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Bryn Mawr painter Francine Shore offers art classes in locations that would bring out the inner Picasso in anyone. Who wouldn’t be inspired to put color to canvas on an idyllic Greek island dotted with ancient monasteries and surrounded by an ink blue Agean Sea? How about following in Monet’s footsteps through the lush gardens of Giverney, or watching the sun set on the haunting stillness that was Pompeii?

“My art tours are not vacations,” says Shore. “They’re an opportunity for artists to gather information, to interact with one another and to be refreshed by new landscapes.”

A member of the faculty at Main Line Art Center for more than 20 years, Shore first organized an art tour to Frascati, Italy, one of the Seven Hills of Rome, in 1997. “We were a group of seven artists,” she recalls. “I gave classes in the mornings, but I considered myself to be a peer, not an instructor. I like to maintain an inter-active relationship with fellow artists, not a hierarchical one. There was just one problem: No one wanted to come home.”

Word got around. The success of the trip to Frascati motivated Main Line Art Center to ask Shore to organize a tour to Sante Fe and Taos, New Mexico. Other trips soon followed to destinations near and far, from Cape Cod to Provençe. Shore made a point of limiting her trips to no more than 10 participants to make sure everyone received equal attention. She became adept at packing art supplies in a backpack, creating carry-on portfolios out of foam board to protect artwork, and arranging trips that countered the rising Euro. She also became skilled at scouting out the best deals in destinations, hotels, restaurants and local tour guides. “All participants have to do is pack a toothbrush,” Shore says.

Her perennial favorite? San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Describing the quaint mountain village with its Spanish colonial architecture, 500-year-old marble sidewalks, abundant art galleries and colorful markets, Shore glows like a woman in love. “San Miguel de Allende is surrounded by indigo mountains under a cerulean sky. The light is pure and clear; colors are intense,” she says. “I lived in Mexico for one year when I was in grad school and fell in love with the people, the culture, the history.”

This January, Shore is leading a tour to San Miguel for the fourth time. They will be staying at Casa Luna, a restored 18th-century villa converted into a B&B by Diane Kushner, an American ex-pat. “It’s perfect for our group. It’s small, walking distance from the town center and filled with antiques, terraces and fountains,” says Shore.

The unofficial concierge at Casa Luna is a fuzzy white dog named Fabio who greets guests with soulful eyes and a wet nose. More importantly, the B&B has filtered water, which might partially account for its being rated “one of the world’s best unknown hotels” by Travel & Leisure magazine.

Shore’s itinerary includes daily lectures, demonstrations, group critiques and explorations of San Miguel’s rich cultural and gastronomic offerings. That might include a visit to the Jardin Botanico Cante, which houses more than 1,000 varieties of cactus, or the Museum of Modern Art. Ultimately, it also leads to the dinner table—and forget Taco Bell. “Casa Luna serves delicious, authentic regional food,” says Shore. “There are also many restaurant now in San Miguel that feature cuisines other than Mexican.”

Artist Naomi Rubin of Gladwyne started touring with Shore seven years ago. “The company is wonderful. If you go on a regular tour, you aren’t going to get this kind of camaraderie,” says Rubin, who is a veteran of art trips to Portugal, Greece, Mexico, France and the American Southwest. “Francine is the attraction. She coordinates these trips so well that everyone comes home energized about their art—and life itself.”

The image of the artist as an introvert toiling away in a lonely garret doesn’t apply to Francine Shore. “I love people,” she says. “Seeing new landscapes and cultures adds to the creative process. Great changes happen when artists get out of their normal environment.”

But as anyone who’s ever made travel plans for more than one person knows, it takes a lot of research, planning and stress management. “Francine Shore can keep 10 women happy—and that’s unheard of,” raves Joan McNamara, who studies painting with Shore at Main Line Art Center and is returning to San Miguel for a second time this year.

Not every art tour involves airport security checks and new time zones. One of Shore’s most popular destinations is a weekend retreat at Spring Hills Farm in Dalton, Pa. “They have 400 acres of incredible scenery with gazebos, ponds and forests. Each artist has their own studio, and the farm prepares the most wonderful homemade, organic meals,” says Shore.

Michelle Weisberg of Ardmore studied painting at Tyler School of Art and has been a student of Shore’s at Main Line Art Center for more than 15 years. For her, the greatest benefit of any art tour is the work it inspires. “Bianca O’Keefe and I are having a show at [Center City’s] 3rd Street Gallery in July 2008 that reflects our trip to Greece with Francine last fall.”

When asked to compare her experience in Greece with previous trips to Mexico, Bala Cynwyd’s Susan McKee says, “What they have in common is Francine Shore. She presents not just a change of scenery but another sensibility.”

To learn more about Francine Shore’s art tours here and abroad, call (610) 525-0272 or visit mainlineart.org.


About San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende was founded in 1542 by Fray Juan de San Miguel, a Franciscan monk. Originally called San Miguel el Grande, it was renamed in 1826 in honor of one of its native sons, Gen. Ignacio Allende, who had the misfortune of being beheaded in Mexico’s War of Independence against Spain. The village almost became a ghost town until the early 20th century, when a Peruvian artist established San Miguel’s first art school, Bellas Artes, and appointed American artist and writer Stirling Dickinson as its director. By the 1950s, Americans were flocking to San Miguel for its colonial architecture, thermal springs and Instituto Allende, a U.S.-accredited art school. Apartments were going for $10 a month; for another eight bucks, they’d throw in servants. By the 1960s, San Miguel had become a center for ex-pats, artists and writers, including Ken Kesey and Tom Wolfe. Beat writer Neal Cassady died there after one tequila too many. Today, 15 percent of San Miguel’s 80,000 residents are U.S. or Canadian citizens. Most are retirees attracted to the climate, low cost of living and lively cultural scene.


Art Pop Quiz

Questions:
1. Which 19th-century Philadelphia artist worked from photos?
2. Which “French” Impressionist was from Philadelphia?
3. What female artist claimed Leon Trotsky among her lovers?
4. What 20th-century artist didn’t have a key to his wife’s house?
5. Which 19th-century French artist created an illustrated cookbook?
6. Which 20th-century Viennese artist was imprisoned for “lewd” drawings?
7. Name an artist who was fond of drawing on napkins as well as canvases.
8. What highly respected French sculptor did erotic drawings on the side?
9. Who coined the term “degenerate art”?
10. What is the Montmartre café frequented by Picasso?

Answers:
Thomas Eakins
Mary Cassatt
Frida Kahlo
Salvador Dali
Toulouse Lautrec
Egon Schiele
Pablo Picasso
Auguste Rodin
Adolf Hitler
Lapin Agile