An Interview with Jeffrey Carson

5, May 2016 § Leave a comment

Jeffrey Carson, professor of creative writing, art history and literature at the Aegean Center, has recently been interviewed for Parola magazine.

In an in-depth article, Jeffrey reflects on living in Paros since the 1970s along with his wife, photography professor Elizabeth Carson.

“When we first came here in the sixties, we stayed for six months, and then we went back so that both of us could finish our university education. We decided to come back to Paros in the early seventies because I wanted to try writing and my wife wanted to bring her cameras and become a real photographer.  We both did that an until now we are still doing it. When we remembered Paros and our six months here, the photos were beautiful, it was quiet.  It was nothing like the modern world, nothing like New York… We are both New Yorkers.  There were almost no cars.  They had just started the ferry boat.

We lived in an old house, a ‘katoikia,’ we had a donkey and we had a well.  There were no people in the countryside, our light was from oil lamps and we thought this was very poetic.  And although it was difficult, it was poetic.”

Jeffrey also describe his role as a teacher at the Aegean Center since its early years, writing the first guidebook of Paros, and translating all of Elytis’ poems.

“When I was 22 years old, I bought a book called “Four Modern Poets of Greece” — Seferis, Kavafis, Sikelianos and Elytis.  And when I got to Elytis’ poems about the Aegean, I said ‘This is what I am trying to do.  He does it better!’  So I started, as I learned Greek, teaching myself from school books, doing little translations to understand the poems better, and after I’d been doing this for four years — but not seriously — I met Nikos Sarris and he was in love with Elytis.  So we talked and talked and talked and then we made a few translations together.  We sent them to Elytis and he wrote back saying,  “These are the best translations of my work I have ever read.” And that’s how we started.  And then he said “Do you want more?”  So we did.  We translated everything.”

Jeffrey also discusses the changes he has seen in Paros and Greece in the more than forty years that he has lived on Paros and among many other anecdotes, about the time he brought the first piano to Paros:

The piano was made in 1888 I bought in Athens at Nakas’s and six of us guys had to carry it across the field up to my house.  Within two years children started knocking at my door.  “Give me lessons!  Give me lessons”  for all kinds of instruments because they knew I had been a high school music teacher in New York.  So I taught violin, clarinet, flute and accordion.  So all the kids who knew how to read music in Paros learned from me.”

You can read the full interview here.

At the Met Museum, January 12th

14, March 2012 § 1 Comment

Before our winter trip to America, mostly to see our family in sunny San Diego, we invited friends and students of the Aegean Center to join us at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. (I don’t say former students, since I still think of them – of you – as ongoing students and colleagues.) We had done this two years ago, when twenty-five joined us. This year another twenty-five managed to come, and we made a rich day of it.

Most of these students heard about this on Facebook, so it seems the site is actually good for something other than exclamation points. And Elizabeth and I were delighted that so many are living in or near the city, or were there for the holidays. New York is our home city, and the labyrinthine Metropolitan is the museum we know best.

The oldest student was Drew Weidemann, whose pictures of the event can be found on Franklin Einspruch’s site, here: http://www.artblog.net/post/2012/01/carson. Drew, now a professional photographer (www.drewwiedemann.com) was a student twenty years ago, and Franklin was a student a few years later and then an assistant to Jane; now he is a painter and noted art critic. Christine Linclau, a student a mere decade ago, only found out at the last minute, and came down from her office at the museum, where she is digital librarian, to greet us all.  Jessica Freedman, working at a gallery, came at the end. The youngest – well, there were several nineteen year olds – was probably Anna Deming. None of our students, of course, is ignorant about art, its lessons and delights. And John Masters and Jackie Massari are again here on Paros, trying not to be too distracted by Aegean spring.

The Met is huge, and a selection must be planned. Since all of us had studied Greek art together, and most of us had studied Italian Renaissance art together in Italy, we naturally stayed close to the Mediterranean. But we also wandered.
Did the museum know we were coming? For it had mounted one of the best shows we have seen in years: “The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini” – spacious room after room of Italian portraits from about 1425 to about 1515, by artists including Donatello, Filippo Lippi, Botticelli, Verrocchio, Ghirlandaio, Pisanello, Mantegna, Bellini, and Antonello da Messina. Our etesian September often focuses on the new conception of individuality the Italian cities achieved, not based entirely on mere class and lineage. Men and women wanted to be portrayed as they were, but with intimations of inner vitality and strength. In the Bargello Museum in Florence, I often point to Donatello’s terracotta bust of Niccolò da Uzzano as the first true example of this new sensibility; though that piece did not make the journey, Donatello’s silver Reliquary of Saint Rossore, from the Pisa Museum, did.


In the same room as this masterpiece, a realistic drawing by Fra Angelico again demonstrated that Fra Giovanni was not a mediaeval holdover but at the forefront of the new movement formulated by Brunelleschi and given theoretic expression in 1435 by Alberti, who wrote in his treatise on painting in 1435: “Painting represents the dead to the living many centuries later, so that they are recognized by spectators with pleasure and deep admiration for the artist.” We saw Botticelli at his most poetic, Ghirlandaio at his most psychologically profound, and Bellini at his most empathetic – this is as great as painting gets.

The exhibition’s sculpture was equally brilliant; it is often noted that, before Leonardo, painters followed the lead of sculptors. What age of sculpture has ever surpassed the Quattrocento from Donatello to Michelangelo, with stops along the way for Verrocchio, Desiderio, and Benedetto da Maiano? Benedetto’s two heads of Filippo Strozzi, a rich banker, were of especial fascination. The terracotta one, surely done from life, was meditative and detailed, while the marble one, in fulfillment of the commission, was more abstract and idealized. Going back and forth between them, one could see how the artist made the inner and outer man two aspects of a complete person, public and private, spiritual and political, sensitive and stern; it was astonishing.

There were medals by Pisanello, drawings pricked for fresco translation by Ghirlandaio and Mantegna, illuminated manuscripts – and for some inexplicable reason, not too many people, so that we, a large group, could linger and discuss. But after our two-and-a-half hours in the show we were ready for a rest.

Meeting friends with whom one has much in common – in this case Paros, Italy, the Aegean Center, and art – is always a delight, and we lingered over lunch in the museum’s cafeteria. But then we got back to work, and going back nearly two thousand years, looked at Greek art, which so inspired the Italian Renaissance in its realism and craft, and is so different in its search for essential ideals, for the serenely heroic. Of course we visited the Girl with a Dove from Paros. I think most of us were thrilled that we could so readily compare what we were seeing with works we had studied together in Rome and Athens.


Athens and Florence, so disparate in time and culture, both believed that proportion, fidelity to nature, and reason were divine. Both were independent republics, whose citizens were extremely interested in the arts and so knowledgeable. And Venice and Paros made accommodation for sea light. There is more than one bloom of humanism, but its root is the respect for the individual in the world.

After a coffee break, we all opted for more: Titian, Rubens, Vermeer, and Velazquez. All in all, we were in the museum six hours, and left in high spirits, more exhilarated than tired. That is the effect art and knowledge are supposed to have. On the way out we stopped to contemplate the eagle from Giovanni Pisano’s great Pistoia pulpit, otherwise complete. Probably no one had looked at it, lost in its big mediaeval hall, for a year. Let this eagle be our inspiration till next time, and call us – Drew, Franklin, Christine, Anna, Lauren, Emily, Emily, Jackie, John, Christopher, Carter, Adrian, Shirin, Nikay, Jessica, Jessica, Kristin, Barbara, Brie, Arielle, Ves, Johanna, Jade, Michelle, Liz, and Jeff – to attention on what matters.

– Jeffrey Carson

Aegean Center’s Art History “Class” at NYC’s MET, December 22!

7, December 2009 § Leave a comment

Jeffrey and Jun at the Louvre in 2005

Art History means knowing the history of art – societal expectations, stylistic norms, symbols, social and religious context, commercial background, and more.  You need it to recognize skill, freshness, and intention, and to develop taste, which is to say personal preference based on knowledge and discrimination. And as history illuminates art, so art illuminates history. Art appreciation means having enough aesthetic sensitivity based on knowledge to form your own opinions – which is more than “I like/dislike it.”  So art’s history and appreciation are intimately connected.   And if you love art, it is a joyful lifetime study.

In the autumn of 2008 and spring of 2009, a lot of students who had studied Art History with Jeff, Liz, John, Jane, and Jun in Italy and in Greece, upon learning that Elizabeth and I were to be in New York City this Christmas, requested that we take them around the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This would be a reunion based on study and recognition of what we all care deeply about.  Since this is the museum where Elizabeth and I, New Yorkers both, first learned about the art of the world, we have a special affection for it, and we agreed.

Our time in the City will be only a few days, and we perforce have many obligations, but we have now made a date.  We will meet students (siblings and partners welcome) who are able to join us on Tuesday, December 22, at 10:30 a.m., at the big central desk in the museum’s lobby. Our e-mail is carson@otenet.gr.

What should we look at first, the Girl with a Dove from Paros or Giovanni Pisano’s Pulpit Eagle from Pistoia?  Or maybe the giant crèche with its 18th-century Neapolitan carved wood figures under the tree?

See you there!

–Jeffrey Carson

The Aegean Center Student Reading

7, June 2009 § Leave a comment

Mariel

Mariel Capanna reads a sample of her poetry at the Aegean Center student reading

On a warm Tuesday evening on May 26, the students of the Aegean Center creative writing course gave a reading to a crowded audience at the Center to kick off a week of Aegean Center related events.  The members of the class, Mariel Capanna, Carrie Cooley,  Shaun James,  Lliam Storms, Chelsey Ternes, Lily Tucker,  and Carter Umhau all read from their collections of writings over the course of the semester.  Creative Writing Professor Jeffrey Carson introduced the students by noting the diversity of work and the methodology of the Creative Writing workshop, noting how some of the pieces being read where even still works in progress.   The reading was a true success as each writer gave a stirring and engaging reading of their poems, a fine start to a wonderful and busy week for the Aegean Center.

Jeffrey Carson: December in Rome

12, February 2009 § 3 Comments

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Part 3 of 3

On Saturday Jane, Liz, and I (John was out with his son) took bus #23 along the lungotevere and crossed the Tiber, a pretty ride.  We exited near the Castel Sant’ Angelo and crossed the bridge. A short walk found us at San Salvatore in Lauro, a Baroque church we had not visited before.  The crypt has been fixed up as an exhibition space. The exhibition was “Visions of the Grand Tour from the Hermitage 1640-1880”.  A few people waited with us for the 10:00 opening, and the ticket lady got easily confused.  The paintings were not the greatest, but there were many good pieces by Hubert Robert, Magnasco, and others of that kidney; there was even a Claude.  The subject matter, views of Rome, was in itself a pleasure, and we easily passed an hour-and-a-half. “Minor painters” doesn’t mean “bad painters”, and there was much to please the eye.

The day was pretty and we walked back through old streets new to us, and met John and Gabriel.

In the afternoon we returned to Bellini – again, first floor, coffee, second floor – and easily spent several more hours admiring his genius.  Technical master that he is, it is finally his humanity, wisdom, clarity, luminosity, and generosity of spirit that hold one. It was hard to leave, to bid farewell to some masterpieces probably forever.  But many we are sure to see again.

Back at the hotel we bade goodbye to Adrian, and then went to dinner at Al Pompiere, one of our regular restaurants and once the ghetto’s firehouse, half a block from the hotel. I had  fried artichokes (a ghetto specialty), grilled sweetbreads, and puntarella (a crispy green) with an anchovy dressing.

On Sunday morning we went to pick up our machine from San Eustachio. Then bought materials to make it breakproof and handleable.

Then we set off for the Palazzo del Quirinale, which is open only on Sunday mornings, and which contains a fresco by Melozzo da Forlì, part of which is in the Vatican and very beautiful.  We have never managed to get there in time.  A heels-clicking officer informed us politely that the palace was closed a month for the holidays: curses, foiled again.

But it was a beautiful day, so we went for a long walk.  When we reached the Pantheon we went in.  Usually when we are there in September it is so crowded as to be unbearable.  Now there were no more than a dozen people inside, and we renewed our long acquaintance with one of the world’s most noble, soaring, and amazing (it leaves you amazed) interior spaces.  We nodded to Raphael in his tomb.

After the requisite coffee, we went to the Museo Barracco, which has reopened after years of restoration.  We were the only ones there.  It contains a private collection of antique sculpture (Assyrian, Egyptian, Cypriot, Phoenician, Etruscan, Greek and Roman) which Giovanni Barracco, a rich Calabrese nobleman, donated in 1904. The elegant building is by Antonio da Sangallo from 1516. Naturally, it was the Greek pieces that most interested us.  Liz took plenty of digital snapshots as an aid to memory.  On our way back we stopped into Sant’ Andrea delle Valle, whose dome is so important to the skyline of Rome.  In every church we visited we delighted in the presepio (crèche), for which the Italians have a genius.  The only positively ugly one we saw, with big, inflated, plastic, squat figures, was in the Pantheon.

For fifteen years our favorite place to eat has been Casa Bleve.  Anacleto and his wife Tina Bleve have now retired, and their sons run the fancy place, and two nephews the old wine shop in the Ghetto.  In September we ate at the former, so this time we ate at the latter.  We drank several bottles of fine wine accompanied by plates of cold cuts, cheeses, smoked fish, and salads.  We all felt very happy.  Maybe just one more grappa….

Afterwards we took a long walk to sober up, had our last coffee at San Eustachio, and went back to the hotel to pack.  John and Liz did a great job on making our new bundles portable. For dinner we walked to Trastevere and had a porchetta panino from a street stand.  The streets, as they had been every evening, were animate with strollers.

Done.

On Monday we took a van to the airport.  Our flight from Athens to Paros had been cancelled a week before, and we stayed at a hotel near the airport.  The wind was howling as we walked twenty minutes to a taverna, but the local moschato wine was welcoming.

On Tuesday we flew to Paros.  Owing to wind, we weren’t sure that the plane would leave, but when the former mayor – now a politico in Athens – showed up, we knew it would, and the flight was smooth.  We were properly greeted by dog and cats. And our cyclamen plant was putting out new flowers.

Jeffrey Carson: December in Rome

6, February 2009 § Leave a comment

jeffrey-carson-in-rome-2

Part 2 of 3

On Thursday, sunny and bright, we took the bus up along the Corso, and then walked a few blocks until we found the Casa di Goethe. Carefully refurbished, it opened a few years ago; this was our first visit. The exhibition was “Italians in Weimar: Italian drawings from the 16th to the 19th centuries.” Our kind of stuff: sheets by Carracci, Rosa, and others whose drawings are often better than their paintings. The permanent collection of Goethe memorabilia – letters, paintings, and such – was also worthy, and we stayed about an hour-and-a-half. Then we walked to the nearby Piazza del Popolo, but the church was closed. We browsed the Christmas stalls in the piazza, stopped into two small churches, and then took the bus, a small electric job, to the Ghetto, where we like an inexpensive little Jewish trattoria, where Liz had braised beef with rughetta and I tripa ala romana.

The previous day we had made reservations to visit the Palazzo Farnese. We had attempted several times in the past to get there, but success evaded us. Our reservation was accepted at the last minute – it is open only Thursday and Sunday afternoons, and one must take a tour in either Italian or French. The palace, the largest in Rome, is a High Renaissance masterpiece by Antonio da Sangallo; the top story and cornice are by Michelangelo. It has been the French embassy since 1874, and is immaculately maintained. When we got there, standing by one of the two fine fountains in the piazza, we realized that we had forgotten our reservation paper, and Gabriel ran back to the hotel to get it and also identification. Our tour was in French, but since we knew whereof our polite and pretty guide spoke, we understood well enough. What a beautiful place, quiet and polished: the “neoclassical” courtyard, the formal garden, the beige stone courtyard with travertine trim, all perfect. Perhaps the highlight is the Camerino frescoed by Annibale Carracci, Caravaggio’s great rival. It is tastefully lit and beautifully decorated, and contains fine classical statues in the niches; the mythological scenes of the Loves of the Gods are a dancing mixture of exuberance and restraint, libidinous and learned. Baroque decorative painting starts here.

We needed a walk. Off to San Eustachio to admire our machine, and to drink a cup. From there we went to San Luigi dei Francesi, which was in restauro, and thence to San Agostino to admire Caravaggio’s moving Madonna di Loreto (the peasant with the dirty feet), Raphael’s Michelangelesque Isaiah, Andrea Sansovino’s lovely marble Madonna and Child with Saint Anne, and Jacopo Sansovino’s fine but ickily venerated Madonna del Parto.

For dinner we all walked to a fancy place near the Farnese. It is fashionable and lively and has good food. Liz had tonno carpaccio and scallopini di limone. I had two-color pasta with ceci and clams. Fresh frutti di bosco suited all for dessert, and a Sicilian white wine proved extremely refreshing. The gently twinkling Christmas lights strung over many street of the Centro Storico echoed our mood accurately.

Back in the room, I thought to put the television on after I lay down, but fell asleep before I managed it. Liz was already asleep.

Friday again was sunny. Liz and I strolled about the Campo. Later, we went, mostly by bus, to the new Museo di Corso to see a great exhibition: “From Rembrandt to Vermeer: Civil values in 17th century Flemish and Dutch painting”. The museum is another refurbished old palazzo. There were two paintings by Rembrandt, a couple by Rubens, a couple by De Hoogh (one a masterpiece), and the general level was very high. They all came from Berlin’s Gemaldegalerie, and among them was Vermeer’s Woman with a Pearl Necklace, a masterpiece of the geometry of light. Elegantly dressed, she admires herself in a mirror on the wall. One of Vermeer’s great ones, it can be quietly contemplated for a long time. This was a perfect show for us, for it does not compete in the mind with Bellini – the sensibility is too different.

We went for a walk, and ended up at a shop where Jane had purchased a blouse on the preceding day. Liz bought a silk scarf. The shop’s owner took us to his girlfriend’s little restaurant, where we had lunch. We spoke Greek with her, who lived much of two decades in Rhodes. Liz and Jane had beef with various pâtés, I had a voluptuous crostone, and John had tiny gnocchi. After a walk past the Trevi fountain, we indulged in gelato at Giolitti.

John had booked tickets for a 5:00 o’clock concert in Sant’ Agnese, Borromini’s undulating church on the Piazza Navona. The church has been renovated, and though small feels spacious and sparkling; the over-the-top statuary is by Algardi’s followers. The concert was in Borromini’s sacristy, which has just reopened. An excellent Norwegian violinist played a Bach Partita, then a virtuosic modern piece, and then, accompanied by an Italian pianist, the Franck sonata, which I always enjoy, vulgar though it be.

We ate at an old favorite, Da Sergio, where I had boiled beef and cicoria. O.K., I admit it, I had another gelato for dessert.

Fall 2008 at the Aegean Center

8, October 2008 § Leave a comment

The Aegean Center is back on Paros and well into our first week of classes, having just returned from an exhilarating month in Italy. Curious about what we do there? Read Jeffrey Carson’s article in the September Paros Life. Pictured above is drawing and painting student Silina Pandelidou trying her hand at glass blowing at a workshop in Murano.

In other news, this semester’s digital photography students are the first to enjoy our brand new Piezography Lab. Set in a beautifully illuminated space just around the corner from our main building, the lab is equipped with state of the art systems for image processing and printing. Thanks to the generosity of Jon Cone, we are able to supply our students with the very best ink available for producing black and white images of the highest quality and permanence. For more information on Jon Cone and Piezography, click here.

Alicia Stallings will kick off our new season of visiting artists and lecturers with a poetry reading at the Aegean Center on Friday, October 10 at 7PM.

Welcome… officially!

13, June 2008 § Leave a comment

Picture of Professor Jeffrey Carson, circa 1988, by Aegean Center alum  Julian Parker-Burns

We would like to officially welcome you to our blog, as well as to our recently revamped website at www.aegeancenter.org. Check back here for more Aegean Center news and events, as well as alumni updates, archival images and Paros highlights. With the new semester will also come student diaries and student work in progress.

If you are an Aegean Center alum and are still working in the arts, or have exciting news to tell, send us an email at aegeancenterblog@gmail.com, and we’ll feature your news on these pages.

Have you got an image of Paros or the Aegean Center from the 60s, 70s or 80s? Add it to our historical archive, again at aegeancenterblog@gmail.com. Pictured above is our very own Jeffrey Carson in the courtyard of the Church of 100 Doors in 1988.

Check back soon for pictures from the Spring 2008 Student Art Exhibition.

The Aegean Center Staff (circa 1980)

14, May 2008 § 4 Comments


The picture above was taken by a student in 1980, of Nick Loucas (painting teacher), Gail Wetzel (Brett Taylor’s wife), Gretchen Kiener (student), Elizabeth Carson (photography teacher), Jeffrey Carson (creative writing teacher), and Brett Taylor (director).

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