SACI Founder and Director Emeritus
Nothing is totally new, and all efforts are based on what came before - and so it is with SACI. There were other places to study art "overseas," and most were programs connected with US university study abroad structures. They were usually dependent on the dedication of art faculty from the "home" school or found transient locations inside existing European institutions or ventures.
In those early days, back in the seventies, Florence was a place where art students found temporary perches or invented ways to be here which involved modifying their own challenges to the moment, often leaving their "real" time to challenge and sort out what had been useful until after they had returned home.
I had been a 23 year old Fulbright painter in Florence two decades earlier, and things hadn't changed much. There were still problems related to having studio and lab access, as well as difficulty simply finding the means to meet and open up the potential of Italy. I remembered well the frustration of trying to put it together for myself and this memory helped me to create a series of goals in 1975 when SACI was founded and I took the position of on-site Director.
There wasn't much to go on except for the fact that I had been operating as a painter in Italy and the States for 20 years and had had the good fortune to study with great artist/teachers in fine schools.
I was and am still convinced that art is an intellectual activity, which implies that art education is much more than the imparting of technical expertise. Therefore, SACI has always been a place where artist/intellectuals, teachers and students gravitate and are welcomed.
The first years were not easy. At that time Italy was considered a politically insecure place, yet while many other programs declined or withdrew, our growth was steady. It was more than a growth in numbers - the SACI educational mission seemed to coincide with a need in art education. People who needed a way and a locus with persons dedicated to the certainty that art is necessary for humanity, found SACI.
Our permanent ownership of two centrally located historic palaces, developed by former SACI President Mary Beckinsale into the ideal settings for art study, amazes visiting alumni. These visitors from the early years are also delighted because what once seemed a rare opportunity has become a permanent resource for serious artists - one which will continue the tradition of creative challenge they recall as the SACI hallmark, a criteria which is an integral part of the school.
All of this could not have happened without the help of so many people who shared the early years and enabled the experiment to become an ongoing experience. Thank you to many, including some who are no longer with us - to Gillian Tilbury Maidoff, Jim Hogg, and Clayton Hubbs. Many others helped in those early years especially Bishop Edward and Kathryn Lee, Bill and Karla Fultz, Clare Brett Smith. It is my pleasure to recall all those students and faculty who were part of that crazy, creative early time on Via de' Ginori, and to the thousands who followed.
For a list of Jules Maidoff's publications, see the Publications page of this website.
JULES MAIDOFF AND THE FOUNDING OF SACI
In 1956, at age 23, Jules Maidoff came to Florence as a Fulbright scholar to paint. The experience awakened in him the power and passion of being an artist in a place saturated with art and abundant with life. The deep engagement in art that Florence called forth in him was unlike any he had experienced elsewhere.
Jules returned to New York City to a lucrative career in graphic design, with clients such as Vanguard Records, Electric Circus, and The Village Gate. But he never escaped the pull of Florence. He spent the next two decades coming back to Italy to paint whenever he could, and eventually he purchased a farmhouse in Tuscany.
In 1973, powered by his passion for art and Italy, Jules leaped into an unknown future. He quit his design firm and sold his possessions, planning to immerse himself fully in art. He was determined to communicate his passion for the power of art in Italy by connecting students with those engaged in creating art, conserving art, and understanding art in Italy.
In the barn of the farmhouse, which served as his studio, Jules created an art school, which he called the Studio Art Center of Tuscany. He ran advertisements in the New York Times encouraging people to come to Florence to study art with him. 14 students came for a four-week session.
In 1976, SACI was chartered in Delaware as a non-profit institution. The first Board included artists and art patrons such as Edward Lee, William Fultz, William Darr, and Clayton Hubbs. Later, Board members included Tony Jones, former President of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and landscape architect Jonna Lazarus, whose husband, Fred Lazarus, former President the Maryland Institute College of Art, has for many years been a supporter of SACI. Also critical to SACI’s early success was the support of Joseph McCullough, President of the Cleveland Institute of Art, who helped SACI to establish itself as a highly desirable destination for student artists.
After nearly 20 years as SACI’s Director, Jules was succeeded in this position by SACI Dean of Students Mary Beckinsale, who was later named SACI’s first President. A former student at the Warburg Institute of the legendary art historian Sir Ernst Gombrich, Mary brought a number of Jules’s founding ideas to full fruition. She expanded SACI’s course offerings; built strong relationships with the best art schools, liberal arts colleges, and research universities in the United States, Europe, and Asia; and spearheaded the acquisition of palaces in the city’s historic center that provide studios and classrooms for SACI’s community of artists, conservators, and art historians.
For over forty years, students have come to Florence to study at SACI. At first a small atelier in Jules’s home, SACI now owns two palazzi in the heart of Florence and is known internationally as one of the world’s most distinguished art schools. But although SACI has changed its shape, developed programs, received accreditation, and acquired buildings, the passion that Florence awoke in the heart of the founder remains at SACI’s core and is evinced in the spirit of those who enter its small and dedicated community. SACI is a school for all who care deeply about art and about engaging the art of Florence, Italy and Europe.