Coral Gables

A love affair with the Eternal City

An etching by UM architect professor Thomas Spain of the Pantheon in Rome. An exhibition of Spain’s etchings of Rome is on display through Friday  at the Korach Gallery at the Jorge M. Perez Architecture Center at the University of Miami in Coral Gables.
An etching by UM architect professor Thomas Spain of the Pantheon in Rome. An exhibition of Spain’s etchings of Rome is on display through Friday at the Korach Gallery at the Jorge M. Perez Architecture Center at the University of Miami in Coral Gables. University of Miami

Most know Rome as the Eternal City, but for University of Miami professor Thomas Spain, it is also a destination of endless knowledge to consume visually.

From its grand arches to its stunning architecture, the city has never failed to enthrall the architecture professor. Since UM’s first study trip there in 1999, Spain has returned to marvel at the city around 15 times.

“It has incredible juxtaposition,” said Spain, an architect. “There is all the historical stuff and then there are things that are modern. It is also where people over history have invested a lot of money, effort and time into the architecture.”

In Rome, Spain, who joined the UM faculty in 1966, takes a unique approach to teaching his students. He believes the best way for them to understand the architectural history is to draw their way through the city. He, too, draws detailed etchings in pencil, ink and watercolor.

“It is important that they see high-quality architecture,” said Spain, who is married to Dona Spain, the city’s historical resources director.

Added colleague Steven Fett: “Most professors in Rome conceptualize a project and design something for it. He just takes them out and for hours at a time and they just draw.’’

Spain’s etchings of the Eternal City, along with his etchings of Coral Gables, are on display through Friday at the Korach Gallery at the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus. UM architecure professor Jorge Hernandez will discuss Spain’s works at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Glasgow Hall.

“His drawings of Rome speak for themselves,” said Fett, who is a co-curator of the exhibit. “They have amazing devotion to detail. Some of his drawings take six months to a year to complete.”

Spain is so fond of Rome that he has committed to sharing his love affair with future architecture students. While he plans to retire at the end of the academic year, he hopes that architecture students continue to visit. As such, he established the Tom Spain Rome Program Endowment five years ago, which provides scholarships to students for the Rome program. The program has raised $210,000 in scholarships to date.

“It is a one-time deal to be able to have that experience at that age,” Spain said. “They are at a stage in their life when they have relatively few distractions. They can concentrate on their own drawings and their own experiences.”

As for life after 48 years for teaching, Spain’s plans are straightforward.

“I’ll draw,” he said.

If you go

Professor Thomas Spain’s etchings of Rome and Coral Gables will be on display from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. through Friday at the Korach Gallery, Jorge M. Perez Architecture Center, 1215 Dickinson Dr., University of Miami’s Coral Gables Campus. UM archicture professor Jorge L. Hernandez will conduct a lecture at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Glasgow Hall. The exhibit and lecture are free and open to the public.

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