“I could write a book here,” was my hankering on walking up the worn medieval steps to the tapestry-lined Baron’s Room at Potentino Castle. Wall hangings aside, the view through the weathered window gazing out to mystical Montegiovi inspired me to scribe something soulful.
Not an isolated occurrence, this call to creativity is commonplace for the talented types who are rewarded with residencies at Charlotte Horton and Alexander Greene’s home near Monte Amiata, in southern Tuscany.
Marina Contro, a San Francisco-based artist, hand weaver and textile designer, recently devoted a month to weaving, researching and experimenting with materials and methods historically used and cultivated in the local area.
“My residency was more about exploration than production,” Contro explains. “Many of the yarns I used for weaving were spun right at the castle … I made a set of hemp napkins, yardage for bags using hemp, linen, wool and nettle, and a wool blanket. The castle’s fountains are thought to be Etruscan, so I did some research alongside my weaving work about Etruscan textiles. Much of what we know about them today is what we see in grave paintings, which meant I visited a couple of necropoli.”
In another spin on the story, Alyson Hallett become the castle’s resident poet last year, penning a book of prose and poetry titled The Golden Bowl. In the introduction, Hallett comments, “Sometimes in a writer’s life a chance comes along unlike any other. My ten days in Potentino was one of these chances.” Further on in the publication, Hallett writes, “The following texts are not intended to be read as perfectly finished pieces – rather they are studies, or sketches, that map my days and nights in the castle.”
Hallett’s musings have been printed under a newly formed imprint, which comes as no surprise given that both Horton and Greene hail from successful publishing careers. (Alexander’s father was the nephew of the famous novelist Graham Greene.) “We have started The Potentino Press with this first publication and are selling copies of it in our Potentino Emporio, along with other creations from our collaborations and friends,” explains Horton. “Alyson is also writing the lyrics/libretto for a piece of music that our castle composer Mark Springer is working on about insects, micro life and mycelium in the valley.”
There’s no method to selecting the creative residents. “It’s totally random,” says Horton. “I meet or am introduced to someone interesting, and if we get on, I’ll invite them to the castle. Our creative residencies are cross-disciplinary, so it could be any art or craft whatsoever.”
Next year’s resident artists are Susan Barbour, a British poet-scholar artist and perfumer, and Charlie Murphy, whose art practice spans glass, light, sculpture, photography, performance and video.