Cistercian Abbey and Les Rencontres

In rounding off the second week of the program, we made the last of our excursions before the few remaining sessions leading up to the presentations. First, the photographers, along with a few extra students, had the pleasure of visiting the city of Arles for the Les Rencontres festival. In going to the premier photography festival in the world, those who traveled were able to see contemporary photographers and their work whilst also viewing more retrospective pieces such as the early work of Annie Leibovitz. Les Rencontres provided the photographers a fantastic insight into professional fine-art photography and illuminated the different methods they can use to group and present their work for their final exhibition.


Meanwhile, drawing and paintingalong with the architecture students traveled further into the Ardèche to visit the Cistercian Abbey of Mazan. Built in the 12th century, Mazan was the predecessor to the now famous Abbey de Sénanque. Upon arrival, staff and students were both surprised to see the Abbey partially converted into a contemporary art instillation for Le Partage des Eaux program featuring across the region. As can be seen in the photographs, the artist painted Mazan with gold circles, which can only be fully viewed at specific viewpoints in the surrounding hillsides.

Nevertheless, both staff and students quickly set to touring the grounds and beginning the days work. The architecture students were given a watercolour perspective tutorial, while at the same time, the drawing and painting members toured the Abbey’s grounds and settled on their own spot for an acrylic study. The trip to Mazan provided another great insight into the culture and history of the Ardèche, whilst giving both groups the chance to supplement their already growing body of work.

With the last of the excursions finished, we are now going full-steam ahead for the presentations this coming Thursday and Friday. Least to say, we are all very excited to see the final pieces coming together and each student’s complete body of work coming to fruition.

Aix-en-Provence & the Pont du Gard

With the program approaching the halfway point, we traveled to Aix-en-Provence for our second major excursion. Upon arrival, the students were greeted by warm weather and the elegant architecture of the Cours Mirabeau and buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries. Once gathered, we first visited the Musée Granet, which featured an exhibition of a collection of works from the Jeanne Bucher Jaeger gallery along with the permanent collection. 

After visiting the Granet, we moved onto the sister exhibit up the road, The Jean Planque Collection. This private artist collection includes pieces produced by Monet, Cézanne, Picasso, and many other well-known artists from the 19th and 20th century, some of whom were friends of Planque. Through these two exhibitions, the students were able to visually position themselves within the development and history of modern art whilst amalgamating individual pieces with their own ideas.

We then had a break for lunch and time to shop at the various outlet stores in Aix along with its premiere art store, Michel. Afterwards, the group then made its way through town and up the hill to Paul Cézanne’s studio. Built during the latter end of Cézanne's career, the studio allowed the students to take a glimpse into the artist's process and take an intimate look at his various still-life subjects and objects that feature throughout his work.

Briefly enjoying the shade of the trees outside the studio, we then quickly loaded back up into the vans and made our way to the Pont du Gard. Formerly part of a 52 kilometre long aqueduct, the Pont du Gard is one of the ancient wonders of the world and is a testament to Roman architecture and ingenuity. In the new museum, the group was able to learn about the history of the aqueduct and gain insight how it was constructed. After, the students had time to sketch or photograph the structure and swim in the river below the arches or enjoy some ice cream before driving back to the hamlet. 

Our visit to Aix and the Pont du Gard has provided a wealth of inspiration for the students as we now enter into the latter end of the program. With upcoming trips to Arles and Mazan, combined with preparation for the final presentations and charrettes, we are gearing up for an exciting final week before our closing banquet. We're all looking forward to seeing the work being produced by both the major and minors. Stay tuned for more! 

Avignon and Faculty Exhibition

This past Wednesday, after two successful days in both their majors and minors, the group arose bright and early to drive to our first excursion to Avignon. There the students had the possibility to either visit the former stronghold of the Popes during the Avignon Papacy, the Palais du Pape, or visit the Petit Palais which has been reconverted into a gallery of medieval art. After visiting either of the exhibitions, the students had free time to grab lunch, shop, and enjoy the medieval streets of Avignon. After free time, we drove back to the hamlet and were greeted by a fabulous gazpacho and quesadilla dinner prepared by Perrin and Jenn.  

After two more productive days, we opened the faculty exhibition in the gallery space and sculpture studio to the students. There, everyone had an opportunity to view the incredible body of work on display before listening to each individual artist talk a bit about the works they selected and their personal background. This presented a fabulous opportunity for the students to gain a greater insight into the different medias and genres they are able to explore whilst here at Les Tapies, whilst also allowing them to learn a little more about the faculty members.

It has now been a full week since the students arrived and already much has been accomplished both in the major and minor groups. With the architects having finished their first 'Charrette', along with drawing & painting and photography students creating top-class pieces, the enthusiasm and work ethic is definitely gearing up as we move into our second week. In the minors, the students continue to explore their subjects with an acute diligence and are making continuous progress on their projects. With so much taking place,  keep a sharp eye on the blog as there is plenty more on the way!

Satchels, Saint-Pierreville, & Food of the Ardèche

After a successful day on Saturday picking up the students from the airport, train station, or meeting those finding their own way, the group wakened to a selection of patisserie and bread from the local town for breakfast. We then gathered for a brief meeting and handed out the satchels for each individual student and discussed the days events. Following the meeting the students ventured up the road and down to the nearest village of Saint-Pierreville for the Sunday market. There we stopped to buy an assortment of food and sweets along with a quick stop at the local cafes before driving back to the hamlet for lunch.

Once the students had eaten and rested they met with their major groups for brief introductory sessions, which then led into our annual Ardèchoise cheese and saucisson tasting. On one of the terraces overlooking the valley, the students enjoyed a variety of regional Ardèche specialities accompanied by some freshly cut baguettes. After dinner, John gave a quick talk on the Ardèche, giving the students an extensive understanding of where the program lies both historically and geographically.

Today we officially began the program with our first Major-Major day, where the students took part in activities exclusively in their major - either Drawing and Painting, Architecture or Photography. Tonight, Fernando gives a presentation on his long and arduous restoration of the hamlet.

More to come soon!  

Program Preparation

After arriving late in the evening Thursday last week, we've since been hard at work cleaning, setting up, and getting supplies organised for the summer. Take a look to see what we've been up to!

Aix, Mazan, and More!

After a well deserved break last Sunday, students redoubled their efforts over the past few days both in their major and minors and during our excursions. Drawing and Painting students continued their work both in self portraits, with some progressing to woodcuts. The fabled road painting session was met with enthusiasm and enormous focus. Photography students pressed on in exploring and mastering new shooting and darkroom techniques and expanded their repertoire through hand-colouring and studio lighting tutorials. After their first charrette session, the Architects launched themselves into the initial steps of their final project, a conceptual design of a new building to be added to the hamlet.

In the minors, Drawing and Painting along with Photography have continued to produce wonderful work, whilst Design and Build and Art History have progressed rapidly into the finer details of their tasks. With final presentations drawing close, students continue to produce work that highlights their aptitude in each one's field.

Amongst the hard work and focused atmosphere at the hamlet, students have enjoyed a number of excursions for new subject material, to expand their knowledge, and ultimately to enjoy the pinnacle of French culture and society. On Wednesday the entire group travelled to Aix-en-Provence. After a smooth journey, students visited La Planque collection, which is located in a vacant church. The collection features the work of Picasso, Monet, Jean Planque himself, and many more. Afterwards, students ate lunch before finishing our visit of Aix by walking to Cézanne's studio.

On Friday, Drawing and Painting students along with the Architects visited the 11th century Cistercian Abbey de Mazan, located deep in the massif central. Upon arrival, John and Fernando gave a quick tour before the students sketched, photographed, and painted different facades and views of the half restored Abbey. Meanwhile, photography majors travelled to Arles where they had the pleasure of seeing the famous international Les Rencontres photography festival, which this year was focused on story telling. Amongst excursions, studio time, and any free-time, students have had the opportunity to take part in drumming and movement sessions along with more relaxed open studio hours, all of which have been thoroughly enjoyed. It is quite clear that the students are making the most of the Les Tapies experience as they have explored every facet available to them.

A Week in Review

After completing their first sessions on Monday, students launched themselves into their first major/minor day on Tuesday. Art History, Drawing and Painting, Design and Build, and Photography all began their introductory meetings and progressed quickly into working on the tasks at hand. On Wednesday, the group took their first excursion of the program to the medieval city of Avignon, famous for the Palais des Papes, where the popes resided for 100 years, and the various art museums and restaurants which stretch along the Rue de la République. Students visited the Palais des Papes or the Petite Palais before having some free time for lunch and shopping. Afterwards, the group travelled to the Village des Bories, a stone village made entirely without mortar, and the Cistercian abbey of Sénanque, which is still an active monastery today! At both locations, students had the chance to draw, paint, and take photographs. The lavender fields of Sénanque were particularly gorgeous with the backdrop of the abbey itself. Over the last few days, students have continued to apply themselves ardently in both their major and minors, with the architects completing and presenting their first charrette that was judged by fellow students and the Chalecons. The first week of the program has been filled with hard work and engaging activities, which the students have met with enthusiasm and determination, producing some of the finest work the program has seen.  

 Architects measuring for their first design projects.

Architects measuring for their first design projects.

 Barry walking through Camera Functions 101 with the photo students.

Barry walking through Camera Functions 101 with the photo students.

 Group photograph outside the Palais des Papes

Group photograph outside the Palais des Papes

 The Abbey of Sénanque.

The Abbey of Sénanque.

 Group sketching session of the Abbey.

Group sketching session of the Abbey.

 Drawing and Painting minors working on a still life.

Drawing and Painting minors working on a still life.

 Changing the vantage point!

Changing the vantage point!

First Full Day

After a long day of travel and orientation on Saturday, students enjoyed a more relaxed day on Sunday. After receiving their satchels, t-shirts, and assembling for a group photograph, all participants embarked on a sunny walk to the market at Saint-Pierreville. Once arriving, many kicked-back and enjoyed the various cafés and shops in the market and throughout the town. After returning to the hamlet, the students took part in introductory lessons for their majors in either Architecture, Drawing and Painting, or Photography. Before dinner, cheese and saucisson was served along with punch in an Ardèchoise tasting session, capped off with a visit from our neighbours, the Chalencons! Amongst the tasting session and during free time, many of the students climbed our abutting cherry trees and picked cherries for all to enjoy. After dinner, John gave a fantastic talk about the the Ardèche to help situate the program both geographically and historically. On Monday the students launched into their first full sessions with vigour and an incredible amount of enthusiasm. Looking forward to seeing the results of their work in the days to come.    

 The group!

The group!

 After 30 minutes of walking, the students reached the gorgeous Saint-Pierreville. 

After 30 minutes of walking, the students reached the gorgeous Saint-Pierreville. 

 Fernando selecting the finest cheeses and saucissons for the tasting session.

Fernando selecting the finest cheeses and saucissons for the tasting session.

 Taking a well deserved rest!

Taking a well deserved rest!

 Fernando and our neighbour Paul Chalencon enjoying hand picked cherries.

Fernando and our neighbour Paul Chalencon enjoying hand picked cherries.

 Famous Ardèchoise saucisson!  

Famous Ardèchoise saucisson!  

 Enjoying the fruits of their labour!

Enjoying the fruits of their labour!

Getting Ready

Over the last week, staff have been working endlessly to bring the facilities and materials up to speed. Eagerly awaiting the arrivals of the students tomorrow!

 Good morning Les Tapies!

Good morning Les Tapies!

 L'Atelier is stocked and ready to go! 

L'Atelier is stocked and ready to go! 

 The shelves are stocked in Drawing and Painting.

The shelves are stocked in Drawing and Painting.

 The model of the hamlet is ready to go!

The model of the hamlet is ready to go!

 New additions to the photo-lab and darkroom. Excited to see the results in the coming weeks!

New additions to the photo-lab and darkroom. Excited to see the results in the coming weeks!

 Early morning plein-air painting session to test out the materials and supplies.

Early morning plein-air painting session to test out the materials and supplies.

 Adding the final touches to the facilities!

Adding the final touches to the facilities!

Excursion to Aix-en-Provence and Bastille Day Talent Show!

On Sunday, July 12, students enjoyed an excursion to Aix-en-Provence. This trip, the last of the programme, brought students to the studio of Paul Cézanne, the celebrated Impressionist, and later to the Musée Granet.

Having left Les Tapies at about 7am, the programme's vans arrived in Aix just before 10. The gates to Cézanne's studio were opened just as we arrived, and programme participants relaxed in Cézanne's garden before being invited in for a tour.


After tours of the studio had concluded, students were led downhill to a meeting point at a mossy fountain on the Cour Mirabeau, a central road in Aix. Students were then given free time until 2, at which point we moved onto the Musée Granet where works by Paul Cézanne and Pablo Picasso were on show:

Back at Les Tapies, the reality of final presentations and exhibitions began to set in, and students worked furiously to complete their portfolios and prepare their work for display.

It wasn't all work and no play, however. On Tuesday night students and staff were invited to participate in a talent show on Fouine Terrace:

Instructor John Smalley plays guitar... Drawing & Painting and Art History staff member Camila Aguais dances

Then student Laura took the stage to sing two beautiful songs:

Next it was Talah's turn. She sang in Arabic:

The audience was very impressed!

Then Daniel took the stage, borrowing John Smalley's rosewood guitar for his set, which he described as a fusion of 12 Jimi Hendrix songs:

Fernando then took the stage to mime his way through a DJ set:

His adoring fans went wild:

But then the mood shifted as he regaled the programme with a spooky tale of spirits - appropriately enough, he was interrupted midway through by the sound of creaking, emanating from an empty corner of the terrace.

Excursion to the Abbey of Mazan and the Chauvet Caves

Yesterday, Les Tapies students once more were asked to wake up very early for another day of travel and art. On the day's itinerary were the 12th century Cistercian abbey of Mazan, and an incredible reconstruction of the Chauvet Caves, home to an incredible array of 36,000-year-old cave drawings.

Our view as we left Les Tapies at 7am:

After a sleep car journey of about an hour and a half on winding mountain roads, we reached the site on the French Massif, a region whose elevation of 1,360 metres is more than double that of Les Tapies.

Students arrived at the abbey and were given a guided tour in French, translated into English for them by photography assistant Thurston Smalley.

First occupied in the 12th century, the abbey was at one time home to over 300 people, including monks and laymen. The oldest part of the Abbey, a ruin of the original church, was in use in varying capacities until the early 20th century when the Abbey's new pastor decided the 700-year-old masterpiece of Cistercian architecture was too large and too cold for his congregation. He had the building almost completely demolished, leaving only ruins, and the congregation moved to a new church, pictured below.

Students set to work around the abbey after the tour.


At the conclusion of the visit to the Abbey of Mazan, students were taken to the Pont d'Arc for a very quick break. From there, students were taken to the nearby Chauvet Cave reconstruction.

Unfortunately, photos were forbidden inside the reconstruction - but not in the adjacent museum where students were taken after their tours.

After a very full day of travel and work, students returned to Les Tapies at around 9pm for a wonderful meal of niçoise salad and quesadillas. Another great end to yet another great day!

Faculty and Staff Exhibition, Photography Excursion, and students at work around Les Tapies

We've had a busy couple of days at Les Tapies since returning from Wednesday's excursion! Despite returning quite late from Avignon, work has continued as normal and students have been working hard on their major and minor subjects.

On Thursday, students also had the opportunity to view the work of the Les Tapies faculty and staff, who take pride in their status as practitioners.

But first, programme director Fernando Gonzalez, who has restored Les Tapies over the course of decades, introduced an exhibition showcasing the development of the hamlet ever since he began its restoration.

John Smalley also spoke before students entered the exhibition

Students then made their way towards the gallery, where work by the Les Tapies faculty and staff was on show.

Students seemed to appreciate the fact that their instructors were also serious practitioners with equally serious bodies of work.

The next day, students returned to their own work.

Barry Iverson's photography major students took an early morning trip to several sites in the valley, first to a waterfall in St. Sauveur, and then to the river in Les Ollières.

Having photographed the waterfall, students made their way back to the vans for the short ride to Les Ollières where yet more water scenes awaited.

Back at Les Tapies, Drawing & Painting students were also very busy.

Excursion to Sénanque Abbey, Gordes Bori Village, and Avignon!

On Wednesday, students were asked to wake up a little earlier than normal - around 6am - in order to make an early start for a packed day of traveling. On the schedule were three key locations: Sénanque, the site of a 12th century Cistercian abbey; the Bori village of Gordes, a 16th century village of distinctive stone buildings; and Avignon, home of several popes during the Papal Schism.

After a sleepy, two-hour car ride, students were treated to an incredible view of the hill town of Gordes.


Students then returned to the vans for the brief ride to Sénanque, home to the Cistercian monks. It was picturesque, to say the least:

Sénanque Abbey

The group!

Les Tapies students sit to draw the abbey

A quick break

After about an hour and a half at the Abbey of Sénanque, students loaded back into the vans for the short ride to the Bori village in Gordes. The 16th century village, restored in the 1970s, is distinctive for its buildings, which are constructed without any type of cement. The walls are thick and windows tiny, which would have ensured occupants stayed warm in the winters and cool in the summers.

After about 45 minutes at the Bori village, students set off for the last destination of the schedule: Avignon.

Lunch with the faculty and staff

Even programme director Fernando Gonzalez was tired at the end of the day!

On return to Les Tapies, students were met with the "super moon" rising above the Ardèche mountains. A perfect end to a wonderful day!

Orientation: The Beginning

Students and staff pose in their new Les Tapies t-shirts for a group photograph

With many students having travelled long distances before arriving at Les Tapies, the first full day of the programme was relaxed. Students were served breakfast from 8 to 10am, enjoying cereals, fruits, and French pastries purchased that morning from the neighbouring village of St. Pierreville. They were then given Les Tapies t-shirts, asked to pose for group pictures, and set off for the approximately one-hour walk to St. Pierreville.

On arrival, students were greeted with a traditional Sunday market in the small mountain village. Vendors sold locally-grown fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses, and plants and flowers.

Before returning to Les Tapies, students in John Smalley's van were treated to an alternate view of the hamlet:

And on return, students were served a selection of hors d'oeuvres, including cheeses, various sausages from the Ardèche region, and sangria (made with grape juice in lieu of wine!).

Students were left to their own devices until dinner (barbecued sausages and coleslaw being some of the highlights). Cake was served for dessert, as instructor John Smalley celebrated his 59th birthday and his 12th consecutive year of teaching at Les Tapies.


Welcome to Les Tapies!

Les Tapies is a completely unique place.

Here, nestled into the mountainside, sits a place of culture. A programme that places a premium on perspective, keen observation, and an eye for detail. Les Tapies is isolated from the outside world, but it is not divorced from it. We are reminded of this fact today more than ever.

When the first three of us - Kyle, my father and I - arrived last week, we returned to a site that occupies a very special place in our hearts. For Kyle and me, it is a place of immeasurable personal growth. For my father, it is a place into which he has poured years of care, dedication, and passion. For all three of us, it is a place of uninterrupted work, where effort inevitably translates into results. It is a place where we nurture our craft. It is a place of extraordinary privilege.

The paving stones here are worn. They are worn by the feet of the thousands who were here before us, through centuries of peace and decades of persecution, where our forebears sought refuge and our contemporaries attained tranquility. Today, it is a paradise. But it is a paradise won through years upon years of work, and we take special care to ensure that every student leaves his or her own imprint on the identity of this space.

Les Tapies is a programme designed for children, but the experience is singularly adult. It is immersive. The landscape is raw; the amenities are basic. And the programme is suitably demanding.

It is no wonder, then, that students leave with such expansive portfolios. Students cannot escape the environment; it is all-encompassing, and the teaching is exceedingly rigorous. Only their best is good enough.

Though we are keenly aware of the accomplishments of those who came before, we are also acutely conscious of our own possibilities. Each year presents its own opportunities, and we welcome the potential of each new group of gifted students. This year is no different, and we are incredibly confident in the abilities of our incoming colleagues.

Samuel Phillips, an 18th century educator in Massachusetts, once wrote that ‘The End Depends Upon the Beginning’. Our students are uniquely imbued with this sense of tradition. Their days here will represent an incredibly prolific period for their artistry.

We are thrilled to welcome them to Les Tapies today.

- Thurston Smalley