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Meet the Higgins Scholars: First, enjoy

Interview with Anita Hayashi
Studio art and art history major Anita Hayashi '05 was awarded an Alice Higgins Scholarship to help finance her study of Italian and painting restoration techniques in Italy. Anita wanted to use her time in Italy to improve her knowledge about Renaissance buildings and art by studying them first-hand. On her return she hoped to apply some of that knowledge to her own artwork. In a recent conversation, summarized below, she talked about her trip and the importance of art in her life.

Tell me what you did during your month in Italy.

During the first week I studied intensive Italian at Il Sillabo, a school of Italian language and culture in San Giovanni, a town about 30 minutes from Florence by train. I was excited about visiting San Giovanni because it's the birthplace of the Renaissance artist Masaccio. During the next three weeks I lived in Grassina, also near Florence, and attended La Cantoria Restoration School. There were only two other students besides me in the class, so it was really personalized.

The course consisted of three parts, lecture, drawing class and restoration class. During the lectures the professor talked about a lot of really interesting ideas. He emphasized how the job of art conservators is to conserve paintings and their history, not create art themselves. A conservator mustn't add his or her own colors or techniques to the object being restored. He or she must try to reconstruct the art object the way it was originally. The professor said that paintings are alive-living things. For example, canvas reacts to the environment, so over time it will stretch and shrink and develop cracks. That was really interesting because I never thought of paintings as being alive.

So you were being taught, not how to do your own painting, but how to imitate and complete the damaged work of another artist.

Yes. The professor said in this work your artistic ideas aren't important. Your job is to save the history.

As a studio art major, you're an artist yourself. So what was it like being told that your artistic ideas didn't matter?

It was really hard for me at the beginning, especially when I started to paint. The professor told me I was adding my own ideas of color and that's not what I was supposed to do. You become like a copy machine! But it was really important to know how to draw and to be aware of very subtle differences in a painting, for example between shades of gray. The conservator needs to know how to create different painting styles like, for example, sfumato.

Being in Italy made me think more about the nature of art. I think it's really important to teach art history, because art is a record of what people believe and think and feel. When I went to Italy I really needed to feel the art. Here in the U.S. a lot of people seem to think of art as entertainment, and I don't like that idea. In Italy I saw a lot of really beautiful religious paintings and I liked the idea of believing in God and worshipping. There was something very fundamental and spiritual in the paintings. So I couldn't help thinking "what is art," and I need to think more about it.

Did you see any painting that especially moved you?

I saw a tiny painting of the Madonna and Child by Masaccio in a corner at the Uffizi Palace. Masaccio died early in his life, I think in his twenties. That painting was so beautiful to me, because of the expression of the Madonna and the color blue that he used. That blue was really, really deep. It was a sad blue. But it was really beautiful. And even though it was a tiny painting, I couldn't stop staring at it because I felt like he put into it what he really believed.

A lot of people don't have the chance to study art and participate in that spiritual experience. I'm sad to hear how art classes are being cut out of the school curriculum in the United States, in Japan, everywhere.

For me, my own art is a way to identify myself. I can express how I feel and who I am.

Did you get a chance to travel in Italy?

My classes finished in the early afternoon, so I had some time to travel. I went everywhere--Venice, Rome, Siena, Pisa, Bologna! Italy is so different. I really had to be there to understand its atmosphere and history. I especially liked Siena. It was a really important city in the Middle Ages, but at some point time stopped and the city hasn't changed for 500 years. In Florence, by contrast, the buildings are from all different time periods.

What will you be doing for your senior thesis for studio art?

I really want to understand Renaissance architecture. I've seen the buildings, and I have a lot of pictures. So I'm taking a seminar, The Temple Builders: Architecture in Ancient Greece (ARTH215), to learn the fundamentals. There is a rationale for each architectural style, and also a feeling associated with it. I never thought that architecture had human characteristics, but I've gradually started to understand that it can. For example, my professor describes the Doric style as masculine because it's big and bulky.

I want to understand the kinds of impressions that buildings make on people, and then start designing my own buildings. I want to place people into a space that they will enjoy. The best approach to art is to enjoy first, and then start thinking.

In this assignment, Anita pasted a print of a painting onto a piece of canvas after removing a section of the upper left and lower right torso. She then filled in these "missing" sections herself using watercolor paint. Enlarge.


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Anita HayashiAnita shows one of the small practice pieces that she worked on at La Cantoria Restoration School.
 The importance of art

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At La Cantoria.

As a drawing exercise, Anita rendered part of Leonardo da Vinci's Lady with an Ermine in shades of gray, attempting to replicate the change in light and dark as accurately as possible. Enlarge.

Here, Anita begins to render Lady with an Ermine in color, using gouache (tempera) paint. Enlarge.

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