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June 9 - June 16

Cabinets of Curiosity, Monsters, Shrines, and Other Wonders with Rick Shelley

Cabinets of Curiosity, Monsters, Shrines, and Other Wonders with Rick Shelley

Workshop Dates:
June 9 - June 16
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About the Workshop

We will explore the expressive potential of the "Cabinet of Curiosity," or "Wunderkammer" in making our own "cabinet," inspired by visits to mysterious and wondrous sites in Central Italy.

In creating our own cabinet of curiosities, we will explore the way that this enigmatic format conjures an evocative sense of place, through the inspiration of visits to remarkable places in Central Italy.  We will see enormous stone monsters from the 16th c., mummies, marble serpents devouring the souls of the damned, huge mosaic and glass sculptures - all the while collecting fragments of these experiences in order to make our own "memory - theatre"


Places of Wonder:

Italy is steeped in history and legends. Myth and religion animate the land with endless places of wonder. Mountaintops host mysterious castles, bridges recall lost loves and battles won, and woodedglades conceal ancient temples. Across the Italian landscape, churches and shrines honor many saints and miracles, and monuments celebrate the beautiful as well as the grotesque. Mannerist gardens with grottos and statuary still evoke a liminal place between reality and dreams.Throughout time, travelers have visited Italy to enrich their faith, seek inspiration, and marvel at the wealth of wonders created by a people of limitless curiosity.




Cabinets of Wonder

Marco Polo returned from China and India with exotic tales and objects. Amerigo Vespucci described strange and marvelous creatures across the seas. Leonardo dissected thehuman body and marveled at its complexity. Galileo pondered the heavens with telescopes and other instruments. Travelers, explorers, artists, and scientists fostered new knowledge that overwhelmed. To understand an ever-expanding world, Italy established the first European museums. These earliest museums began with collectors acquiring oddities – natural and man-made – to be displayed in cabinets later known as Wunder Kammer. Emerging in the 16th c., these "wonder-rooms" or "wonder cabinets,' were filled with preserved animals, coral, tusks, skeletons, minerals, as well as exotic, man-made objects - "a wide variety of objects and artifacts, with a particular leaning towards the rare, eclectic and esoteric."  They "were regarded as a microcosm or theatre of the world - and a memory theatre."

Our Workshop

During the week, we will be inspired by visits to the Sacro Bosco also known as the Park of the Monsters  in Bomarzo, Etruscan tombs, the Teatrum Mundi, the Tarot Garden   and more.  We will also hunt for modestly -priced treasures at local shops and antique markets. At the studio in Monte Castello, participants will be encouraged to create their own Wunder Kammer by making a small shrine, box, or cabinet to contain venerated objects or display a personal collection of curiosities accumulated on our adventures or brought from home..

Throughout the workshop, participants will be housed in the remarkably well-preserved Umbrian hill town of Monte Castello di Vibio. Your workshop package is all-inclusive, providing welcome and departure services and airport transfer from the Rome Fiumicino, Leonardo Da Vinci Airport (FCO). Aboard our comfortable private bus, single occupancy accommodations with shared bath (a wide range of upgrades with private bath are available), 3 meals per day Monday-Thursday, Prosecco brunch and dinner on Saturday and Sunday (no meals are served on Friday, our excursion day. Your workshop includes one excursion per week and many additional options are available on weekends for an additional fee. Of course, 24/7 access to facilities and 24/7 bi-lingual support are provided.




About the Instructor

Rick Marvello Shelley
“I’m fascinated by  wonderous places, especially places that inspire me to create wonderful things. I’ve traveled to tombs, temples, shrines, and sanctuaries as well as magical gardens, venerated caves, and awe-inspiring monuments. My work strives to recreate the spirit of these places and share it with others.” When Rick Shelley was thirteen, he carefully researched and then built a miniature Egyptian funerary scene with a soap-carved mummy, balsa wood chests filled with treasure, amulets made of chalk, faux papyrus scrolls, and a tiny throne chair with a beach shell for a back. Then, like a want-to-be archeologist, he buried it all in his back yard so he could dig it up days later to imitate Howard Carter’s discovery of Tut’s tomb. Now encased and preserved under a small glass pyramid, the excavated elements of The Valley of the Soap Kings turn out to have been just a foretaste of the artist's lifetime engagement with fantastical objects and magical tales. Indulging a passion for the ancient and the amazing, Rick Shelley collects objects of varying degrees of authenticity for his latter-day Wunderkammer (“cabinets of curiosities”or “cabinets of wonders”). The cabinet of curiosities was a kind of proto-museum, popular among European aristocracy from the 1500’s to the 1700’s. Historical, religious, cultural and scientific objects were collected and displayed side by side in a feast of knowledge in four major categories: Scientifica, Naturalia, Artificialia, and Exotica. Ostensibly assembled for the purpose of understanding the world, truth mingled with fiction and objects like automated toys, rare tusks, biblical relics or weapons from the New World served both  to fire the imagination and dazzle visitors with the collector’s wealth.     Rick Shelley’s Wunderkammer includes both authentic and questionable objects. Vitrines and cabinets display a jumble of curiosities: a thread from Saint Francis’ tunic, a pine cone from ancient Olympia, vials filled with holy water from the Basilica of San Marco and Saint Peters, a glass globe containing the last breath of Marcel Duchamp, Archimedes’ bathtub plug, a manuscript showing the opening bars of Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony, the stone David slung at Goliath, Cleopatra’s other pearl, a feather dropped by the angel Gabriel during the Annunciation, the pickled uvulas of Farinelli and Caruso, cheese curls shaped like a virgin and child, and more. Through it all, is the jovial presence of the artist himself, endlessly imaginative and gently irreverent.       A pseudo-Wunderkammer is Rick Shelley’s Theater Serenissima with a red-curtained stage smaller than a desk top. Theatre Serenissima continues a tradition of miniature theaters that dates to the early 1800’s and was wildly popular as after-dinner entertainment in Victorian parlors. Shelley writes many of the stories for Theatre Serenissima which are often based on Italian folktales about witches, giants, sea monsters, and haunted villas. Scenes change with the pull of a string or drop of a lever to create surprise transformations. Presentations range from sardonic to the sublime, always refining a panoply of tricks to amaze audiences, one small group at a time. With references to long ago times and religious traditions, Rick Shelley’s ceramic and mosaic work have a transcendent quality that lift the viewer out of the everyday. He constructs terra cotta models of gothic cathedrals, shrines, classical temples and other-worldly structures. Over the years, he has created a bestiary of winged sphnixes, cave monsters, bejeweled snakes and spiders, heavenly creatures, and even aliens. Rick Shelley is a founding member of Baltimore Clayworks. He has taught ceramics and mosaics to over a thousand students. His commissions include a mosaic mural of the ancient world at the Walters Art Museum showing sea monsters and wind gods.    

Included Amenities

Click on the links below for detailed information about our included amenities.
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  • Airport transfer from and to the Leonardo da Vinci Rome/Fiumicino Airport (FCO) aboard our private bus (on scheduled dates only). Bus departs the airport promptly at 12PM.
  • Airport welcome service and assistance with baggage
  • 24/7 bi-lingual support with manager on site at all times
  • All ground transport aboard private buses or our ICA van, unless otherwise specified. Licensed and insured professional driver and ICA guide accompany all excursions. Orientation at each destination is provided as is departure coordination (guide service is available upon request — unless specified — for an additional fee)
  • Complimentary bottle of local wine provided in rooms on arrival day and complimentary locally made soap
  • Village orientation and complimentary drinks provided on arrival day
  • Private access to our 5-storey tower at our Palazzo Persiane (on sign-up basis) for spectacular morning and evening views
  • Access to our art materials shop (during posted hours)
  • Thorough orientation lecture and maps provided the evening before departure
  • Return transport to the Rome/Fiumicino Airport (departs 5:30AM) with rest stop
  • Departure service/airport assistance at airport
  • Unless otherwise specified, single occupancy accommodation is provided in rooms with a view of the Tiber Valley that includes sink and vanity. Rooms are with shared bath on each level (3 rooms per bath) in our 14th century convent building, The Asilo. Apartments, rooms with private bath and AC, double rooms, group or villa accommodations are available for couples, business associates/ friends, or groups for an additional fee
  • Linens and towels provided
  • Weekly housekeeping service with change of towels and linens
  • Free washing machine access
  • Good Wi-Fi connection and access to our library and film collection
  • 3 chef-catered, gourmet meals per day (buffet breakfast, 3-course lunch, 4-course dinner) — with wine at lunch and dinner (table wine provided at lunch and dinner. An excellent wine list is offered at additional cost), while in Monte Castello
  • Group dining service is as follows, with breakfast and lunch served in our dining room, etc, with dinner (weather permitting) served on our private terrace overlooking the Tiber Valley
  • Lunch and dinner are plated as follows: pasta course, main course, vegetable, fruit/salad, dessert
  • When requested at registration, vegetarian, vegan, and special dietary options are provided
  • After dinner drinks on our terrace overlooking the Tiber valley
  • Dining service is as follows: Breakfast: 8:00 AM; Lunch: 1:00PM; Dinner: 8:00 PM. No meals are served on Fridays (excursion day) unless otherwise specified
  • On Saturday and Sunday, a full buffet brunch with fresh pastry and Prosecco is served at 11:00 AM
  • On Saturday, homemade, wood-fired pizza is served at 7:00 PM (except on departure days, when a special farewell dinner is served)
  • Sunday dinner with antipasti is served at 7:00 PM
  • Farewell dinner on the evening prior to departure
  • 24/7 access to our primary building and library is provided, including access to workspaces, studios, and ceramics facility
  • Special access to certain cultural and art collections is available upon request
  • FOR VISUAL ARTISTS: private, or semi-private secure and monitored studio space is provided (24/7 access)
  • FOR WRITERS: private workspace is provided (24/7 access)
  • FOR GROUPS: Group workspace is provided (24/7 access)
  • Free access to lectures and events at the Teatro Concordia
  • An end of the session exhibition with reception that includes hors d'oeuvres and Prosecco in our gallery. Posters are prepared to promote the event with copies provided to all participants
  • 1 excursion per week is included (unless otherwise specified in the itinerary) aboard our private bus. Additional trips can of course be scheduled and given our central location. (Day trips are possible to as far north as Siena or Florence and as far south as Rome.)
  • Advanced reservations and ticket purchases for groups and individuals
  • Concierge services provided upon request at an hourly rate
  • Restaurant reservations (provided under Concierge services)
  • Car rental
  • Critique series with visiting visual artists
  • Artist materials workshops
  • Drawing and painting sessions from the figure
  • Cooking classes
  • Cheesemaking workshop
  • Pizza-making workshop
  • Kids cooking classes
  • Wine appreciation and Sommelier Courses
  • Wine and olive oil tastings
  • Vineyard tours
  • Truffle hunting
  • Ballroom dance classes
  • Weekend excursions to flea markets and natural sites
  • Shopping excursions to cashmere and leather outlets, to Deruta famous for fine painted traditional ceramics, and antique stores
  • Overnight excursions to the sea and day-trips to Rome beaches
  • Hot air balloon tours
  • Hot springs excursions
  • Lake Trasimeno tours
  • Umbria abandoned castle and fortress tour
  • Sustainable farming tour 
  • Babysitting services
  • Soccer, archery, and horseback riding camps for kids
  • Motorized mountain bike rentals
  • Electric car rental 
  • Golf-cart tours of Rome and Florence
  • Hiking/naturalist guides to national/regional parks - mountain hiking available
  • Fishing/Hunting Excursions

Payment Options

  • Payment in full (€500 non-refundable deposit is included. No refunds will be issued within 60 days prior to the start of the workshop. See refund policy for more details).
  • Non-refundable €500 deposit (Balance due must be paid a minimum of 30 days prior to workshop).
  • Balance payment (after €500 deposit).

Required Forms

All ICA participants; whether coming independently, with a group or through a college / university, must provide the following completed forms and information to at least 2 weeks prior to attending their program. 
Emergency Contact & Medical Information »Liability Waiver »
Proof of Insurance / Travel Insurance
Itinerary and Passport
For detailed information and to download the required forms, please visit our Guides and Forms page.


Day 1 Sunday, June 9

  • Arrive Rome/Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci Airport (FCO); Bus Departs FCO promptly at 12:00 PM.  With this in mind, we cannot provide shuttle service to flights arriving after 11:00 AM and those participants not arriving by 11:00 will need to make transportation arrangements at their ow expense.
  • Stop at Todi Flea Market en route.  Explore the market's nooks and crannies and hunt for modestly priced treasures.
  • Arrival at Monte Castello di Vibio appx.: 3:30 PM Lunch/ Orientation/ Overview/ Rest/ Tour of village/ Dinner

Day 2 Monday, June 10

  • 8:30 – 9:30 Breakfast
  • 9:30 – 1:00 Excursion: Bomarzo - For five-hundred years, the Sacred Grove of the Monsters has instilled fear, surprise, and wonder. In 1547, Prince Francesco Orsini commissioned an architect to construct a garden with buildings, walkways, and immense mythical creatures - many carved from the natural bedrock. The monsters loom over visitors, some with leering eyes, others with gaping mouths big enough to enter. Wonderous and bizarre!
  • 1:00 – 2:00 Lunch in Monte Castello
  • 2:00 – 7:00 Afternoon session: In the studio in Monte Castello, each participant will begin construction of a small box shrine or cabinet of curiosities. This will be an ongoing project during the week. The studio is open at all times to participants.
  • Before dinner, Rick will give a talk on Orvieto focussing on the cathedrals mosaics and sculpture.
  • 8:00 – 9:00 Dinner

Day 3 Tuesday June 11

  • 8:30 – 9:30 Breakfast
  • 9:30 – 1:00 Excursion: Orvieto - Marvel at the cathedral’s façade—a world treasure covered with marble reliefs and glittering mosaics. Inside, one chapel holds a precious thirteenth century relic in a golden shrine—a sacred cloth stained with Christ’s blood. Another chapel shows Signorelli’s frescos portraying the End Times. The angel Gabriel blows his trumpet. Skeletons, demons, the damned and blessed rise to heaven or fall to hell on the walls and vaults. One scene depicts the Devil whispering commands into the ear of the Anti-Christ. Visit the nearby Etruscan Museum where a huge collection of painted pottery, bronzes, jewelry and everyday items shed light on the lives of the elusive Etruscans and their gods and goddesses. Later, we explore the mysterious underground tombs and corridors excavated by the Etruscans in the sixth century B.C.
  • 1:00 – 2:00 Lunch in Orvieto (not included)
  • 2:00 – 7:00 Afternoon session: Monte Castello: Continue working on project.
  • 8:00 – 9:00 Dinner

Day 4 Wednesday, June 12

  • 8:30 – 9:30 Breakfast
  • 9:30 – 1:00 Excursion: Arezzo - Enter the eclectic chambers of the Teatrum Mundi, a modern-day Cabinet of Wonders displaying dinosaur fossils, meteorites, and paleontological specimens as well as original costumes from Hollywood and authentic objects from the space-age—a feast of ancient and modern curiosities. Teatrum Mundi brings the spirit of the Wunder Kammer to the 21st century and is a rare opportunity to ponder its vast array of the most esoteric, marvelous, and exceptional things the world has to offer. Walk around the medieval city of Arezzo to visit the many churches and antique shops then marvel at the Apennine Colossus before heading back to Monte Castello.
  • 1:00 – 2:00 Lunch in Arezzo (not included)
  • 6:30 Return to MC
  • 8:00 – 9:00 Dinner

Day 5 Thursday, June 13

  • 8:30 – 9:30 Breakfast
  • 9:30 – 1:00 Morning Session: Monte Castello. A lecture on the history of Wunder Kammer followed by studio time to continue work on shrines and cabinets of wonder.
  • 1:00 – 2:00 Lunch
  • 2:00 – 7:00 Afternoon session:Monte Castello. A lecture on the history of Wunder Kammer followed by studio time to continue work on shrines and cabinets of wonder.
  • 7:00 Rick will present a short talk on Italian Folktales and Legends and read a few fables
  • 8:00 – 9:00 Dinner

Day 6 Friday, June 14

  • 8:30 – 9:30 Breakfast
  • 9:30 – 1:00 Morning Session: Excursion - Tuscany. Wander through the Tarot Garden, outsider artist Niki de Saint Phalle’s magnum opus —a playful labyrinth of paths where twenty-two monumental, psychedelic sculptures based on the esoteric tarot tower above the landscape. Each is exquisitely mosaiced with colorful glass, ceramic, and mirror tiles and represent the artist’s ideas on the greater Mysteries of the Tarot. Images from her imagination depict enormous dancing goddesses, magicians, serpents, and giants with titles like Tree of Life, the High Priestess, the Emperor, the Popess. During the garden’s construction, the artist lived inside a sphinxlike sculpture named the Empress. A truly magical place!
  • Lunch on site (not included)
  • 8:00 – 9:00 Dinner

Day 7 Saturday, June 15


  • 11:00 AM Brunch
  • Continue work on projects
  • 6:00 - 8:00 PM Exhibition
  • 8:00 PM Farewell Dinner

Day 8 Sunday, June 16

  • Rome/Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci Airport (FCO); Bus Departs Monte Castello at 5:30 AM
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