Artist and teacher, Pheona, has come from the highlands and lowlands of Scotland and found herself very much at home in the luscious hills of Emilia Romagna, Italy, where she runs her popular painting holidays.
The journey here has had its ups and downs and fair share of hard work but Pheona’s obvious love and passion for all things art, from painting to sculpture to history, and her desire to pass on her skills to others has kept her going. Finally, she is now living here Italian dream.
We caught up with her to find out more about her, her vast art background and personal inspiration…
I have spent my entire adult life teaching art one way or another. I started when I was in art school by teaching art to children to pay my way through my course. Since then, I have taught people with mental health problems, learning difficulties, physical difficulties, and all ages and abilities. Art can have such a healing and therapeutic effect for so many people.
Latterly, I spent 20 years building up an excellent art department at Strathclyde University in Glasgow where I created fast track learning courses at undergraduate degree level. I also worked as a tutor for the Open College of Art also at degree level for decades. Another job I had for many years was Educational Advisor for Scotland for Windsor & Newton. This meant that Windsor & Newton gave me excellent training about the actual materials artists use.
I’ve been running the holidays for 8 years now. I love it. I meet people from all over the world and make friends from all walks of life. I teach art which I love. I get to share my love of this area with them.
I see people arrive tired, unsure, a bit strange, and then after a few days they have a tan, a healthy glow, they have made new friends, are producing good art, and have big smiles. No two days are the same and no two groups are the same and I thrive on this.
I have a job which is not a job – it is a passion.
I used to hear my students talking about art holidays they had been on (not always in the most positive way) and thought ‘I could do better than that’. A series of coincidences set my then partner and myself to look at a potential business opportunity to start an art school in Sicily. It turned out to be a bit of a scam but the dream was becoming a reality…
We then started looking elsewhere in Italy and the north of Italy seemed lovely, unspoilt, had good services, airports and so on, so we began looking at properties there.
Well, I always say that destiny brought this house to me. I was actually trying to buy a house in Marche but nothing was happening – then this house (Casa Appennino) came on the market. We were the first to view it, it seemed perfect, and then everything seemed to roll into place.
When we arrived it was a basic house but I had clear ideas about landscaping the garden and changing the décor to make it an art retreat. I had the idea of each self-contained apartment being a homage to an Italian artist; Michelangelo, Caravaggio and Botticelli. I have enjoyed copying the original paintings of these old masters so that guests can live with them, discuss them and get to know them out-with a gallery environment.
Every year I continue to improve the house and gardens, build in more art work and create better facilities for guests to work. You’ll realise that there was a ‘we’ at the beginning, anyway, 4 years later I have risen like a phoenix and am pretty happy on my own. In fact, there was an old stable/barn on the property and I have spent the last 4 years re-building this. It has been a kind of therapy; I have helped build the walls, put the roof on, done the plastering, tiling, welding, woodwork and so on and have also incorporated art work into the actual building. It is still not quite finished but not far off. I see it as a big sculpture!
I love this little part of Italy because it is just so beautiful. Even after 8 years I can still come around a corner and say ‘wow’ most days. The landscape constantly changes, the seasons each have their own personalities, the land is beautifully husbanded just as it has been for the last 1000 years I imagine (plus some tractors!).
There is no tourism so it is the ‘real’ Italy. The people are so friendly and welcoming. I feel very much at home here although I am obviously Scottish. Strange but true! Perhaps it is the Celtic connection, this area was inhabited by the Celtic peoples as was Scotland.
Well, I am more of a ‘maker’ than a drawer or painter. I could always draw and paint but I always want to learn something new and be challenged. I specialised in sculpture at art school (which must rank as the most useless degrees ever – but I followed my heart!). I also did a bit of printmaking and sneaked up to the drawing and painting evening classes to do life drawing. Even then I wanted to do everything!
Later, when my children were small I learned watercolour mainly because it was something I could pick up in the evenings. I do love people and so my main subject matter is portraits and figurative work. I use all mediums well and have become expert in oils, acrylics and watercolour. Also, as a teacher I like to learn things which will be useful to my students even if it is not particularly something I would choose to do on my own.
So anything arty, crafty, practical, I can do. Don’t ask me about numbers though. They seem to slip through my brain!
If you would like to see more about Pheona’s ‘Italian dream’, you can read more about her painting holiday here.