Baby Goats and Scavenger Hunts: A Brunnenburg Semester

In Dorf Tirol, a small town in northern Italy, a group of Guilfordians are currently living in Brunnenburg castle as a part of Guilford’s study abroad program. The castle is owned and operated by the descendants of Ezra Pound, an xpatriot American poet who can be found in the cannon of 20th century literature. The program involves a “sustainable acriculture practicum,” where students help out with maintaining the castle’s farm and vineyard, as well as an “agro-archaeology,” “environmental ethics,” and “Tirolean cooking” class. These classes are taught by the descendants of Pound, whom also live in the castle— Mary de Rachewiltz’s (Pound’s daughter) son, daughter in law and grandchildren. Mary de Rachewiltz no longer teaches a class, but the students often have 4:00 tea with her.

 (video by farm hand, Erick Hudiburg)

Along with these core courses, Mark Dixon, Guilford’s Sculpture professor, led the trip this semester to teach “Sculpture and the Environment.”

For this course, the students are making observations of the natural and unnatural world around them and are conducting experimental “collaborations” between artist and non-human entities such as wind, water, and decay. A cool part of the program that I think sounds fun is this photographic scavenger hunt Mark has the students doing as they take small trips around Italy—sledding in the Alps, overnight excursions to Venice to visit the Guggenheim museum, a weekend in Florence where they visited the Uffizi and the Academy where they saw the David. This hunt involves prompts that the students have to find and photograph.


Iain Parrott took this image for the prompt, “ choose something to observe beyond your usual level of attention.” Iain wrote, “This little cat sticker was sitting at the top step of a bridge going over a canal, it was at eye level when you start walking up but you don’t really notice it due to the Church in the background.”


Laura Sippel, for the prompt “Find an object that is naturally smooth.  Not a rock,” took this image of a river running through Florence, writing, “We’d spent time in class discussing what objects are naturally smooth, that aren’t stones.  It wasn’t until coming to Florence that I realized that water is possibly as smooth as anything can get.

Accademia Florence

This image by Kathleen Herbst was from the prompt “Not the easy comfortable beauty of smoothness but the much more demanding beauty of truth.” Kathleen wrote “At the arch of the foot, you can see where the sculpture had to have these tendrils of support. They make me question whether the artist would include them if they hadn’t had to, and what amount of art is necessity, and what is choice, and how much does that matter?”


This image, for the prompt “Find a ‘monster’” was taken by James Thorpe, who writes, “It’s a mannequin I found on a street corner and I think its a doctor from the black plague.”


For the prompt “photograph an example of collaboration between human and other-than-human agency,” Will Bryer took this image, writing, “This is a photo of the Venice skyline from a bus-boat. It looks at the overpowering weight of the blue air and blue water over (and under) the rust-colored buildings in town. One’s eyes may go straight to the surface where the “interesting” stuff is, and might bypass the beauty and bounty of the surrounding natural elements. It’s easy to get distracted by human-constructed elements and ignore the other-than-human, and that’s a dangerous game. “


Elena Sippel sent me her image for the prompt, “Photograph something (natural or man made) that makes you question what art is,” writing, “I found this portrait in Florence, at the Museo Novecento, while seeing the exhibit, “Visions From the North.” Although this portrait was not a part of the exhibit, it offered an ironic twist to an otherwise traditional art show.  Why is she up there?  Her expression makes me feel as if there is something I don’t know–what is behind the painting?”


For the prompt “take a picture of an example of materials being recycled in the buildings in Venice,” Madison Shankin took this pic, writing, “In the picture, one of the windows clearly doesn’t fit with the rest of them and probably came from a different building.”

° • ° • ° • ° • ° • °

Utilizing all they’ve seen and experienced throughout Italy, Mark’s class is thinking of Guilford and how they can create “artistic interventions into the environment of the quad,” with plans to return home with what Mark describes as “startling proposals for the grassy ghost town that is the spatial core of our academic lives.”

Through reaching out, I’ve gathered glimpses into this overseas think-tank, which includes Kathleen Herbsts idea for “a giant hammock spanning a couple of trees that people could climb around in,” Elena Sippel’s idea to build little circular huts throughout the quad to act as “gathering spaces for clubs, study groups, Quaker Meetings, etc.,” Kathryn Hurst’s idea to “make a half dome out of branches and vines, that will contain a swing, a fire pit, and a small Guilford community garden,” Tay Bomstein’s idea for “a desk swing so you can do your work and have fun at the same time,” Madison Shankin’s idea for a two story rock hangout spot or a tree house, and Addison Ronis’s idea for encouraging activity and stress-relief through a climbing wall on the side of Hege Library, a swing on every tree, or an adult jungle gym.

These fun-filled quad dreams make me ssuuupperrrr mad I’m graduating in May, and the ideas are only going to get crazier and more amazing after the group visits Osteria ai Pioppi in a few days, which is a human powered amusement park that Mark describes as “DIY human artistic ingenuity at its best.“

° • ° • ° • ° • ° • °

Before I wrap up this extremely long blog post (I’m sorry! There’s so much going on over there!), I want to share a few of the group’s favorite memories of the semester so far, and WARNING: there will be a dangerous amount of cute goats.

Dora Baker: My favorite experience we have had so far was going sledding! We hiked for a few hours on a cold and snowy day and ate lunch at a very out of place restaurant. We then rented sleds (think classic sleds, not the plastic ones you can get at Walmart) and raced down! I had so much fun trying to navigate and I definitely face planted a few times but I am counting it as part of the experience.

Elena Sippel: My favorite part so far…this is a hard one. Hmm…I’ll have to go with an art project I did.  For one of our assignments I built a camera obscura in our class room.  For the day, I got to hang out in a totally dark room (which I miss greatly from Guilford) and watch the beautiful mountains of South Tyrol appear on the blank wall in front of me.


Kathryn Hurst: My favorite experience this semester was going to Florence and seeing a ton of famous and important historical art, as well as being surrounded by lots of other art students living and studying there.

Madison Shankin: Another girl here named Kathleen has been pretty sick; she’s got a mild concussion, a mild spinal injury, and a sinus infection all at once. She had to stay in bed for two straight days in the dark, so me and Addie Ronis brought two of the baby goats up to her room while she was sleeping as a surprise. We got permission, of course, and the look on her face when she realized there were goats in her room was priceless.

Addison Ronis: A few weeks ago, three baby goats were born on Brunnenburg’s farm, which has obviously been an exciting time for us. But one of my favorite moments was bringing two of them into my roommate Kathleen Herbst’s bed as therapy goats since she was feeling sick for a few days. Being able to do that and tell that story is something we’ve all had to get used to.

Kathleen Herbst: I was sick and two of my friends, Madison and Addie, brought in two baby goats to my room. The room was dark, and I had a sleep mask on when I heard the door open. Addie is my roommate, so I didn’t think much of it til I heard a goat bleat. Half thinking I was still asleep and half just confused, I took off the mask and saw Madison and Addie each holding baby goats. They put them on my bed and I think that was the healing power I needed. (I mean, baby goats and Tylenol can cure most anything.)




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s