Mosaics Came to Me Sideways

Cody Abbott

Cody Abbott, Photographer: Jeff Johnson, Chicago, IL

by Cody Abbott , Chicago, Illinois

I want to share with you my personal journey in mosaics and how SAMA has been a large part of that journey for me. I don’t make my living through my art (I am however, insanely jealous of those who do!). I have no website and no awards to mention. I am not a classically trained artist. In fact, I was the kid who couldn’t stay in the lines in the coloring book and insisted on making the clouds green and the trees purple. Consequently, at the suggestion of my elementary art teachers, I tucked away any artistic inclinations and focused my interest in the social sciences. And what does a person do with a degree in Political Science? Spend the next 25-plus years in the business world, of course.

And so, mosaics came to me sideways. Like a car crashing into another from the side, just like in the movies. It came totally unexpected and took my breath away.

Ten years ago my best friend Chris Forillo decided to enroll in a 6-week class taught by some crazy, green-haired woman who had set up shop on Ashland Avenue. Chris regaled me with stories of both the antics of the instructor as well as the progress of his project which, to this day stands as his crowning mosaic achievement!

Eventually I had the chance to meet this wild woman, later known to me as Karen Ami. It didn’t happen overnight, but finally both Karen & Chris persuaded me to take the introductory course. In three words: I was hooked! My first project was a lop-sided snowflake. But I had found an enthusiasm inside myself that I hadn’t known in years.

By 2006 Chris was now Operations Manager for SAMA and wouldn’t you know it, the SAMA conference was right in Chicago! While I had yet to become a dues-paying member, I did support the cause by helping to direct members to the awaiting buses which would take them to the inaugural evening of the “Breaking the Wave” exhibition. Inside the gallery I was amazed at what mosaics could be, and what they meant to other people. As the interloper that night I mixed with the crowd, admired the work and eavesdropped on several interesting conversations!
Meanwhile, I would dive head-first into my newly found passion. My first two projects were no larger than 10”x10”. With a great deal of naivety and ambition, my third effort was a coffee table which was done in the style of a work by Frank Lloyd Wright. It has been non-stop ever since. Well, non-stop until…November 20th, 2008 I suffered a massive heart attack. I was 45 years old.

Cody Abbott, I Was a Willow Last Night in My Dreams

Cody Abbott, “I Was a Willow Last Night in My Dreams”, 8×10 in. smalti

Here’s the Cliff notes version of the event: I was on a treadmill at the gym. It was full-blown cardiac arrest. Fortunately a doctor was working out next to me and started CPR and the gym had a defibrillator. To cap off my good fortune, I was only a few minutes from one of Chicago’s finest hospitals. Now if you want all the gory details, you can just ask Chris because he was right there to witness it all!

Well, I imagine that being brought back from the brink of death has a profound impact on most people, and it certainly did for me. I was adrift emotionally. My professional work brought me no joy or pleasure. I needed to reevaluate what was important to me in this life and the only thing that helped me focus was my mosaics. As I recovered that winter I was looking forward to the SAMA conference scheduled for March in San Diego. Unfortunately that was not to be. Three days before my flight was to depart I had a second “cardiac event”. While it was short of an actual heart attack, it kept me sidelined and in the hospital in Chicago.

I was so upset with the doctors and my body for keeping me away from the SAMA conference that year. It was then that I truly realized how important SAMA is to me and my love of mosaics.The SAMA conference is an annual capstone for me. It is not only a personal celebration of my love for mosaics but also because I have the opportunity to be with so many special people.

I haven’t missed a SAMA conference since.

Cody Abbott, Sunset Tulips

Cody Abbott, “Sunset Tulips”, 37 x 25 in., Stained Glass and Vitreous Glass Tile

You see, it’s really is about the people… the people with whom I share a common love of mosaics. You are kind, warm-hearted, funny, generous, and creative people. By being in your presence, I am made a better person, and I am inspired as an artist. I have not just sat around a work table with many of you. I have sat around family dinner tables, around campfires, and even sat Shiva with you. You have supported me in ways that many of you will never know. And for that I say a heart-filled thank you.

With mosaics I have found peace and tranquility in an otherwise turbulent world. Every time I sit down to work on my latest creation, I drift into a place that only another artist can truly appreciate. It gives me unlimited focus. I’m able to meditate on what is important to me and all the stress and strains of the day wash away.
This is my wish for every SAMA member, that each of you can experience the same joy as I have from this wonderful art form and it’s very special community.