The Orange Umbrellas


By Meaghan White
Photo by the author

For as long as I can remember I have seen paintings of orange umbrellas filling the walls of each one of my relatives homes. Not until recently I got to see and experience the making of the orange umbrellas. My great uncle Nelson White is an artist living here in Florence. During the month of September he packs up his paintbrush and easel and heads to the Tuscan Coast to a beach town called Viareggio. It is there in Viareggio where he paints his unique orange umbrellas.

Nelson White is a part of a long line of American Impressionists. His father and his grandfather both practiced painting and from an early age Nelson studied under them. His style is greatly influenced by their teachings and his interest of vibrant colors comes from their teachings as well. The search for vibrant colors is what brought Nelson to Florence. When I first called him when I moved out her he asked if I was blown away by the vibrant tones of the city, and I was. Florence is rich in culture and architecture and it creates scenes filled with bright oranges and reds.

Viareggio has a similar color scheme but instead of it being in the architecture it is located on the beaches. Six miles of beach stretches across towns and each inch of the beach is covered in colorful umbrellas. My uncle’s favorite umbrellas to paint are orange ones located at a beach club called La Salute. He told me has been painting the umbrellas on that beach for over seven years now. When we walked onto the beach the staff members, who Nelson has become close with over time, immediately greeted us. He told me that in the beginning they were very honored that an artist wanted to paint on their beach.

When we got to his table, he started to pull out a sketch of what was in front of us. Four umbrellas were in the sketch and I watched as my uncle carefully examined the scene. When he started to paint he used the palate knife instead of a paintbrush to create his marks on the canvas. When I asked him why he did that he said that his grandfather told him that if he truly wanted to create vibrant colors to use the palate knife, the paintbrush takes away some color. He has been using a palate knife ever since then. Finally being able to see the making of the famous orange umbrellas was truly an experience for me and I am forever grateful that my uncle asked me to come to the beach with him that day.