Roberto Paolinelli, front row, second from left, and his students on a tour of the Acerbo Museum in Pescara, Italy. (Nancy Coviello)

Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.

Who: Roberto Paolinelli of Sterling, Va., and his ceramics students at Casa Italiana Language School in the District: Denise Freeland of Alexandria; Barbara Gentile of McLean; Karen Hermansen of Herndon; and David Ciummo, Nancy Coviello, Carole Fournet and Carma Fauntleroy (author), all of the District.

Where, when, why: For more than a decade, Roberto has been teaching Italian Renaissance Castelli-style ceramic painting at the Casa Italiana School in the District. For several years, his students had been asking him to conduct a tour of the place in Italy where he grew up, trained and worked as a professional artist before retiring in Northern Virginia. After much badgering, he finally agreed to show students his home town of Pescara, Italy, for a week in October. Roberto and his brother, artist Albano Paolinelli, who still lives in Pescara, guided students to ceramics museums and artists’ workshops throughout the Pescara, Teramo and Chieti provinces in the Abruzzo region of Italy.

Ceramic ceiling tiles at the Church of San Donato in Abruzzo, Italy. (Nancy E. Coviello)

Highlights and high points: The ceiling of the Church of San Donato in Castelli comprises 780 polychrome ceramic tiles dating to the early 17th century and depicting coats of arms, human figures, animals and arabesque designs. The neck strain required to look at these tiles was well worth it. The Acerbo Museum in Loreto Aprutino displays stunning works by Francesco Antonio Grue (1686-1746), the all-time master of Castelli-style painting. In Pescara, the splendid collection of the Museo Paparella Treccia-Devlet presents pieces by leading family workshops of the Castelli style. Both museums inherited the collections of individuals passionate about preserving the historical majolica tradition of the region. A monumental nativity scene at the Istituto Statale d’Arte per la Ceramica, also in Castelli, boasts 54 larger-than-life ceramic statues in modernist style produced by the school’s professors and students over a decade, starting in 1965. The assembly of biblical characters was featured in an international exhibition that traveled to Rome, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Tel Aviv before returning to the institute for permanent display.

Cultural connection or disconnect: Bittersweet was the recognition that the hand-painted ceramics industry, an economic staple of many Italian towns for centuries, is waning. Traditional artists and workshops are disappearing with the declining post-recession market for such historical craftsmanship and with modern commercial aesthetics and the departure of young adults for job opportunities in urban areas. All of us realized how precious and fleeting this moment in time was, and the experience is one we will always treasure.

Biggest laugh or cry: When a ­
jet-lagged Roberto, who was acting as our interpreter, accidentally spoke English to our Italian hosts and Italian to his American students, we all laughed — including our Italian driver — more than a few times.

How unexpected: Many students in our group frequently travel to Italy’s world-renowned art and culture destinations, always finding locals who speak English in areas popular with tourists. That wasn’t the case in Pescara, where Italians flock for seaside holidays, and in other parts of Abruzzo. At one highly recommended seafood restaurant, the staff of ­
20-somethings even brought out electronic tablets to provide on-the-spot English translations of the daily menu items listed on the blackboard.

Fondest memento or memory: The countless ceramic masterpieces encountered in our travels with Roberto fostered a deeper appreciation of the Castelli style, its importance in the development and artistry of our own maestro, and the contribution he is making to preserve the Castelli tradition through teaching the art of ceramic decoration.

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