Rebecca Gilliland

When I approached Becca with the proposition of an interview, the first things to greet me were her bright, lively blue eyes reflecting back the fruit of her labors at Podere Cannicci. The twenty-one year old History and Art History major from the University of Arkansas is at once full of fiery ambition and serenity; her days are balanced between her intense work ethic under the heat of the Tuscan sun and the time she sets aside for herself to rest and read, and she is proud both of her strength and her introverted nature. Although her calloused hands skimming across the edges of smooth paper appear to be contradicting images, Becca’s love of reading stems largely from the same source as her interest in the worlds of the past—Her preference for historically-bent fiction reveals her desire to reconstruct the potentialities of bygone days, and her fondness of comedic biographies highlights the balance of factual events and the power over the reality of the past that methods of story-telling have. In fact, Becca has always said that she loves being a history major because it “is like reading a book that just never ends”—the magnificently improbable realities of people long ago coming to life before her eyes through her studies occupy a similar space in her mind as the magnificently probable fictions which she reads. All fiction, Becca believes, is born from history, as every fictional story portrays events that might have happened or might happen in the future, and the pursuit to understand people finds unity in these two ways of storytelling.

These stories, real and imaginary, swim in Becca’s brain in both her studies and her quiet moments, and her favorite spots to retreat for peace are behind a small coffee shop on her college’s campus, hidden from the sight of those passing by, and under a grand tree in front of the Fine Arts building. In both cases, she is always reading. After her first week of excavation, she has added the comfortable seat of an overturned metal wheelbarrow to her list of peaceful places, but her competitive nature and experience playing sports have driven her as well to work extraordinarily hard and surprise herself with her newfound skills and her body’s ability. The labor for her is not only a form of reading history but allows her to witness and engage in all of the work behind the museum displays that she loves to explore. Just as the lives of these artifacts in the ground are precursors to their lives in museums, Becca herself sees this work both as a springboard for the rest of her life and an improbable adventure, a story of which she is now a part and one that she could have never imagined.

Text by: Elisabeth Woldeyohannes

Photography by: Riley James