We’ve been visiting old friends on this trip, but sometimes we get to visit new friends, who somehow feel like old friends after a very short time.
I had heard about Rebecca Sigler-Africano and her husband Nicolas Africano for years. Rebecca is the twin sister of our friend Deborah, whom we know because her husband, Rob Peña, taught with us at the UO in the early 90s. We finally got to meet them when their son, Gianni, enrolled in the architecture program at the UO four years ago, and they would sometimes head west from their home in Normal, Illinois, for Gianni’s final reviews. We’d really enjoyed spending time with them in Eugene, so we headed south from Chicago for a short visit.
They live in one of the most extraordinary places I’ve ever seen; years ago they bought a mid-19th century orphanage in Normal, with lots of land and buildings, with room for a residence for them and their three sons, and the studio space which Nicholas uses to create his large, figural sculptures. Over the years they have sold off some of the property to friends, but they live in the main building, a simple but elegant brick edifice with beautifully-proportioned rooms arranged on a central hallway and cross-axis for entry.
The home was amazing, and so was everything else about our visit – the hospitality, the food, the interesting and lovely neighbors they invited over for a dinner party, the chance for Greta to see what teenaged life is like in Normal (as she headed out to a horror movie with their son Pablo and his friends) but mostly the chance for what seemed like a non-stop, 24-hour conversation about life and art. Nicolas took us through the building he uses as his studio, which comprises his sculpture studio (the room where he creates the wax sculptures which are used to make molds for glass casting), the kiln rooms (where his assistant uses the lost wax method to make the molds and then cast the glass), and his private study, which is where he thinks and creates.
The grounds were gracious and beautiful (no one else on our trip has told us that they’d open the gates so we could pull our camper into the courtyard), with plenty of room for Luigi (the dog) to run around.