Do the names Macdonell, Atkinson and Canziani mean anything to you? For those of us who crave material written in English about our beloved Abruzzo, these pioneers are familiar and revered. Journeying rough roads to explore, write and paint, these foreign women studied landscape, people and traditions providing us with a precious collection of early 20th century life in Abruzzo. In the Abruzzi author Anne Macdonell and watercolourist Amy Atkinson arrived together in 1907. Estella Canziani brought her father along on her trip “in the autumn before the great war” though she didn’t publish Through the Apennines and the Lands of the Abruzzi until 1928.
An important exhibition titled Foreign Travellers in Abruzzo in the 20th Century examines the artistic and literary eye of these women who were invited to witness intimate family life and village labour and customs of people from Campotosto to Sulmona.
Katia Di Simone and Piero Moscone co-founded Culture Tracks, a nearly decade old foundation that creates programs and exhibits which illustrate how the Abruzzese people and landscape have profoundly inspired foreign artists. They are the curators of the exhibition which runs through 27 October at Fondazione Pescarabruzzo, Corso Umberto 1,No.83, Pescara, 65122. Admission is free.
I met Katia and Piero last June in Pescara to discuss Culture Tracks’ mission and past exhibits-Kristian Zahrtmann and M.C. Escher. They remain passionate in their efforts to educate Europeans and others- Abruzzese included- as to the significant role Abruzzo has played on artistic and literary achievement.
Katia and Piero have graciously agreed to answer some questions now that the show has opened and the long months of preparation are behind them.
Helen: What were some of the challenges you experienced putting this exhibition together?
Katia: One of our greatest challenges was to get local administrators to understand the importance of our “cultural traces” and to realize our exhibitions are tools that can develop a communities’ interest in conserving their heritage. Fortunately, Pescarabruzzo Foundation and its President Nicola Mattoscio, which funded the exhibition, have always shown great sensitivity and support for our research.
Also, it was difficult to obtain more biographical information especially on the life of Amy Atkinson and Anne McDonell. These women artists are not well known, yet as you said rightly, they provide us with ‘a precious collection of early 20th century life in Abruzzo.’
Helen: What did you discover in terms of the artistic lens of these women visitors? As Abruzzese yourselves, do you feel that the outsiders’ view has been a fair one?
Piero: Firstly, it is obvious that these foreign women were attentive to details not only geographically, anthropologically or historically, but they seemed connected with the daily lives of the people. These women spontaneously observed the dressing style, the objects used in everyday life, food, family habits, and the way children were raised.
Estella Canziani, in particular, has the extraordinary sensitivity of an artist-painter, whose attention to the effects of light were reflected in the depth and colours in her work. Her brush, eager for ideas, captured on the canvas the ancient costumes of female mountain villagers. For the first time, lace, ribbons and shawls were documented in colour.
The artists have approached the peasant culture of Abruzzo with extreme delicacy, discretion, curiosity, and admiration, and we, as Abruzzese, think their view has been a respectful one.
Helen: What is your favorite piece in the exhibition and why do you like it?
Piero: My favorite painting is “The Shepherd Piper” by Estella Canziani and I like this passage by Anne Mcdonell who writes: “The shepherds of the Abruzzi are nearly as primitive as the shepherds of Thibet”.
The shepherd is a figure that I can identify with because he is rooted in the history and culture of Abruzzo. He was part of the landscape of the mountains and people respected his place there. He knows the land intimately- his land that is also my land. I also love his relationship with the dogs that guide the flock. On another level he is a figure in danger of extinction. A shepherd’s life involves a lot of sacrifices.
Katia: I am fond of the “Bride in Old Costume” by Estella Canziani. Here is what she writes to accompany the painting: “All material is made in the village, and for other occasions there is an herb which will dye the skirts green in the cauldron. The old wedding dress, although more gorgeous in colour, is markedly different from the costumes in other parts of the Abruzzi.” The colors of this old dress seem to come from exotic countries. It fascinates me because it is very far from what we imagine today as a classic white wedding dress but that dress has been part of local tradition in Scanno for a long time. Actually, these days brides don’t want to wear it for the wedding (the last woman who got married with it was 15 years ago), but every year on the 14th of August a procession called the Catenaccio takes place in Scanno and couples dress in traditional wedding costumes.
Helen: What’s next for Culture Tracks?
Katia and Piero: Our association will continue to focus our research on the foreign travellers who visited and were inspired by our region. Our principal goal right now is to get back to work on our project which will create a cultural route following M.C. Escher’s footsteps in Abruzzo. Stay tuned.
Culture Tracks will be giving an early evening presentation on the secret attraction of Abruzzo to artists at Abruzzo’s 1st Food and Travel Blogging Conference – Let’s Blog Abruzzo, June1-2 2103.