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Academy’s Study Abroad in Europe Program — Inspiration in Italy

In December 2018, San Francisco hosted a small piece of Italy. On display at the Academy’s 688 Sutter Gallery was Visions of Italy, an exhibition showcasing paintings, photographs and journals created during the university’s seven-week Study Abroad Summer Program in Florence.

Works in the show captured everyday events, or in some instances, grand ones. Sunsets over the Arno River painted on canvas. The bi-annual Palio di Siena, a horse race, documented in digital photographs.

As gallery guests marveled over Renaissance architecture etched in notebooks or roughed with black ink and watercolor, School of Photography student Daniel Peterson enjoyed the company of his Florence colleagues. “For us, it was a reunion, because we hadn’t seen each other since the end of the Study Abroad session,” he says. “[The exhibition] was probably the highlight of my semester, because I got to see all my friends from the summer.”

traveling suitcase study abroad
Daniel Peterson’s Traveling Suitcase on the streets of Burano, Italy. Photo by Daniel Peterson.

About 30 pieces adorned the gallery walls. According to School of Fine Art—Painting & Printmaking Executive Director Craig Nelson, the faculty-formed selection committee from Fine Art and Photography, as well as the School of Art History, “tried to make sure to include everybody, and that we included their strongest work.”

One of Peterson’s photos, “The Traveling Suitcase,” showed lone vintage luggage sitting in front of the colored houses of Burano, an island northeast of Venice. Peterson says he was driven by his passion to marry photography and travel to “find iconic landmarks and try to find the best view.”

In addition to visiting Italy, Peterson has photographed the suitcase across northern California and the Great Wall of China. “I love the concept of what a suitcase represents, which is traveling,” he says. “It represents an adventure waiting to happen.”

daniel peterson study abroad
Daniel Peterson, at the exhibition with his Traveling Suitcase. Photo by Bob Toy.

At the exhibition, the actual traveling suitcase sat right below its portrait in the gallery. “I’m going to try to make this a lifelong photo project,” says Peterson.

Fine Art MFA student Mitch Cihomsky also saw the program in Italy as a chance to take his art beyond the classroom or studio. Prior to the trip, Cihomsky visited Florence several times as a tourist. But as an artist, he says, it was like seeing the city with brand new eyes.

“It was really productive. I went there with the intention of painting plein air, to produce as much as I could under the rigors of the challenge of painting outside,” Cihomsky recalls. “And there, particularly in Florence, it was very inspirational.”

Cihomsky had three oil-on-canvas pieces hanging in the exhibition, but he was also eager to see his peers’ work. He calls Study Abroad a “total experience,” where students “paid attention to the schoolwork but they enjoyed what Florence had to offer.” In the classroom and studio time, dinners, museums and field trips, the group bonded the group over the seven-week program.

“It was so exciting to see everyone else’s work as well, because I was there when they created it,” Cihomsky says. “I remember walking by, and I could see it right on the easel; I could see [the student artists] standing there painting away.”

study abroad group photo
(L–R) School of Fine Art—Painting & Printmaking Executive Director Craig Nelson, Mo Zhan, Liu Chen, Mei-Hui Chiang, and Mitch Cihomsky. Photo by Adrian Childress.

Looking back on the Study Abroad program’s 10-year history, Nelson says 2018’s session was the best recently, both in the quality of student work and in expanding the program to other schools in the university.

This is the third year that the Art History and Photography schools were involved in organizing the program, and nearly half of participating students were online or hybrid, including participants from the Schools of Animation & Visual Effects, Fashion and Architecture.

“Take the chance to go study abroad,” Peterson advises current and prospective students. “It’s a wonderful experience, especially for people who have never traveled outside of the country before. I never like to say something is once in a lifetime, because if I enjoy it, then I want to experience it again. …I would love to do it again.”

Article by Nina Tabios of Academy Art U News

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