Renaissance means the rebirth of learning, culture and the arts. Historically, it is a time associated with the cultural growth of Western Civilization, particularly in Italy where such influential artists as Leonardo di Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Dante lived and worked.

This summer, several Rogers State University students and faculty experienced a renaissance of their own, a broadening of their educational and intellectual palates, as they took up their artist’s palettes and painted, drew, sculpted or photographed Italy.

Thursday through Oct 9, the artistic culmination of that trip will be shown as “Studies of Works” from Italy at Wolf Productions A Gallery of the Arts, 510 West Will Rogers Boulevard, in downtown Claremore. The opening reception will beThursday from 5-7 p.m. at the Gallery.

Intellects weren’t the only things fed in Italy. An Italian blacksmith, Luca Volonterio, who resides in an ancient monastery converted to farmhouse, fed the Oklahoma visitors pots of pasta. Locals from Montane, the small village that hosted the RSU students and faculty, took their Oklahoma guests on a “truffle hunt.”

Truffles are considered a delicacy by connoisseurs. Like mushrooms, truffles are a fungus, but they grow underground and must be sniffed out by hogs or dogs. The Montane residents use dogs.

Associate Fine Arts Professor Bryce Brimer said he enjoyed the truffles and other culinary treats of the region. Mostly, though, he loved the scenic backdrop.

“Montone is very picturesque,” said Brimer. “It’s in a mountainous region of Umbria.”

Brimer said the postcard-pretty town is at the top of a mountain. It’s a remote village with roots going back to medieval days when villages were built on hilltops for defense. The village overlooks pastoral hills and valleys hung with low-lying clouds. Brimer called it “absolutely stunning.”

Both Brimer and student Cayla Spears described the trip as life-altering.

“My uncle was a painter who traveled the world,” said Spears. “He had a house in Florence and he promised to take me there, but he died when I was in elementary school. I always wanted to go to Florence.”

Spears is studying Graphic Design and wants to be a professional photographer. She already does freelance work, but didn’t want to major in photography and risk “losing her edge” if forced to copy other styles. RSU offered just the right mix of studies, and the trip to Italy was the culmination of a dream.

“We got there, and there was very little Internet. We had no cell phones or television,” said Spears. “It was really relaxed. I had more time for art. There were no distractions.”

In the mornings, students studied painting. In the afternoon, they did drawing and photography.

Spears said the slower pace of Italian life taught her a valuable lesson.

“I used to stress out, now I’m more laid back,” she said. She thinks everyone should take a vacation from technology.

At least once during the month-long stay, each student got to work with the local blacksmith on a metal sculpture.

“It was very medieval,” said Spears.

Brimer said the blacksmith’s home was built as a monastery, then 300 years ago it was converted to a farmhouse.

“He was so gracious and so nice,” said Brimer.

Students used hammers to beat steel in the forge and create sculpture.

“Being a professor, it’s always exciting to see a student become exited about something,” said Brimer. “We were inspired to take pictures of things. Everywhere you look there’s another scene just begging to be photographed.”

Spears said her favorite piece of artwork completed in Italy was a charcoal drawing of a night scene of one of the streets in Montone. She was also one of the winners of a photo contest judged by the locals.

“It was the best experience of my life,” she said. “The people in Montone treated us like celebrities. The whole town was medieval, like out of a movie. The streets were cobblestone.”

Brimer was impressed by one of the local festivals, the Festival delle luci, or Festival of Lights, a laser light show.

Spears said there was a town dance in the piazza that she will always remember and long talks outside as she tried to communicate with her new Italian friends.

“I was more focused in Italy,” she said. “I want to go back.”

A junior, Spears resides in Claremore but her hometown and family are in Pryor.

Spears, who is vegetarian, said the cuisine wasn’t to her taste. The trip did help her decrease her dependence on her favorite soft drink, Mountain Dew, she said.

Brimer said the trip was worth the lengthy travel time, 10-12 hours by plane into Rome and then a bus ride to Montone.

His transforming experience?

Seeing a genuine Cravaggio in a chapel in Rome, “The Calling of St. Matthew.” The painting is one of his favorites and he was surprised to see the real thing in person, along with other artwork in every church they visited.

Art is as integral to Italian culture as pasta, said Brimer. Like Spears, he hopes to make a return visit.

This Week's Circulars