Provence is a country to which I am always returning, next week, next year, any day now, as soon as I can get on a train.
It was perfect. A picnic in Provence where it is so simple, so easy, it’s practically laid out for you! Bouncing around visiting the little ancient villages perched on hilltops you are bound to bump into one of the farmer’s markets that migrates daily from town to town. Stalls of cheeses, cured meats, fresh eggs, provencal olives, rustic breads, almond based sweets and the most delicious seasonal produce all lined up for discovery. There is no flashy marketing, just the country staples.
It brought me such joy.
We’d pick up a bottle of local wine which, in this region, is treated much more like a casual daily ritual than a precious commodity. More like an expression of joy from the earth and the community, and the simple pleasures of life. I bought an old monogrammed linen sheet from a yard sale which provided ample space for all our accompaniments to rest in afternoons under cherry trees, or hilltop vistas, lying down for a nap or to read a book, or even just listening quietly to my Renoir playlist as I watched the clouds roll by in all their funny shapes up there in that big blue sky.
Every so often, you meet someone in a way that could only be described as serendipitous. Such was the case when we traveled to SCAD Lacoste and met photography professor Kyle Ford, a fine-art photographer who normally is based at the SCAD Hong Kong campus, but just so happened to be teaching the summer session photography classes at SCAD Lacoste.
As we know well, I love talking to other photographers…it’s always such a pleasure and honor to engage with people about their passions, especially when it’s in a field that I know and love myself. So it wasn’t long before Kyle and I were planning a photo adventure in a Provençal vineyard and closing the night at a spectacular restaurant with our conversation about his path to photography, why he chooses film, and the research and thought behind the work he creates now…
What was your first photograph?
I was seven years old, and there was a competition I think my mother encouraged me to participate in. She was a painter, an artist, and perhaps she was hoping I would draw something or paint something, but I ended up photographing something. It was a tree. I photographed what I thought was a ghost, and I thought that was great as a seven-year-old…it was really my breath in front of the camera.
In the midst of this tranquil medieval village exists a little shop bursting with color and excitement, filled to the brim with artists’ supplies and the works created with them…welcome to shopSCAD Lacoste.
At first SCAD Lacoste used the building, called La Galerie Pfriem, as a gallery for visiting artists as well as a small shop for students to buy art supplies. However, President Paula Wallace began to dream of a full-fledged shopSCAD in Lacoste. And this July, after months of shopping for furniture and decor from nearby markets and after taking a week to hang up and style everything in the store, that dream became a reality.
Amy Zurcher, the co-founder of the original shopSCAD eleven years ago, said that she chose pieces that represented a variety of mediums and price points. As we walked through the store, we found a stuffed and decorated monkey by alumni Marcus Kenney, gorgeous mixed-media pieces by Katie Runnels, paintings, jewelry, home goods, all of it beautiful and all of it created by students and alumni from SCAD.
It’s exciting to walk through and see so many different, beautiful pieces, and then to wander into the back room filled with artists’ supplies and blank canvases…perhaps the inspiration I take from here will move me to make art of my own…
Every corner you turn in this town has another surprise – streets strewn with bright purple lavender, stone archways glowing in the warm sunlight, vines creeping up the walls of ancient homes. But nowhere was there a better surprise than our incredible stay at SCAD‘s La Residence.
I knew from our previous trip with SCAD down to Savannah, GA that we were going to be put up in style, but La Residence is something else entirely. Encased in yellow-toned ancient Roman stone walls that glow in the damp early morning and cool peaceful evening, it beckons you inside to have a glass of wine by the courtyard pool, relax in the art-filled salon, until you finally lay your head to rest on the most beautiful, crisp, French linen sheets.
Lacoste is a fantasy come to life~ I never could believe my eyes each morning when I looked out my Provence pale blue shuttered window to a landscape of vineyards, cobble-stoned pathways, sunflower fields and lavender…and there’s nowhere better to stay and take it all in than La Residence, SCAD’s guest house for artists, parents, and acclaimed visitors…aren’t we so lucky…
Walking along the dusty ancient Roman cobblestone streets, I felt as if I was walking in a fairytale: students opening charming blue shutters to their doom rooms in renovated medieval buildings, local rosé wine flows out of bottles and into glasses more often than water, cream colored streets devoid of car clutter lead you to an overlook of the valley full of vineyards, lavender fields, cherry orchards, and rows of sunflowers, people stop by on their evening walk home to join you in your walled courtyard, attracted by the laughter of friends.
It was almost as if time stood still here, frozen in perfect bloom, simplistic in its approach to a beautiful life. Art, History, Nature, Food, Wine, Friends…. what more do you need? I stood here, I smelled the damp air in the rising sun and looked out over the colors of a Renoir painting and felt the inspiration of so many past.
When you come to Lacoste, you come to the French home of SCAD and the heart of many…
Oh my darling, cling to me
For we’re creatures of the wind
And wild is the wind, the wind
Wild is my love for you
“Music is a huge influence for us,” explains Shane Gabier during their fashion workshop. “It lends a cinematic quality to life,” adds his partner, Christopher Peters. It makes sense that music drives the designers – the lines above, from the song “Wild Is the Wind”, are where they got the name for their line, Creatures of the Wind.
Gabier and Peters started their quirky and stylish line in 2007 in Chicago, where Gabier worked as a fashion design professor. Their first collection, Spring 2011, caught the attention of Barney’s, and from there the line grew in size and esteem, receiving such esteemed fashion design awards as the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund in 2011 and the CFDA Swarovski Award for Womenswear. Now based in New York City, Shane and Christopher continue to bring their unique vision to the fashion industry.
One of the many amazing features of SCAD Lacoste are the three day intense workshops they create for the students, bringing in industry talent to interact one-on-one with students and give them a taste of what it’s like to make your passion into a real living with practical, hands on advice. The fashion students’ task, set up by The Creatures (as we call them), was to pair up and create a collection based on abstract expressions, which they had to show via various sketches and inspiration boards. As seniors, each of these students will spend the entire year working up to a final collection of their creation. This workshop acted as a boot camp on getting inspiration, figuring the individual stories they want to tell, and learning to express their ideas in physical pieces. The girls worked hard for several days in the brightly lit studio of Maison Basse, and after receiving tips and encouragement from Gabiers and Peters, presented their final sketches, taking the next step toward becoming designers themselves.
We were able to stop by the workshop and hear the sage advice of the wonderfully creative Creatures boys…
“It’s important to work with other people – to react to what they show you, to react to their reactions of what you bring, to explore every tangent and every path to see where you go and what connects with you…that will ultimately help you make your work.”
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.