Set in the rolling hills of Tuscany, La Meridiana International School of Ceramics offers a full range of ceramics courses and residency programs for students at all levels. La Meridiana is open, and studios have been adapted to meet up-to-date COVID safety standards.
La Meridiana currently has 28 different courses & programs listed for 2021, beginning in April and ending in October. Courses are generally 1 week or 2 weeks long. (One 3-month residency program is already underway and a 2nd, 2-month residency program runs from October through December.) A list of 2021 classes can be found here.
The facility has 3 on-site apartments, ranging in cost from EUR200 – 400 per week (apx. $240 – $480 per week). In addition, students rent studio space at EUR200 per week (another $240). A week consists of 6 days (arrive Sunday after 3:00PM, depart on Saturday by 11:00AM). Students purchase clay and pay for firings (splitting costs of any firings). More cost information can be found on La Meridiana’s website.
In an effort to penetrate beyond marketing materials, I asked three people (Ursula McGivern & John Davidson who both attended as students, and Sandy Lockwood, who has taught multiple courses at La Meridiana) for their impressions of the La Meridiana experience. Here is what they told me:
JW: What are reasonable expectations for 1-week, 2-week and longer programs? Do students primarily observe and learn techniques with the idea of taking those ideas home to practice & put into use? Or do they make & fire vessels?
Ursula (Student): My partner and I attended a two week course in La Meridiana on two occasions once in 2014 an again in 2017. Both were with Will and Kate Jacobson for Naked Raku Mica Infusion. On both occasions we had demonstrations of the techniques involved at each stage of the process followed by hands on throwing, glazing and firing of completed pieces. We were able to take home any finished work
John (Student): Mine was a two week course and for the most part it was hands on. The instructors would give a demo for and hour or so in the morning and after lunch and the rest of the day we would work on our pieces. The studio was open after hours as well. The instruction would evoke as our progress on the technique would progress. By the time the course ended we all had completed several pieces. La Meridiana arranged the shipping of any pieces that we wish shipped back. This was of course at our expense.
Sandy (Instructor): At my studio I offer intensive courses for three or four days. They are full on making and development courses. Generally there are a couple of demos each day and students make intensively. Students generally apply themselves and make sound progress during the course. They also develop an understanding of what they need to do after the course to maintain their momentum. Students at my workshops may leave work for bisquing and they can come back for a glazing day and then I’ll fire the work and they come back to collect when they are ready.
As for Meridiana, I think it depends on the teacher and teaching style. There are many teaching styles and many learning styles and things go best when these mesh well. My style is more a coaching approach that takes each student from where they are and guides them in their development.
Students observe and practice techniques and also develop ideas. So, the workshops form a foundation for further development.
I have run two two-week workshops at La Meridiana and they involved making pots for a week then they were bisqued while participants went on excursions to various interesting ceramics and non-ceramics related places. Then we loaded and fired the wood kiln and after that used the work for an Italian Feast which the in house chef prepared..Meridiana assists the organisation of shipping home any works students wish to repatriate.
The On Centre course that I taught was 3 months long. For that there is certainly an emphasis on developing skills/techniques but this also goes hand in hand with aesthetic development and discussion.
JW: Given the short length of many La Meridiana courses, do teachers focus on inspiring creativity / illustrating possibilities or teaching technique?
Ursula: Usually the course description indicates the Aims & Nature of the course, Teaching method specified and experience required for the particular course. In both experiences the course facilitators have inspired creativity and shown how to exploit creative and technical possibilities.
John: The techniques were presented A to Z and also many choices to enhance the creativity of the process.
Sandy: It depends on the approach of the teacher. I think generally these things are not mutually exclusive. Students learn technical aspects, and given the environment away from their usual life tend to feel more free to experiment. They also encourage and support each other.
JW: In your experience, do most students come to La Meridiana to learn new techniques or to improve techniques that they already employ?
Ursula: I would say to do both. In our case we were already working as studio potters specialising in Raku and went on the first occasion to learn the technique of mica infusion which is unique to the Jacobsons. On the second occasion we went back to the same course as we enjoyed the friendly ambience of La Meridiana and also to have the opportunity to work with renowned ceramic artists at the top of their game.
John: In our case everyone was new to the technique of Naked Raku but almost all had experience at different levels of ceramics. I know of two of our group who returned the next year to repeat the course.
Sandy: Both. See my comments above.
JW: a Meridiana is set in the Tuscan countryside and offers good food, wine, beautiful surroundings, etc. Do some (or many) students attend workshops primarily for the cultural experience vs. intensive ceramics training?
Ursula: I think the answer here again is both. We certainly went back the second time to meet up with the artists again and to enjoy the sunny ambience, good food, many cultural trips organised by La Meridiana as part of the course. We had visits to Certaldo Alto, the Etruscan Museum, San Gimignano and free days when the work was drying to visit Siena or Florence independently.
John: In our case everyone came for the intensive training but most either came before or were staying after for a holiday. It makes sense to combine the two in such a beautiful part of the world.
Sandy: I think it’s a mixture. Each student has their own balance of motives. In my experience there is a range of motivations including intensive ceramics learning, cultural experience, getting away from established routines, getting away from hassles of life and probably more.
JW: How do instructors balance different student expectations and skill levels?
Ursula: The class sizes are limited and tuition is 6-8 hours per day, the studio is open 12 hours per day. This gives time for instructors to get round all participants. The course will always state the level of experience necessary, so booking a class suitable for “all” you have to expect that very basic skills will be taught as well as more advanced techniques. We found the facilitators and all the staff at La Meridian very generous with their time and very willing to answer all queries.
John: In our case only two people had little to no ceramic experience and the instructors helped them produce more basic work and they seemed to enjoy the whole experience. As there is a lot of time each day to work, everyone has the time to work at their own pace and level.
Sandy: I cannot speak for others. I approach things from a coaching style as mentioned above. This means adapting exercises and objectives to suit where the student is at. Good communication here is vital. I prepare my course offerings with this in mind.
JW: Do many spouses or partners accompany students? If so, what should those people expect?
Ursula: Spouses can accompany course participants and will pay a reduced fee to cover accommodation in a Tuscan Farm house along with their spouse. They are not permitted to attend the course of have the lunch provided. I would recommend that an accompanying spouse would be advised to hire a car as La Meridiana is located in the Tuscan countryside with no amenities within easy reach.
John: In our case there was one spouse who accompanied their partner. They had rented a car and we were only a stone’s throw away from several places to visit. That person joined in on the meals and certainly felt like one of the group. Given we were together for two weeks there is certainly a strong social dynamic to the experience. Also you are staying in a house with a group of people so evenings are spent together.
Sandy: Sometimes spouses attend. My husband has come a couple of times. Spouses are made to feel most welcome. Spouses can join the gourmet lunches served and mix with the students. There are opportunities for spouses to explore the area and attend excursions with the group. One year my husband and the husband of a student rented motor scooters and spent time having exploration adventures around Tuscany.