Italian Monuments and Masterpieces
13 SNC students go beyond the textbook in a two-week trip across Italy
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In the first week of January, professor Pierette Kupla traveled to Italy with a group of 13 Sierra Nevada College students as part of her Italian Monuments and Masterpieces art class.
Kulpa designed the class as a travel experience in which the students could connect with Italy’s art and culture on a deeper level than in a classroom setting.
“It’s especially important to see other cultures, and the best way to do that is to plunk yourself in another culture and learn to adapt,” Kulpa said. “When I first went abroad in 2003 to central Italy, it changed the course of my life. I wanted this class to have an everlasting effect.”
For most students, Kulpa’s goal did not fall short of the promise. Fine arts major Ian Von Herbulis said, “I was able to see so much stuff that I would have never known about through a regular art history class.”
This was Von Herbulis’s first trip outside the country. “When I arrived, I didn’t even know how to order a cup of coffee,” he said. “By the end of the trip, I had gained a greater love for travel than I’d ever had before.”
The group traveled to Rome, Florence and Venice on their two-week tour. Fine arts major Piera Bernhard, who took part in the trip, described walking through Italy as “the most incredible thing in the world… It’s like walking through a textbook. Every page is every corner of the street.”
Bernhard is a more seasoned traveler, having previously explored Italy by bicycle, but this trip was different. “When I visited Italy before, we didn’t stay in any hotels; we camped. It was more about adventure than taking the time to go into places and experience the art history,” she said.
Bernhard said that one of this trip’s highlights was witnessing Renaissance art being created by watching restoration specialists fabricate a masterpiece from a simple sketch. She said that she now wants to shift her career focus to art restoration.
Another highlight was exploring the underground world of first century Rome. “We went down into these dark and humid rooms and we were looking at first-century Roman tombs or someone’s patio,” Bernhard said. “Some of the mosaics are still in perfect condition. It’s unreal.”
Kulpa noticed that the trip had a powerful effect on Bernhard and Von Herbulis. “It was amazing to see these students undergo this vast transformation in just two weeks,” she said.
The students’ typical schedule was to wake up, gather together, then spend almost the entire day exploring museums, churches and monuments. Kulpa scheduled short breaks throughout each day so everyone could have a little time by themselves.
“Realistically, how long does everyone want to stand in a museum? I have a pretty low threshold for museums, and this is my field,” Kulpa said.
Kulpa wanted her class to experience classic Italian cuisine because “a very significant slice of Italian culture comes from its food.” When the group arrived in Florence, she contacted a former friend who had just opened a restaurant, and he prepared a huge banquet for the students.
“They didn’t even give us menus. They started wheeling out huge platters of meat and pasta,” Von Herbulis said. “I kept thinking to myself, wow, that was amazing, I’m so full… and then they’d bring out an entire new platter.” By the end of the meal, he said, “we were rolling out of that place.”
The students agreed that no textbook or Powerpoint slides could compare to the beautiful art they witnessed.
“Seeing the statue of David, I thought, the books don’t cut it,” Bernhard said. “Standing in front of the statue, you are just struck by the capacity of what people can create.”
Kulpa was pleased with the students’ response to the trip. “I enjoyed seeing them engage one-on-one with real works of art,” she said. “They see it in a different way, and I see them see it.”