Meet Eleanor Caswell Simonsen

Eleanor Caswell Simonsen

Eleanor was a student in Cortona during the Summer of 2005, and studied ceramics, sculpture and art history. She holds a BFA degree in Painting from UGA, and is currently the Marketing Director at Alexander Haas, a fundraising consulting firm (as well as a practicing artist as much as possible in her spare time!)  She has been married to Eric Simonsen, a fellow Cortona alumnus and talented artist, for nearly 2 years. They have a puggle named Bella (note that Italian name!) and enjoy travelling, cooking and spending time with family and friends.

She took a few moments of her time away from painting to answer a few questions for the C.I.A.O. newsletter.

Biggest surprise about Cortona     “Everything. Studying a semester abroad in Cortona exceeded all my expectations. I loved every minute I spent there. I had never been to Italy and all the places we visited were all so amazing and beautiful. I loved the culture, the wonderful people, and the Italian way of life. I was already on the path to fulfilling a degree in painting when I spent a semester in Cortona, and I wanted to take that opportunity to experience other art classes new to me. I took ceramics and sculpture, which I surprisingly really enjoyed.  

I went to Cortona without knowing anyone, and built life long friendships from my experience spending a semester there, and is something I didn’t expect but am so thankful for.”

Greatest challenge     “Probably the sculpture class I took while in Cortona — particularly working with stone. With a background in drawing and painting, it was a challenge to shift my artistic abilities from visualizing 2d to 3d. Also, the tedious nature of sculpting in stone and it being a more unforgiving medium was challenging. However, I enjoyed the class, especially the bronze sculpting, and I also loved the outdoor class environment.”

Favorite class     “My favorite class was ceramics. I really enjoyed our teacher, Tony. Though ceramics is sculptural, painting is also an essential element and combined with the unpredictable nature of a kiln and how a piece of art turns out was something I was drawn to.”

Life lesson learned     “Creating art is an intuitive process, but I feel my experience helped me to develop my art in an even more instinctual way and not over analyze or over work a piece of art. I think perhaps this realization was influenced in part by the surrounding Italian culture and its more relaxed atmosphere. Studying abroad in Italy overall was such an incredible and unique opportunity, and certainly impacted my creative process and how I aspire to live in many regards.”

Best or most striking memory     “Meeting my husband! Eric was a student studying abroad in Cortona the same semester as I did, and we were in the same sculpture class. We’ve been together ever since and have been married for almost 2 years.

Additionally, and as I had been approaching my third year in working towards a degree in painting, studying abroad in Cortona only renewed my sense of creativity as being a fundamental part of who I am, and the importance of my artwork as a method of my own self-discovery and inner-reflection, and which allows me to activate what I am most passionate about. That recognition that art is what I am meant to pursue is something I will carry with me always.”

Have you returned to Cortona?   “I have not returned yet, but I think about it often and cannot wait to go back to Cortona. I don’t know exactly when I will, but I am certain my husband and I will return to the place where we met and have so many special memories from.”

My Fantasy Artist Dinner Party    “Any of the artists from the abstract expressionism period. As an abstract painter, I have always been inspired by abstract expressionists including Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Max Ernst, Barnett Newman, Franz Kline, Hans Hofmann and Philip Guston, among many others.”

Latest book read    “I recently reread a book entitled Color and Culture that was recommended to me by one of the professors I had in a studio painting class.”

Current project(s)    “I have recently been working on paintings consisting of a series of abstract landscapes.”

A current work by Simonsen


  1. Marty Child says:

    I read in Eleanor Simonsen’s profile that she met her husband during her semester in Cortona. I met my wife (Dale Gilliland) in the summer of 1979 when we were both studying in Cortona. We just recently celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary and I was wondering if you know how many students met their future spouse while studying in Cortona. It is indeed a wonderful place to fall in love and I know there must be many stories like ours that would be a lot of fun to share.

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