As in most forms of art, there is a time tested tradition of training that goes back for centuries, being passed down from master to student. The apprenticeship model provides the most in depth training in any respective field. In ancient Greece, sculptors took on students as apprentices. Medieval Europe formulated the guild system, basically a systematic apprenticeship where a small group of students would live, study, and work for an acknowledged master. Upon meeting the standards of the guild, they would become masters in their own right and take on students of their own, each adding to the accumulating bank of knowledge. By the mid 1600s, in response to the then “over regulated and restricted” guild system, the French government created the Academie Royale de Painture et de Sculpture. This lasted until Napoleon, who dissolved it and then established the Ecole des Beaux Arts.This was unique in the fact that the student was given the choice of which teacher they wished to study with. Paris soon became the center of the art world where students from around the globe flocked to study. Ecole des Beaux was primarily state sponsored, with the school year culminating at the official Salon. A successful showing at the Salon all but guaranteed a successful career, and rejection or lack of notice often led to obscurity and a life of poverty. Most patronage at this time still came from the state, the church, or the aristocracy, which led to most young artists desperately trying to win the attention of the Salon jurors, who were very academic and often tended to be somewhat narrow in their outlook. Individual creativity began to be somewhat stifled at the expense of beautiful craftsmanship. Eventually, this led to off-shoots developing in both training options, (often called Ateliers), along with multiple new venues for showing work. This corresponded with the growing industrial revolution, which eventually created an affluent middle class. Americas fortunes were also on the rise, with many wealthy Americans wanting to live like the European upper class, which included the collection of fine art. With the grip of the salon loosened and the growing and varied patronage, Paris at the end of the 1800s became a pinnacle in the history of the visual arts. The Atelier model continued to spread with a number of studio-schools also forming in America.
Then came WW1, the collapse of many world governments, a move away from a ruling aristocracy, a horrendous flu outbreak, communism, Darwinism, a rising secularism… And the whole world was shifted. This was followed by a world wide depression and another horrendous world war capped off by a nuclear policy of mutual accused destruction. The modernist movement permeated the arts as a very legitimate reaction to all of this upheaval and turmoil. But it was was only in the visual arts that the idea of a classical education was permanently abandoned. The result from this shift in taste and philosophy is that with many of the young students embracing the new modernism, and most of the well-trained traditional artists falling out of favor and into obscurity was that by the 1950s, much of the accumulated knowledge on the craft of representational painting resided in a relatively small handful of artists. Very few of these remaining painters took on students of their own.
One painter who did teach, was R.H. Ives Gammell. Born in Boston (1893). Gammell was independently wealthy and had studied in both Paris and America under some of the finest painters of his day. His artistic lineage could be traced back, from student to teacher, to Jacques-Louis David, the famous painter of Napoleon. After WW1, Gammell returned to Boston, and was alarmed by what he perceived to be the rapid disintegration of the western art world… So he decided to retaliate. With his wealth insulating him from having to earn a living, he wrote extensively against the modernist trend and eventually began to take on students of his own. Richard Lack was one of his first and most successful students who, following his formal training and studying in Europe abroad, moved back to his native Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1969 to open his own school, Atelier Lack. Jeffrey T. Larson (GLAFA founder and head instructor), was fortunate to be accepted into Lacks full-time program in 1980. At that time, Only about half a dozen schools in the world still offered this unique training.
Today however, the Atelier movement is flourishing and has taken root once again across the globe. Young aspiring artists have multiple options to apprentice with living representational painters. Great Lakes Academy is proud to be a part of this movement and is dedicated to the upholding of these timeless traditions.
HISTORY OF ST. PETER’S
During Brock Larson’s study at The Atelier, his father, Jeffrey T. Larson, began teaching there once a month. Brock also began to teach part time during his last year there and a dream began to solidify. They desired to open a small studio/school in Duluth, MN. The dream began to take shape with the purchase of an old, historic, stone church that had been sitting vacant for a few years. This dream has blossomed into The Great Lakes Academy of Fine Art.
Great Lakes Academy of Fine Art (GLAFA) is located in what was formerly St. Peter’s Catholic Church. It is located up on “Observation Hill” in the heart of what was once known as Duluth’s “Little Italy”. This area was populated by Italian immigrants, many of them being the skilled stone masons and brick layers who built much of Duluth’s beautiful architecture and landmarks, such as the Enger Tower. Observation Hill overlooks Lake Superior’s harbor where on any given day you will see huge ocean going ships and barges making their way under the famous Aerial Lift Bridge.
St. Peter’s Church was the spiritual and cultural heart of this proud Italian community. The building itself was hand built in the early 1920’s by the skilled craftsmen within their congregation. These hard working artisans would volunteer their time after work and weekends to harvest the natural Duluth stone from the hills above the church. In the winter they would load the heavy rock onto sleds and were able to slide them down to the building site. It took them two years and much manual labor to complete their church.
The bell in the north tower was cast in France in 1885 specifically for the first French Catholic church built by French missionaries. The Italians purchased that church from them after the French congregation moved and built a larger church in 1905. They also gave the Italians the bell at this time. The Italians soon out grew the former French church building which led them to begin the construction of their very own church.
The last church service was held at St. Peter’s in 2010 and the church sat empty, dark, and without heat as it began to fall into deterioration. Jeffrey T. Larson purchased the building in the fall of 2015 and work on a complete renovation and overhaul of this structure with its vast artistic potential began. New heat, electrical, and stairwells etc. are just a part of the needed renovation, all the while maintaining the integrity, especially on the exterior of this piece of Duluth’s history and pride.
Setting aside the inherent beauty and historical significance of this 8,000 square foot structure, the lay out, the large north facing windows, the 28 foot vaulted ceiling, and over all feel, are ideal for its conversion into a fine art studio. The first level with its 14 foot ceilings allow for private studios, dorm rooms and part-time class room along with a kitchen and common area.
The view from the back of the property is simply breathtaking. It looks out over the largest freshwater lake in the world, by surface area, Lake Superior. The Ojibwa call the lake gichi-gami, meaning “great sea”.
“The early history of western art is so very much entwined with the history of the Roman Catholic Church that I think it is fair to say that one had a hand in shaping the other. For many centuries the scriptures came alive for a primarily illiterate population in the form of frescoes, oil paintings, sculpture and stained glass windows. It feels right, in this secular age, to be able to offer the opportunity to help pass on to this generation of young artists, from within the walls of St. Peter’s, the skills to someday become someone whose unique vision, combined with solid craftsmanship, will create images that resonate in the eyes of others in a manner that is both relevant and profound for today.” – Jeffrey T. Larson