olive tree” kick.  We live in the Sabina region, famous for its olives, its wine and its beautiful women.   There are large fields planted with new olive trees on our way to the grocery store.  It’s the time of year that the trees are being pruned, so you can really see their marvelous trunks.   All of the other trees are without leaves, so there is a clear view of the oliviers.

So, I started painting olive trees.  They are not so easy.  After my first three attempts, I ran across a photo of a dining room painted with trees all around, and thought, “perfect for our bedroom:  olive trees”.

I jumped right into this crazy idea, rubbing a sort of coral colored paint mix into the white plaster wall.  I wanted it to look like a fresco, a little old, rustic.   Blair convinced me that a conventional paint might do – I could still rub it in, not roller it, and have that plastered background look.  He was right.


If you’ve ever seen olive trees, you know they are extraordinarily gnarly.  The old ones (there are a few in this region over 1,000 years old) have impossible-looking, great, large bases – I skipped that bit, but let loose with the branches that take off in every which way, twisting, turning.  I was encouraged.  I painted until I got a backache.

Today, I finished putting on the olives.  Black: a mixture of turquoise and red.  The actual olives are an almost blue-ish black, and the flesh runs deep red.   If there were to be any olives remaining on the trees now, they would be black olives.   The image itself starts about three feet off the ground.  I’ll make it dark below.

It’s been raining here for a couple of days.  We had four hours of thunder Friday night, and Harika was still trembling on Saturday afternoon.  The river is rising.  That gives me another idea.