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ETSU students learn centuries-old ceramic-making techniques in Italy trip

Rex Barber • Jul 15, 2013 at 5:38 PM

Lauren Rutherford and Whitney Disher were way out of their comfort zones when they traveled to Italy a few weeks ago to study how Etruscans made ceramics centuries ago.

These East Tennessee State University students were part of a group of students participating in an annual trip led by Don Davis, a professor in the department of art and design.

“It was kind of spur of the moment,” said Rutherford, an English major. “We saw the flier and we thought it would be a great opportunity to go to Italy. Neither of us knew anything about ceramics, so we were excited to learn a new art form, and where better than Italy with the ancient Etruscans...”

The students stayed at Castello Spannocchia, a self-sustaining agricultural estate dating from the 12th century and now part of a nature preserve and center for international study.

The castle is located in the Tuscan countryside, near Siena.

“I also wanted to do something where I was completely uncomfortable,” said Dishner, an early childhood education major.

Not being able to speak Italian, not knowing anyone in the cities they visited on trips while in Italy and not knowing anyone in the art group certainly helped add to their level of discomfort.

“It was definitely an experience to try to communicate with the language, to try to understand and be respectful of their culture versus our own,” Dishner said. “But they were all very respectful, very kind.”

There were 13 students on the trip, and most of them were art majors. The group created artwork from native terracotta in a studio at the castle and also learned about the local culture. They also hiked ancient trails, wandered in medieval towns and spent time in Florence.

The group was gone from June 16 to July 3.

Nicole Stupin, a senior majoring in art, took the trip.

She had never been out of the country before and thought she should take advantage of this opportunity to travel and learn in a different setting.

“This just seemed like a really fantastic opportunity to go overseas and learn something new, learn something about ceramics which I’m really passionate about,” Stupin

“I learned a lot about how to draw inspiration from my immediate environment.”

Among her creations was a plate that incorporated a chandelier from Spannocchia on the plate.

Becca Irvin, is also senior art major

This was also her first trip abroad, too.

“It’s been really life-changing for me because I’ve gotten to explore new ceramics and a new culture and just how everybody is over there.

“And also, I feel like to grow and become a better artist you have to look at history. It changed my perspective to new food, new culture, new people and just a different way of life that they have over there.”

She said all the students lived together in rather tight quarters in the castle and ate dinner on the castle terrace each night, which offered opportunity to meet other travelers staying at the castle.

“And there was actually a couple of people there that were traveling around the world and so you got to see their experiences and meet them.”

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