21Country: The Art of Florence

PFW art students showcase work created during study abroad trip
Updated: Aug. 25, 2022 at 5:30 PM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - A trip of a lifetime for many, to study some of the greatest artwork, sculptures, and architecture created in human history. Earlier this year, several Purdue Fort Wayne art students and their teachers traveled abroad, resuming a program postponed for years due to the pandemic. The goal? To immerse themselves in the art of Florence, Italy.

The two week trip to Europe was in the middle of their six-week program. It was anything but a vacation. “It’s pretty intense. They’re drawing three to six hours a day,” professor of fine arts Christopher Ganz explained. “To see them take the knowledge that they learned during their classwork and apply it abroad, to to on-site and work directly with these works of art… it’s like everything kind of comes to fruition.”

The group of 14 art students covered a lot of ground in Florence, visiting historic parts of the city, drawing and painting architecture, museums, sculptures, and landscapes. They were able to see, and etch their own stylistic versions of the Statue of David, Hercules and the Centaur Nessus, and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, to name a few. “For me… you kind of relive your first experience vicariously through the students,” Ganz said. “You could see that in the student’s eyes — when they would behold the statue of David for the first time, it would just be awestruck!”

Hannah Kirk, a painting major, found herself in situations she could only describe as ‘surreal’. One of them, was during the making of her watercolor rendition of the Boboli Gardens — sitting outside and painting a foreign, beautiful landscape immediately in front of them. The other, and intimate moment with a familiar work. “We saw Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, which is a very famous painting,” Kirk shared. “We stayed there all day long. At closing time, I was able to go back and see this painting. I was one of three people that were there — and it was really incredible because it’s such a famous work and I got to spend one-on-one time with that!”

The trip was a dream come true for Coren Paige too. “I grew up drawing, so it was a natural talent I had,” she said. “I promised myself at least sometime in these four years, I was going to study abroad.” Before departing, Paige said the students met several times together so they could establish friendship before spending two weeks in Florence. “The architecture was amazing. Fort Wayne is a small, big city — but compared to being out in a different country, where the architecture is larger than life — pictures don’t due it justice,” she added. Paige, an art major, primarily used pen, replicating many famous statues in her notebook. “I focused a lot on sculpture, figure-drawing types of work,” she said. “I like a figure because it’s very smooth. You can capture the energy and that’s what I”m really good at.”

Though the group produced nearly 200 works of art, 97 of them are displayed at the PFW Visual Arts Gallery. They include drawings in mediums like pens, markers, pastels and pencils. Ganz curated them, selecting a “variety of viewpoints/interpretations of the same subject”. 18 of the works exhibited are also by him. Ganz took a three-week trip to Sicily after the program to focus on his own art — a reminder that event the best teachers need time to become a student of art once again.

“It’s important for me to just go out and make my own work,” he told us. “As I teach, I become more inspired to make my own work, and I can kind of see how it changes and improves. And I learn new things that I can also teach to students as well.”

But perhaps the most impressive takeaway from the trip, was the growth for everyone abroad. “To see them take the knowledge that they learned during their classwork… to go on-site and work directly with these works of art? It’s like everything kind of comes to fruition,” Ganz said. “Just the fact they’re studying and looking at these artworks make them better artists.”

The exhibit, titled The Art of Florence opened Monday and can be visited by the public through September 5.