Upper School News
Artist Renzo Maggi teaches, inspires and becomes a member of the Bullis community
By Livia Christensen, Bullis parent, president of the Parents Association, and one of several Bullis community members who served as translator during the Maestro's visit on campus
"To carve is my everyday life ... by doing it my vital energy can multiply. Art is for those who make it, but also for those who benefit from it ... it's a never-ending journey in search of a reflective solitude ... both, the deep sense of humanity and the values that should help us to rise from the burden of life, are in it."
For three weeks in September, Bullis had the incredible opportunity to host internationally known sculptor Renzo Maggi as artist-in-residence on campus, and I was invited to serve as one of his translators during his stay. Little did I realize how much I would learn, and the incredible relationship between Mr. Maggi—whom the students called Maestro—and Bullis that would develop during this encounter.
Born in Seravezza, Italy in 1944, Mr. Maggi graduated as art master at the Stagio Stagi Institute of Pietrasanta and apprenticed under sculptor Leonida Parma. He worked in Milan and Zurich before returning in 1992 to Italy where he creates many public and private works for personal collections and exhibitions. While he specializes in classical styles and studied Caravaggio extensively, "the artist must know all genres, from music to literature and cinema," he said. He remains a student of all forms of art and in all eras to draw inspiration, and encourages his students to learn art history as well as practice modern techniques. "Just like a good minestrone soup, you need all the ingredients and can't take any of them out!" he says.
Mr. Maggi came to campus both to create art and to teach students. In the three weeks he was here, he created a bas-relief sculpture in an outdoor studio on the quad outside of the Library. The sculpture juxtaposed the images of Leonardo da Vinci, a Renaissance master, and Edward Hopper, a modern American master. "Both were leaders, representatives of 'the new age,' during their respective times," explained Mr. Maggi. "Both da Vinci and Hopper saw something that others had not in their era, and sought to tell a story through their art and establish a style that was distinctive." The sculpture was installed in a place of honor just inside the front entrance of the Boarman Discovery Center in the center of campus.
When he was not working on his sculpture, he worked with students in all grades to share his craft, artistry, career, and culture.In Dr. Duruhan Badraslioglu's Anatomy and Physiology classes, the students had recently finished studying the skeletal and muscular systems, including those in the skull and arm. Mr. Maggi created an artistic representation highlighting some of the 22 bones and 46 muscles of the head. Using charcoal and paper, the students tried to replicate his technique in their own drawings, observing his emphasis of certain structures. "His visit exemplified how sciences and arts coexisted naturally for much of human history," said Dr. B.
"The students witnessed how the zygomatic bones and the mandible were emphasized in Maggi's skull sketches," he continued. "They also watched the Maestro accentuate the deltoid, the triceps, brachialis, brachioradialis and the extensor carpi radialis muscles to create bumps in varying sizes as he drew the profile of the arm. The students were in awe as Maggi's sketches came to focus in a matter of minutes from seemingly random strokes of the charcoal. The students learned to appreciate the patterns of symmetry and proportion in the human anatomy."
The Maestro visited Lindy Russell-Heymann's 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classes. He taught the 5th grade to sculpt horses, the 4th graders to draw faces, and the 3rd graders to recreate still life compositions in paint and pencil. "I was so pleased and inspired by his interactions with the children," said Ms. R-H (as the students call her). "They noticed his innate kindness, humor, and generosity of spirit, and could tell that he really enjoyed working with them. He started each lesson with an amazing demonstration and the students were completely wowed by his skill and his ability to make the work look easy."
"I appreciated that he kept asking students to relax when they drew or sculpted," she continued. "Children usually draw each line with hulk-like intensity and aim to make it perfect each time. Maestro's approach showed them that many light, gestural lines can lead to a pleasing result as well. Watching a horse or a face emerge gradually from Maestro's swirling storm of lines taught so much. My students are already asking when he can come back."
Mr. Maggi's advice in all the classes he visited was the same-- to not be afraid to start something, just go for it, think big picture first, and only in the end worry about some details. The theme was always the same: No fear! Go for it! Mr. Maggi told me that he believed the approach to an art project can be applied to many things in life—and seeing the pride, joy, and excitement on students' faces when they realized that they had created something they never thought they could, was wonderful. This pride, joy, and excitement stayed with the kids, even as they left the classroom, and that was proof that an artist-in-residence teaches much more than art.
Indeed, Maestro related to students in all divisions, in classes and informally around campus. Students in all grades were immediately amazed and mesmerized by him. When changing classrooms or going to lunch, they would stop by his work area, watch for a bit, and give him a hug or a big smile and wave. When we walked around campus, students would high-five him and say "Ciao, Maestro!"
Even though the students respected his work and talent immensely, he was still extremely approachable. Students learned quickly that they could ask him any question. Some did so in Spanish or French, others spoke to him in English, which Mr. Maggi understood more and more over his time with us. Still, it was amazing to see how much he could communicate with students simply via body language and a big, huge, happy smile: his smile really sent the message to the kids as to how happy he was to be at Bullis and how much he appreciated the students and their work in class. By the end he considered the Bullis community his family. He even told me that now he has two families: one at home in Italy; and one here at Bullis!
"The maestro's visit was intense, meaningful and a real gift to all of us," said Ms. Cheryl Terwilliger, director of the Visual and Performing Arts Department. "I was moved by how he connected with everyone. It showed how wonderful he is and how our students were open-minded and curious and willing to learn. His visit was a true community event that brought all of us together. From the Facilities crew that helped set-up his outdoor studio, to the interpreters from our student body, staff and parent community, and all the students and staff, we were all awed by the vastness of his talent and knowledge and drawn in by the infinite amount of affection he showed for everyone on campus."
When he returns to Italy, he will dive back into his work, which include eight marble portraits and a relief sculpture for a family, as well as students coming from the Art Academy in Rome and other orders from Milan. "One project leads to another," he said about his clients.
As much as the Maestro gave to Bullis, he talked about the inspiration he received from the students. He was incredibly observant in all his classes, and took note of everything. He was amazed by the diversity on campus, by the curiosity, warmth and talent in our community, by the kids' openness and friendliness, and also by their drive to learn and do well. All these things inspired and energized him. "My whole life has been drawing, clay modeling and working with stone," he told me. "Here at Bullis, I have learned that creativity doesn't just come from work but also comes from the heart and the gut. Before coming to Bullis, I had gotten into a routine—here I rediscovered the hidden side of art and learned more than I gave."
I also learned greatly from the opportunity to be with him during this incredible visit. I learned to not forget about the joy of life. I've seldom met a person who enjoys life as much as Renzo does. He loved the minestrone at Renato's; he loved the ham and cheese baguette at Vie de France; he loved the trees by the river; he loved Great Falls and all the rocks in the river; he loved when kids waved at him; he loved when kids gave him a smile or a "ciao!"; he loved the weather ... Mr. Maggi was extremely busy during his time here, but he never ceased to appreciate the small joys in life, even during the most hectic day.
Livia Christensen and Renzo Maggi