Back in 1999, a man walked into my studio looking for someone to do mosaics for Newport Elementary School in Newport Beach, CA. He’d been wandering around my “artsy” neighborhood asking if anyone knew someone who could do the mosaic work he envisioned for this school, listed on the National Registry of Historic Buildings. Someone, in their great and prophetic wisdom, sent him to my studio, despite the fact that I was a painter. When he arrived, he described his vision and asked me if this was something I would consider—his confidence in me based solely on the paintings in my studio. I told him, “I’ve always wanted to do a mosaic,” to which he replied, “there are NINE of them.” “Well, I haven’t always wanted to do NINE of them.” I then warned him that I’d never made a mosaic. Not put off, he asked me if I thought I could figure it out?
I said “YES, absolutely!”
He walked out a few minutes later, having given me my very first mosaic commission of nine mosaic murals in a medium I knew NOTHING about. NO idea where to find the information. NO clue what they were made of. And NO idea what to charge. Suffice it to say, I struggled through that project, which consumed sixteen months of my life to complete, and took me from mosaic kindergarten to college in 60 seconds!
I bought two books, and because I was a highly educated artist with a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting and illustration, I applied my finely tuned, problem-solving skills and former experience with multiple mediums to meet the many challenges of materials, sources, substrates, mounting, grouting, and every other problem that popped up—including the afternoon highs of using rubber cement as my first temporary adhesive. Yes, I said rubber cement. But I got the job done, and with each three-foot by seven-foot panel, new glasses emerged from the internet and I learned to craft images closer and closer to the painterly, moving, light-filled subjects I strived for in my paintings.
I worked this way for years, alone—or with my painter sister Tara, in my studio—completely unaware that there were others out there who were also bringing the ancient art form of mosaic back to life. I never thought of myself as a mosaicist, just an artist working in another medium, and this served me well as I built my business and aesthetic without the input or influence of anyone else but my little sister, and the masters. Tara and I traveled to Italy and re-examined the mosaics in St. Peters that, on first viewing years earlier, we thought were paintings. We touched and examined every ancient cut and grout line we could (sneaking past the guards), and I fell in love with High Renaissance mosaics and their painterly qualities and detail.
At this point I was still working in the “double indirect” (I think that is what others called it) method, because that’s what I learned from a book, but I was frustrated at my inability to achieve the subtleties of my paintings OR those mosaics in the Vatican! So, I went back to the internet and hunted for every kind of glass and color I could find. I was working this way for about ten years before a friend asked me why I didn’t use stained glass? It had never occurred to me that you could BUY stained glass! I thought it just magically appeared in those fabulous windows all around the world, so, somewhat sarcastically, I asked her “where do you buy stained glass?” She informed me that I lived about 15 minutes from the largest glass distributer in the country! She took me to Hollander Glass the next day. The minute I entered the warehouse, it was as if the clouds parted, the sun came out, and my whole world changed! I switched to the direct (face up) method that day and never looked back. Never.
I was a good 12 to 13 years in before I started to see the occasional mention of SAMA online, and I started to peek out from my seclusion to discover I was not the sole survivor stranded on an island of mosaics. There were others like me, struggling with the same issues, TAKING CLASSES, and organizing on the mothership of mosaic called SAMA! I was surprised and delighted to see how the artform was growing, so the creative loner in me dragged my butt out of the shadows and joined the mosaic tribe in 2012. Whew! I had always done my own thing, which was good for my vision, but joining SAMA connected me to not just a country but to a whole world of mosaic-lovers.
It took me a couple more years to do more than look through the glass at SAMA—until I entered MAI and had my work, Glory, accepted for MAI in Philadelphia. I attended the conference and met a number of artists whose work I respect, while being awed by the speakers and talent at the numerous exhibitions, not to mention dancing my heart out complete with silly hat and bangles at the themed, grand party at the close of a long mosaic- and mural-filled week in the City of Brotherly Love.
My relatively recent exploration and exposure through SAMA and its members have opened up whole new worlds to me, literally. I have met mosaic masters and maestros and been led gently, but enthusiastically, into the international speaking, exhibition, and workshop world—taking me to Italy, Greece, England, Turkey, and Israel in just two years. I am most grateful for the fabulous mosaic artists I have met and taught and learned from through my own adventures and the work of others. SAMA is the collect-all for the best of American mosaics and aside from traveling and teaching, it has also opened my vision to embrace sculptural abstracts and the making and fusing of glass, which I am now exploring.
There is such diversity in the wealth of SAMA’s artists, and, had I never opened that door—after being sequestered in my studio for years—I would not be exploring the world and my work the way I am now. I’ve buried gorgeous pieces of handblown and fused glass bought from SAMA vendors into my work and have been continuously pushed to challenge myself after watching others invent things and methods I would never have even thought of. I have found new resources to solve my problems and made friends to console myself when things go wrong (or celebrate when they go right!). I have discovered my own following and learned to learn from others, but most of all, being a member of SAMA just keeps me inspired to keep doing what I love, and motivated to do it better than I did before.