TASIS Art Teacher Workshop
Les Tapies, Ardeche, France, July 15 – 25, 2012
By Stephanie Busby
“…not only renew, energize and educate the teacher involved, but that the teacher’s experience would be brought home to their classroom, fellow teachers, and students and provide broad-based benefits for a long time to come.…” reads the website for the St. Vrain Valley Education Foundation program called the Eleanor Venture. On my third proposal (this was my year) my proposal was chosen. Somehow I found a magical experience in southern France that it
is difficult to put into words. The founder of the Eleanor Venture, Eleanor Flanders, has changed my life. The committee that chose my presentation somehow saw that this was the one, that I should go to France. They chose wisely. I can’t thank them all enough.
On July 15 I began this journey, jumping into a nine person van with eight strangers, all art instructors from around the world, winding our way for one and a half hours from Valance to Les Tapies. Les Tapies in French means “snuggled up against”, and it is indeed, hanging tightly to the rugged rock landscape, providing spectacular views to the Rhone Valley and then the Alps in the very far distance. I burned the view into my mind every morning with a cup of coffee. It is an artist’s canvas. We all arrived that afternoon and conversation was made easily. We were all like-minded educators, looking for an opportunity to become better at what we preach, to build on each other’s skills and passions, and to go back to our schools enlightened instructors of our passions. I could hardly contain my excitement to be there. It felt so right.
The mastermind of the workshop is Fernando Gonzalez, an architect originally from Puerto Rico, carrying a rap sheet too long to list his accomplishments. Primarily, his involvement is with TASIS, an international school providing top-notch educations for students worldwide, including high standard IB programs. He opened our workshop with inspiring words I’d never heard, encouraging me to let it go these ten days, no cooking, no cleaning, free your mind of everyday duties and do art! Are you kidding me? His words were punctuated with a display of cheeses, olives, and snacks that I grew used to appreciating with every swallow. I had died and gone to heaven. We repeatedly said out loud, “It just can’t get any better!” But it did, every day, with every experience.
The next nine days were spent fitting more activities in a day than I could have ever imagined. Here’s a typical day:
- Breakfast laid out by 8 a.m.
- 9 a.m. - Choose a workshop: perspective drawing or learning the darkroom so that you can work at your leisure.
- 11 a.m. - Sketch for a while – among the intriguing chestnut trees? Looking out to the atmosphere layered valley? A 17th century building in our hamlet? Or perhaps of the goats that wander through the property with their bells echoing up and down the hills?
- 1 p.m.- lunch bell rings, work through the line choosing meats, cheeses, olives, bread, fruit…
- 2 p.m. – Follow the paths around the hamlet to the printmaking studio, crank out art with the support of John Smalley, one of the amazing instructors. Pinch yourself; this can’t be real, not believing you are creating works of art high in the hills away from civilization in this amazing setting… Develop a few photos, with James available for any questions. Acrylic painting? Oils? A quick dip in the pool?
- 4 p.m.- more sketching, because now you realize how much there is to do… Finish yesterday’s watercolor.
- 8 p.m. – hear the dinner bell that makes your mouth water because you know our amazing cooks, Whitney and Marjorie, also art teachers, have cooked up their own masterpiece for us…
- 9 p.m.- sleep is a temptation, but most resist and end up partaking in some sort of entertainment; charades was my favorite night. No, maybe Celebrity. Maybe it was Fernando’s slide show on how he remodeled this 17th century hamlet with a vision, exemplified with before and after photos. No, maybe it was John’s slide show on his insight of Cezanne, as we were off to Aix-en-Provence the next day to see Cezanne’s art studio that is still intact. No, maybe it was dining at a 16th century castle, serenaded by Holland’s Got Talent winners. I can’t choose, I loved it all. Every second of it.
We were led down this path by two passionate instructors and a guest artist who did the program last year. John Smalley shared his expertise in printmaking, drawing, painting, and inspiring our artist minds. His own art displayed in the gallery proved his artistic ability; we all respected his opinion and mantra. In tandem is James, whom I first met as our chauffeur from Valance, a man of many hats. His knowledge in the photography lab enabled us all to go through all the steps in photography, with all the materials you could ever need. You couldn’t help but WANT to do photography with his leadership. He also proved his skill with sculpture, making it clear how important it is to understand structure and proportion. His sculptures in the gallery were worthy of a day’s worth of sketching; the structure was dead on. Visiting artist David Burkett just had to open his sketch book and you were pulled into his drawings. I will never forget how he explained that in drawing you need to experience what you are drawing. I hiked down a hill before sketching the view, and it all made sense to me and I knew what I was going to draw, I had experienced it. These instructor’s were backed by Fernando’s support and the gallery held his photography.
To add to this journey, I have never been surrounded by such inspiring people. As my peers spent their time in the field or in the studios releasing their creative juices, I marveled at their outcomes. I was humbled by their styles and abilities. They all have intriguing backgrounds and or teaching experiences. They all have passion for sharing this insight in the visual arts. Each participant had something to add to the program, each educator had no ego about their successes. We all felt so comfortable with each other, all of us knowing that you have to push life to the fullest, go beyond the day to day experience. We all noticed the scents of the lavender bushes, we all inspected the lichen that grew on the aged trees, we all noticed the complex structure of the stones of the buildings. Our surroundings heightened our senses and we all knew to look with our eyes wide open, our nose on alert, appreciating the silence of the night ending with the goats’ bells at 6:30 in the morning, we knew to touch the earth and feel its age and history. We were just the group to experience Les Tapies in full alert, with appreciation of Fernando’s vision. I miss these people already and know distance won’t keep us apart for too long. We are kindred spirits.
The Eleanor Venture awarded me the cost of this adventure for a purpose. What I have brought home from this workshop will clearly benefit my students, my co-workers, our community both tangibly and spiritually. Regardless, I am a renewed, energized teacher. I encourage you, as a reader, to find your passion and find a way to experience it on a whole new level. Sante!