Stories from Florence


Florence Streets by Laine Renfro. 12 x 14, oil on canvas.

There might not have been any gelato served, but the amorous sights and sounds of Florence, Italy, came to life at the 688 Sutter Gallery on the opening of the 2017 Study Abroad Exhibit. For more than 10 years, the summer study abroad program at Academy of Art University has been influencing the life and art of students.

In the dimmed lighting of the gallery on the evening of Dec. 7, guests circulated around the art that was on display. The works included photography, fine art, printmaking and book arts. Attendees looked at scenes of bustling piazzas on a hot summer day, romantic gondola rides down a river, and the soothing pastels of the Tuscany countryside. Each piece told the story of the students’ unique experience spent at the birthplace of the Renaissance.

Talking with the students that night, it was clear their Italian adventure was not only educational, but one that will forever impact their work as artists.

“It was the greatest experience anyone could ever have,” said Shemonti Rattman, a junior textile design major from the School of Fashion. Rattman wanted to try her hand at another art medium so she enrolled in the photography program for her study abroad experience.

“I carried a camera with me everywhere to capture every moment,” she said.

Standing next to her photographs that depicted the people of Slovenia, one of many places she traveled, Rattman said her project was inspired by the passion Europeans had for their various hobbies and professions. She took pictures of juice makers, chefs, jewelers and musicians. One photograph showed a printmaker hard at work inside the printmaking workshop of the Bled Castle in Slovenia.

“These people love what they are doing and some have been doing it for 20 years. You don’t see that every day,” she said.


Gardens by Suyon Kwak. 9 x 12, oil on canvas.


Venezia by Grace Fitzpatrick. 11 x 14, oil on linen.

Seeing more than five countries during her time traveling on the weekends, Rattman said the international experience gave her gumption as a person and as an artist.

“It really influenced my work,” she said. “I learned how to be a risk taker and that is something I’ll be bringing back home with me.”

What students took away from their journey differed as every day brought new and unique experiences. The seven-and-a-half-week summer program from June to August is designed to broaden the students’ artistic education through the art, culture and history of Italy.

At the exhibit, students reminisced passionately about their time spent plein air painting in the countryside, snapping shots throughout the city, visiting museums and the valuable time spent in the studios of the Santa Reparata International School of Art, where the program is hosted.

For one student, Zhiwei Wang, it was walking the streets of Florence seeing the countless vendors selling cheap goods, many of whom are refugees, that inspired his printmaking installation, which was front and center at the exhibit.

“I was shocked by the refugee problem in the city,” said Wang, a web design and new media major. “Every corner had refugees selling stuff.”

The installation included 36, 10-inch-by-10-inch prints of blurry images strung together that hung from the ceiling. The prints represented goods being sold while the blurriness represented the motivation behind the consumer’s purchase; not for the sake of having the good, but instead to help support the refugee.

“When these people buy stuff, they don’t care about the price. It’s an action to try and help these people,” he said about the installation titled, Buy Low, Sell High.

Wang said exposure to this different way of life and working with the medium of printmaking, has brought more meaning to his web design projects saying, “It’s really added a deeper layer of meaning to my work.”

Student after student gushed about the trip’s influence on their art. Nimisha Doongarwal, a fine art student, said the plein air painting gave her confidence to try a new, more loose style of painting. Another textile design student, Emily McParty, made her own paper for the majority of her print and bookmaking projects, which she said inspired ideas for new textile patterns.

These kinds of influences are exactly what the study abroad instructors hope for in their students.

Zhiwei_Wang_BuyLowSellHigh_60x60_oil based ink-wax linen thread-metal wire_$5000-front

Buy Low, Sell High by Zhiwei Wang. 60 x 60, oil-based ink - wax, linen, thread, metal wire.

Now having taught two summer semesters in Florence, Meri Brin, a printmaking and book arts instructor, said exposure to a different culture makes the students really think about the message they want to portray in their art.

“It really opens their eyes and gives them perspective,” she said. “It allows them to see how they exist in the world and makes them think how they want their art to fit into it as well.”

The Summer Study Abroad Exhibit at the 688 Sutter Gallery will be open until Jan. 2, 2018. The 2018 summer study abroad program will offer fine art drawing and painting, art and architectural history, printmaking and book arts and photography. The Liberal Arts Department and the School of Art History will also run a three-week traveling course throughout Europe. For more information on the summer study abroad program, please visit