What could be better than spending nearly two months living in a sun-drenched medieval Umbrian town? Restoring a stone gateway while you’re there, of course!
Stepping off the plane at Rome’s Fiumicino-Leonardo Da Vinci airport, I suddenly experienced a remarkable sense of calm. This was in stark contrast to how I’d been feeling in the past few weeks. Between making sure my passport was up to date, agonizing over all possible permutations of the decidedly few outfits I was (bravely) packing, and making sure I had several back-up travel plans, I barely had time to be excited about my trip. But when I stepped through the doorway of my new temporary home, a stone-walled, two-story apartment at the base of a gently sloping cobblestone road, my concerns quickly faded away.
About the Program
Resting atop a hill, with sweeping views of the surrounding Umbrian landscape, the sleepy town of San Gemini plays host each summer to the students of the San Gemini Preservation Studies program. Organized by the International Institute for Restoration and Preservation Studies, the program draws students from all over the world with interests in historic preservation, restoration, archaeology and paper and building conservation.
There are two sessions; the first from late May to early July, the second from mid-July to mid-August with a short, optional, field trip in-between. Class is held every day for four hours in the morning, followed by a three-hour break for lunch, then class meets again for another three hours in the late afternoon. Weekends are left open for students to relax or to travel.
My Path to San Gemini, Italy
After deciding that a career as an art curator wasn’t for me, I looked for inspiration from my other passion, historic preservation. Having received a Certificate in Historic Preservation from Rutgers University, I had some background in building conservation but was looking for some additional experience to help me determine if this was the path I really wanted to follow.
In addition to getting hands-on stone (or paper, or fresco) restoration experience, the San Gemini Preservation Studies program offers excellent opportunities to network, both with the highly respected preservation and restoration professionals who teach the courses and with peers, including local Italian students. While the courses are designed mainly for undergraduates, graduate students should still attend, if interested, but may find they are already familiar with some of the material. The town’s residents are welcoming and friendly and living in the town encourages use of students’ Italian language skills. Plus, who can beat a cup of gelato for just €1.80!
I chose this program because I wanted to find out if building conservation was really the field for me. Not only did the answer turn out to be Yes, but my new network of friends and colleagues became more like my extended family than just classmates. While I definitely recommend that you consider going, I can’t promise that, once you’re there, you’ll ever want to come back.
Julianne Wiesner-Chianese grew up in New Jersey and has a B.A. in Art History from Rutgers University. She is applying to graduate programs in building conservation and site management and hopes one day to both live and work in an historic property. She currently lives with her boyfriend in New York City.