If an art student can't find inspiration in Provence, it's probably time to look for a new career.
High atop a hill in the tiny town of Lacoste, overlooking the Luberon Valley in the south of France, the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has restored 33 precious stone buildings dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries.
At the top of the hill, surrounded by a now-dry moat, reigns a castle formerly owned by the Marquis de Sade, currently home to Pierre Cardin. SCAD's campus meanders slowly down the hill from there before it reaches the recently-restored Maison Basse in the valley, a former barn laid in oleolithic limestone.
Nearly 300 SCAD students study painting, drawing, photography, art history and printmaking at the campus every year, living and working inside and outside their impeccably-designed spaces for a quarter at a time.
"You look out the window and it's almost like a different place every day," says Eleanor Twiford, SCAD's academic director at the Lacoste campus. "Students will go out and pick grapes during vintage, and olives for the harvest too."
The area has served forever as a kind of north/south superhighway for much of western civilization, a link between Italy and Spain. The Romans established a market at nearby Apt, feeling secure enough to build their first unwalled city in Gaul there. The Visigoths passed through on their way to sack Rome, and in the 12th century the Crusaders marched through on their way to Jerusalem. Armies from both sides during World Wars I and II occupied the area.
"It's been a cultural crossroads for 20,000 years," says Bob Dickensheets, SCAD's associate director of external relations. "Byron, Whistler, Sargent, van Gogh, Gauguin and Picasso all were here."
Each found his muse within the breathtaking landscape -- just as a few lucky SCAD students will each year.
"The college recognizes that it's an opportunity for students -- and a great bonus for the faculty too," he says. "Our attitude is that fine art is a lifestyle and that art education is about quality of life."
The college boasts campuses in Savannah, Atlanta and Hong Kong too, but it's hard to imagine any more visually pleasing than SCAD Lacoste.
For more information, go to http://www.scad.edu/news/2012/lacoste-france-maison-basse.cfm
For more by J. Michael Welton, go to http://architectsandartisans.com