Remember how we fell in love with SCAD in Savannah, Georgia? How we figured out how to put the pieces in place so that all our creative dreams could have a greater chance of coming true…. well, I found out they had a campus in the south of France which is just a totally unfair to those of us NOT in school anymore, and wildly romantic and inspiring for these students who are or will be to nurture their creative talent in a place so famous for the arts (ok, THIS and THAT and ooooo, THIS)
Many students arrive on the Savannah College of Art & Design Lacoste campus and immediately start singing songs from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast… I mean, how can you not, it’s a medieval town with blue shutters on all the windows, lace curtains, flowers everywhere and whose residents number only in the hundreds. So, first question. How does an art school end up in a tiny village made of stone on top of a hill?
Bernard Pfriem, a Texan painter and sculptor, fell in love with Lacoste after he bought a home there, and founded Lacoste School of the Arts in 1970. After Pfriem’s death in 1996, the school lost its champion and began to fall into disrepair. Several colleges traded partnership with the school, but it was a chance encounter with one of SCAD’s historic preservationists that eventually led to SCAD taking control in 2002 and doing what SCAD does best… saving, renovating, and turning it into one of the greatest creative institutions.
Today, an intimate number of 80 selected students can study abroad at SCAD Lacoste in four different sessions of the year, though the classes work on a rotating schedule. When we came to visit earlier this summer, there were courses in fashion, screenwriting, photography, animation, documentary film, art history, and printmaking. Walking around the campus, which reaches from Cafe de Sade at the bottom of the hill to the famous Château de Lacoste at the top, it’s easy to see why anyone would want to study the arts here. Away from the noise and distractions of city life, you can focus in on your thoughts, dreams, talents all the while having the tools and top notch technology provided to you by SCAD.
Some may be surprised that people choose to study in a small medieval village, but for these students, there’s not much better than this provincial life of making memories and art as bright as the fields of sunflowers.
First let’s set the scene…(brace yourself for jealousy)
Maison Basse began as a one-room farmhouse built on top of 13th century Roman ruins in the valley between Lacoste and Bonnieux. If that’s not a beginning, I don’t know what is. Since then, it has lived many lives – as a silkworm farm, an inn, and a guesthouse and gambling space for the de Sade family. After SCAD had successfully saved a 13th century Roman wall, back to the whole champions of historic preservation thing, they ended up with a new project on their hands, that of Maison Basse took many years of work and perseverance to complete and now sits proudly in view down in the valley from any window up on the hill of Lacoste where the rest of the campus classrooms live.
Below you will see how it functions as student housing, classrooms, art studios, and a community shared living space taking this historic building from old farmhouse to the future of art…
Students can wait for car rides from the main campus to Maison Basse, but on nice days, most of them opt to take the ancient Roman road which winds through gorgeous forest as it travels from the farmhouse back up to the village…
Below~ looking back on Maison Basse in the valley from within the walls of Lacoste.
The fashion students were huddled over sketchbooks in the bright natural lit studio, working on their creations for Advanced Fashion Sketching. Taught the use of croquis – a quick, sketchy drawing – and body proportions for fashion drawing, the girls quickly infuse their images with their own personal style and vibe. Many of the images involved different mediums – some students using pens and pencils, others, watercolors or collage. By the end of the eight week course, the students will have a portfolio to expand upon in their continuing studies back at SCAD and ultimately their own fashion collection.
How do these students put their cameras down?? Everywhere in this village is beauty. But professor Kyle Ford’s goal for his students is not just to create beautiful pictures, but to develop a voice and style in order to express a narrative, whether it’s through his Photo 1 class, Travel Photography, or Architectural Photography. We stopped in on a critique during a section of Travel Photography and were amazed to find so many different stories being told: from an artistic nude editorial to a collection of black and white images based on the concept of deja vu to a full-on fashion shoot.
Though film photography wasn’t being taught this quarter, you can always find a darkroom somewhere on a SCAD campus!
We were able to join some photo students on a trip to nearby Roussillon. The village houses one of the largest ochre deposits in the world. Because of this, the buildings are all warm-toned, ranging from pale yellow to a deep brick red. The students walked around the village together, poking through shops and eating gelato, but mainly photographing each other (and their professor!) in the glowing afternoon light.
Part of what makes SCAD so incredible is their ability to pull in top-tier talent to work with students, such as guest professor Geoffrey Fletcher. If his name isn’t familiar to you, don’t worry – his work is. Geoffrey won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for the movie Precious. That’s right, these students are taking a screenwriting course from an Oscar winning screenwriter. No big deal.
(Also, we can’t go without mentioning the table tennis tournament that was happening between students and professors while we were in Lacoste. Everyone knew Geoff was the man to beat…especially because his ping-pong nickname was Zeus!)
Above & Below~ Mr. Fletcher discusses character development and writing as the students take turns reading short screenplays which are read and acted aloud at the table by fellow students.
Set up in a classroom that used to be a Roman cave dwelling (literally), these students use various techniques to create different prints. A restored print and press from Lacoste School of the Arts sits in the corner looking almost like a mechanical art installation with its large gears and long jutting handles. The students this quarter are lucky – resident artist Ingrid Calame is working with them, creating prints from the cave walls around them. Ingrid does large rubbings with the students, creating abstract prints from the “traces of human influence on a space”.
Printmaking chair and professor Robert Brown says the best part of being able to work with Ingrid is that students are participating in creating her new body of work…what an incredible hands-on experience!
The sign on the library may be fading, but you can still make out the word boulangerie – the French word for bakery. When you walk inside, however, the only pastries you’ll see are ones that students bring in to help them study in what is now the library.
It’s truly incredible to see what SCAD has done with the space, keeping structural features from the original building and using them creatively for a new purpose. The former oven has been converted into a comfortable reading nook; old fireplace mantels display bright, modern art pieces. The walls are now lined with around 5,000 books (which was quite the battle in a village where most cars are too big to drive on the cobblestone streets!)
The students spend eight weeks taking classes and living together in the village. They joke around that there’s a bit of an “art camp” vibe to the quarter as they spend nearly all of their time together: in and out of class, swimming at the Maison Basse Pool, attending the annual Bastille Day Party, or just hanging out around the town. Previous students have described their time in Lacoste as life-changing…and it’s not hard to see why.
Au revoir from Lacoste!
More love for SCAD- see the original main campus here!
All of our Provençal adventures: