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2013 March

Update from the Mosaic Mecca of South America: Puente Alto & Isidora Paz López

Chicarra/Cicada "Cicada chilensis" & Sahumerio (Incense) "Twedia confertiflora" Design: Nicolás Chacón. Drawing: Paulo Meyer. Pillar Director: Gonzalo San Martín. Execution principal figures: Gonzalo San Martín & Hector Velozo

It has been over six months since we lasted visited what is quickly becoming the mosaic Mecca of South America, Puente Alto Chile, in “A Natural History Museum in Mosaic Rises in Chile: Isidora Paz López.”

Isidora Paz López

Since then, under the continued direction of Ms. López, a team of up to 60 artists has applied a total of over 3,100 square meters of mosaic to the concrete jungle of a light rail system that bifurcates the town even as it links it to the capital city of Santiago.

Sótero de Rio Station

What was once three drab metro stations and 84 eye-numbing track support columns is now a shimmering, vibrant, visually stunning celebration of the area’s flora, fauna and history. And, thanks to the city’s unparalleled commitment to mosaic, it is continuing to grow in exciting new ways.  More on that later.

In this article, we’ll update you on what is happening in Puente Alto and pay homage to the incredible team that Ms. López continually praises for their artistic and personal contributions to the project. 

The 2013 Puente Alto Mosaic Team

But first a brief history (which is by no means a substitute for the original article here). In 2011, Ms. López, an artist trained in ceramic and new to mosaic, took on a project to mosaic the external walls of Puente Alto’s sports stadium. The results were so well received that the city’s mayor, Manuel José Ossandón approached López with a new challenge – the metro stations and pillars – and a deadline – completion by the end of Ossandón’s tenure – a little over one year.

Daunted but inspired, López dreamed a very big dream – to use this space to “wake up” the people of Puente Alto to their precious natural and historical heritages. The pillars would become an outdoor natural museum. The station walls would tell compelling stories of Puente Alto’s history.  

While the deadline was missed (by just a few weeks) López’ goal of inspiring a community has been met – so much so that new challenges have been given her. But we’ll get to that a little later. Let’s get on with that update.

The Pillars

Arguably the most captivating portion of the metro mosaics project, each of the pillars is a work of art in and of itself. López and her team developed a visual language and structured palette that links the 84 pillars together.  Each starts with a photograph which is then translated into a drawing applied directly to the pillar.

Gonzalo San Martín & Nicolas Chacón

Guiña "Leopardus guigna" and Palqui "Cestrum parqui" Design: Paulo Meyer. Drawing: Paulo Meyer. Pillar Director: Gonzalo San Martín. Execution principal figures: Gonzalo San Martín & Nicolás Chacón

The smallest cat in the Americas, the guiña has been classified as “Vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature because of its rapidly vanishing numbers.  Here we see the project’s commitment to educating the town’s residents about what López refers to as “the treasure” of the region.

Lopez: "We like to start with the eyes."

Tricahue/Burrowing Parrot "Cyanoliseus patagonus" Design: Javiera Melo. Drawing: Paulo Meyer. Pillar Director: Javiera melo. Execution principal figures: Sabrina Morgado & Soledad Fuentealba

A thick black line of grout around the principal figures gives a visual “pop” that pulls them forward to the viewer.

Vizcacha "Lagidium viscacia" & Pachy "Pachyaena atriplicifolia" Design: Paulo Meyer. Drawing: Paulo Meyer. Pillar Director: Javiera Melo. Execution principle figures: Javiera Melo & Maurix Gutierrez

As you can see from the captions, a creative hierarchy has been developed that closely mirrors the way the ancient Romans worked.  The labor is divided between artists responsible for design, the more skilled artisans who complete the principal figures and finally the mighty background artists whose work can often make or break a mosaic.

Pichi/Armadillo "Zaedyus pichiy" & Mariposita de la Cordillera/Butterfly Flower "Schizanthus coccineus" Design: Isidora Paz López. Drawing: Paulo Meyer: Pillar Director: Javiera Melo. Execution of principal figures: Javiera Melo & Soledad Fuentealba

The work is so fine and so exacting, that it is difficult to believe that everything is done on site – rain, shine or snow – using simple nippers and often standing on platforms.

Mariposa del Chagual "Castnia psittacus" & Chagual "Puya berteroniana" Design: Isidora Paz López. Drawing: Paulo Meyer. Pillar Director: Valeria Merino. Execution principal figures: Cesar Ariel Cadiz & Mario Sobarzo

Gonzalo San Martín & Catalina Larraín

Mariposa/Butterfly "Pseodolucia chilensis" & Orquidea/Orchid "Orchidaceae chloraeinae" Design: Isidora Paz López. Drawing: Paulo Meyer. Pillar Director: Gonzalo San Martín. Execution principal figures: Gonzalo San Martín & Catalina Larraín

There are so many beautiful pillars, we found it difficult to pick which ones to show in the limited space here. Before we move along to the splendid stations, here are two more that we found particularly charming . . .

Skunk/Chingue "Conepatus chinga" & Clavel del campo "Muticia subulata" Design: Paulo Meyer. Drawing. Paulo Meyer. Pillar Director: Gonzalo San Martín. Execution principal figures: Cesar Ariel Cadiz & Nicolás Chacon

Sapo Quatro Ojos/Four-eyed Toad "Pleurodema taul" & Berro Amarillo/Monkeyflower "Mimulus luteus" Design: Paulo Meyer. Drawing: Paulo Meyer. Pillar director: Valeria Merino: Execution principal figures: Isabel Cristina Gonzales & Bernarda Quezada

The Three Stations

It all started with the Elisa Correa Station, the first metro stop in Puente Alto.  Here, López chose to capture the grandeur of the Andes mountains. One side of the station is devoted to sunrise on the snowcapped peaks, the other to sunset.

Elisa correa Station "Sunrise" 130 square meters. Design: Isidora Paz López. Drawing: Collective. Made by: Paulo Meyer, Valeria Merino & Carolina Gonzalez, Hector Velozo, Gonzalo San Martín, Javiera Melo, Alejandra Guzmán, Isidora Paz López

Elisa Correa Station "Sunset" 130 square meters. Design: Carolina Gonzalez. Drawing: Collective. Made by: Paulo Meyer, Valeria Merino, Carolina Gonzalez, Hector Velozo, Gonzalo San Martín, Javiera Melo, Alejandra Guzmán and Isidora Paz López

The design for the Sótero de Rio Station was inspired by metro riders who use this station to access the public hospital nearby. López:

There is a lot of traffic in this station – people going to and from the hospital –  and most of the time they are very sad. We decided to take a deeper look into the mountains and their waters, trying to create a space of peace and healing.  Recently, an ancient bridge – hundreds of years old – was discovered. We included it as a symbol of the passage from life to death – the light at the end of the tunnel.

The third station, Protectora de la Infancia speaks to the town’s agricultural heritage and is also an homage to the House of Orphans, Protectora de la Infancia which for over 100 years has provided for the welfare and education of children in need. Originally run by a group of nuns, the organization continues to thrive today as a non-profit.

Landscape of the valley of "Cajón del Maipo" 120 square meters. Design: Sebastián Garretón. Drawing: Claudio Gacitúa.

Fox made by Paloma Cale

The Team at work.

240 square meters of mosaic were applied to the station.  It was completed in six weeks by a team of 27 people.

The Trinchera Wall

The final portion of the metro mosaics is a long cement wall that follows the point where the metro goes underground.  Appropriately, the Trinchera design pays respect to the Puente Alto’s historical railroad. It also celebrates the “new” Puente Alto with a giant replica of the city’s shield.

One section of Trinchera wall. 80 meters long. Design: Sebastian Garretón & Isidora López. Drawing: Claudio Gacitúa

Shield of the Municipality of Puente Alto

Detail of Shield. Work by Francisco Gonzalez

A City on Fire for Mosaic

Trinchera is still a work in progress but, when complete, will bring the total mosaic surfacing in Puente Alto to over 4,000 square meters – all of it sponsored by and paid for by the Municipality of Puente Alto.

The response from the community has been tremendous. López reports that every day while the crew has been working, residents have stopped by to check on on their progress and comment on how beautiful the mosaics are. Some have even been inspired to gather shards at the end of the day for their own mosaics. A town once discounted as a “poor relation” to Santiago now has a point of pride in “acres” of beautiful art.

Inspired by the project, a woman collects tile shards for her own mosaic pursuits.

Everything about this project has been audacious – from its inception as the first art to be incorporated in a metro station in Chile to its size (it is easily the largest mosaic installation in South America) – from the astonishing development of a group of relative newcomers to mosaic into an art-making machine to its giant, beautiful, beating graphic heart in representing the “treasures” of Puente Alto.

What’s Next

Isidora Paz López , new mayor German Codina, and the City of Puente Alto have more plans for mosaic. In January of 2014, the City will host an international mosaic project.

While details are still being worked out, we can tell you this:

The Municipality of Puente Alto, Chile is commissioning 60 mosaic artists from around the world to come together in January 2014 to transform the city’s town square. The 1st International Mosaic Project is part of Puente Alto’s plan to become the center of contemporary mosaic public art in South America. Selected artists will be paid a stipend ($1,000 US) and will be hosted by the people of Puente Alto. The Project will be directed by Isidora Paz Lopez. 

That is ALL we know at this point; the application process and communications lines are still being developed.  Please watch MAN’s Facebook Page and Twitter feed for updates when we have them. We are definitely counting our frequent flyer miles.

Gracias to Isidora Paz López, her wonderful crew and the City of Puente Alto, Chile for expanding our vision of what public art can and SHOULD be – artful, uplifting, educational and eternal.

Enjoy – Nancie



Black Gold: Thar’s Oil In Them Thar Walls

By Lillian Sizemore (

In May 2012, when the renowned Wilshire Grand Hotel in Los Angeles was slated to close its doors for good, the owners ran a huge liquidation sale—the entire contents of the hotel went up for grabs. The hotel changed hands over the years, originally the Statler—then Statler-Hilton, then Omni, and finally the Wilshire Grand— remained one of the “see and be-seen” hotspots of the midcentury atomic age.

The Statler of the 1950s. via

The Statler 1950s. Can you see Eisenhower? via

During the clearance sale, a puzzling discovery was made: a fifteen-foot mosaic mural commissioned by The Los Angeles Petroleum Club was found behind some old wood paneling. The Club had at one time maintained a posh member’s suite at the hotel. This is where the intrigue and mosaic sleuthing begins.

Petroleum Club of Los Angeles historic glass mosaic mural found behind paneled wall, 2011. All photos of mural courtesy Gregory Johnson

In 1892, Edward Doheny and Charles Canfield drilled the first oil well in Los Angeles. Today, rigs can still be seen bobbing up and down in the parking lots of big box stores. State officials count 3,071 active oil and gas wells in Los Angeles County, 842 of them offshore. The City of Long Beach still boasts its own “oil fraternity” club, which was established in 1954.(1)

Oil wells rear their imposing structures over a herd of cows on one of the state’s dairy farms in suburban Los Angeles 1940 Photo: Library of Congress

Los Angeles was a major petroleum producer — a great deal of money was made and the titans of industry spent their new-found fortune on custom interior design to fluff their corporate nests with luxury. In the process, they commissioned artwork and murals that would commemorate their endeavors for posterity. A survey of midcentury California art reveals a wellspring of paintings, sculptures and mosaic murals depicting the predominance of oil in the Southlands. In 1950, when the Statler Hotel opened to great fanfare as LA’s swankest hotel, it became the perfect destination for the Los Angeles Petroleum Club to maintain a presence.

Amongst modern architects of the 1950s and 60s, mosaic muralism was beginning to peak as a preferred artistic medium to envision a bright, industrious future. Abstraction and minimalism lent itself to a broad audience, without having to depict the human form specifically; it spoke through the appeal of color and form. Italian glass and stone have for centuries been employed to convey richness, power, and stability in the architectural setting and these materials appeared once again in service to the cause. The post-war lifting of international trade restrictions made these materials more accessible and affordable to the American architect. (2) “Contemporary architecture,” Eugene Clute wrote in the May 1950 Progressive Architecture, “can gain much through the use of mosaic in a modern way to relieve the plainness of surfaces with enrichment at focal points, increasing the effectiveness of the buildings.” (3)

Fast forward to December 2012. The Statler-Hilton/Wilshire Grand announces its closure and the liquidation sale. Enter into our mosaic mystery Gregory Johnson, a Los Angeles-based interior designer and modern art collector. Curious to see what modernist treasures might be found in the hotel’s inventory, he hits the liquidation sale.

Jack Pot

The sale continued for many weeks. On one visit, Johnson found a mysterious mural buried behind layers of old wood paneling. The imagery showed what appeared to be the Port of Los Angeles, and scenes of oil refineries, oil derricks and ships. The handmade mosaic done in a classic modernist abstract style appeared to be squarely a product of the 1950s. The glass tiles were covered with layers of cigarette smoke and years of yellowed funk. No identifying marks or signature were visible. The old Petroleum Club had been converted into the hotel’s storage area at least since the 1980s and the staff knew nothing about it. Mr. Johnson was keen to purchase the mural and wanted to find out who made it and its possible value. Enter Miss Marble: Mosaic Detective. Johnson contacted me during the discussions with the Hotel, and the mosaic investigation began.


Cityscape, refineries and the Port of LA feature prominently in the left side of the mural.

On-site inspection found that the mural was not embedded into the wall but attached to a plywood backing. This was bolted and mounted onto the wall studs which allowed it be removed safely without damaging the substrate and surface of the mural. A flurry of emails ensued with professional mosaic installers and contractors to discuss and advise on the best system for timely removal as the hotel was scheduled for eminent closure and demolition.

One of the panels removed reveal wall studs and electrical wiring behind. The textural surface of the mural is shown clearly here.

The piece measured 6′ 10″ tall x 15′ wide, mounted in four sections. A small crew worked to find around 30 spots where a magnet showed some sign of attraction to the mosaic to identify where bolts had been used to attach the panels to the studs. These points were marked with blue masking tape. Once those areas were identified it became obvious where pieces of glass tile had been placed over the bolt, and could be popped off to reveal the bolt head hidden underneath.

Blue tape shows where the magnet attracted to the bolts used to mount the mural to the wall.

In the midst of our investigation, a second mosaic mystery at the Wilshire Grand began. A colleague who volunteers for architectural preservation group sent me a 1952 LA Times article about the opening of the Statler hotel. The caption in the story describes the “colorful mosaic walls in a section of the lobby”.

1952 LA Times article shows a prominent abstract lobby mosaic in the Statler Hotel

Apparently, this mosaic mural had been covered over with paneling during a 1970s remodeling. The construction crew working on site made preparations to uncover what treasure might lie behind. They also made smaller cuts on the lobby entrance columns that revealed that the they had also been clad in a monochrome mosaic.

The liquidation company staged a dramatic live, “Geraldo Rivera Reveal” with an on-camera demolition of the wall to reveal a possible mosaic. See “Looking for Buried Treasure” for the outcome.

 America’s Mosaic Movement

Whenever a mosaic is found in Los Angeles, the foremost question arises: “Is this mosaic by Millard Sheets?” Millard Sheets was a prolific artist, teacher, and design director. His oeuvre is becoming increasingly well known in modernist circles. The Sheets Studio established the brand identity of Howard Ahmanson’s Home Savings and Loan Banks through the use of masterful artworks in mosaic, tapestry, stained glass and sculpture. (4)  His paintings and sketches are now highly valued if available through galleries. (5)

1960, Millard Sheets’ mosaic mural for Home Savings, 8010 Beach St. Buena Park in Los Angeles near Knott’s Berry Farm.

What is less known, is that besides Sheets, there were many active artist-mosaicists actively engaged in the architectural process during the 1950s and 60s in the United States. These artists were experimenting with mosaic techniques, propelled by the success and exposure of the WPA muralist movement and international expos. By the time Millard Sheets began his mosaic workshop in Claremont, California in 1960, dozens of architectural firms were already using large-scale mosaic murals for banks, insurance companies, airports, federal buildings, and libraries across the country. One prominent example was architect Welton Becket engaging Joseph L. Young to create a large-scale cantilevered glass mural for the Los Angeles Police Facilities Building, in 1955. (6) This mural depicts the oil industry of Los Angeles, along with many other notable L.A. landmarks.

1955 Vintage photo of Joseph Young’s mosaic mural for the Police Facilities Building, (later known as Parker Center) includes a nod to the oil industry.

Besides Sheets, there were other notable California-based mosaicists working in an emerging abstracted modernist style during the mid-1950s: Ray Rice, Jean Varda, Richard Haines, and Ben Mayer. Nonetheless, their work did not match the style found in the Statler Petroleum mural. Our detective work continued.

Don’t Mess with Texas

Digging deeper into the nationwide Petroleum Club phenomenon, I was able to identify an artistic collaboration between Texas Modernists Paul Hatgil and Michael Frary (d. 2005). In 1955, on behalf of Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson, the architecture firm of Brooks & Barr commissioned Hatgil and Frary to do an 8 ft. x 10 ft. entrance mural titled “Panorama” for the KTBC TV building, in Austin, TX. It is here we begin to see strong similarities in style with the Los Angeles Petroleum Club piece. We note the same abstracted linear depiction of a cityscape – the montage-like architecture and the river and bridges.

1956, Mosaic mural by Frary and Hatgil titled “Panorama” for the KTBC TV building in Austin, TX.

Frary’s bio (7) indicates a keen interest in engineering. Add this to his paintings of industrial landscapes, with supporting documentation from Hatgil’s comprehensive vita (8) (who was a noted ceramicist, mosaicist, and sculptor), we can begin to deduce that they were working together in this time period and had connections to the Petroleum Club network through the University of Texas and the architectural firm.

Michael Frary, Oil derricks, oil on canvas

Mosaic derrick detail.

Michael Frary, apartment houses, 1964

Similarities to the Frary painting found in color and shapes in the Skyline of petroleum mural

Detail of skyline rooftops in petroleum mural

The Petroleum Club of Texas had commissioned a painted mural for their penthouse club in Houston in 1950. The atomic-style mural was designed and executed by “the father of Texas Modernists”, Seymour Fogel. (9)  Fogel was a trained muralist, having worked as an assistant to Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera in the late 1930s. Fogel was a sought-after muralist working on projects from 1939 World’s Fair to the Federal Building Mural, in Fort Worth, Texas in 1964. He brought Hatgil and Frary on to his faculty at the UT. Petroleum Clubs based in other cities seeking artist connections for their penthouse interior design, would have certainly located talent through Fogel. Frary and Hatgil’s style and interests in the industrial landscape seemed perfect for our Los Angeles mystery mosaic. I thought I had nailed it.

Petroleum Club Mural Study I, Seymour Fogel. Watercolor study for the Houston Petroleum Club’s cocktail lounge located in the penthouse of the Rice Hotel. Actual mural was destroyed circa 2005. Watercolor study on illustration board, 12” x 15”, Collection of Jared A. Fogel.

“People of Influence” Petroleum Club of Houston Member Reading Room featured in Newsweek magazine, circa 1950s.  Photo courtesy of Houston Public Library.

Needle in a Haystack

Back in Los Angeles, Mr. Johnson was busy cleaning up his new acquisition. Lo and behold, underneath decades of Mad Man cigarette smoke, he found a faint grey tiled signature, belonging to one John Smith. Really? It might as well have been “John Doe”. The hunt for a needle in the haystack began.

The faint grey on aqua signature of “John Smith” was not visible until the mural was cleaned of its layers of yellowed cigarette smoke.

After learning the name of the artist, I began to hunt for mosaics by “John Smith”. To my surprise, I located a 1956 mosaic for a cruise ship cafeteria, attributed to a John Smith. Hallelujah! Mr. Johnson continued to research as well. We have identified that John Smith was an active California artist, contributing to the burgeoning craft movement mainly through his works in tapestry. Johnson found references to his inclusion in the Pasadena Art Museum catalogs California Design/eight 1964 and California Design/nine 1965. (10) It seems he was not well known outside of California. Could the cruise ship mosaic be designed and executed by the same John Smith?

1954, could these seven abstract fruit panels be the same John Smith? Mosaic insets for a cruise ship dining room.

Inspecting the Petroleum mural closely, we can say that John Smith was not technically skilled as a trained mosaicist. My research suggests that artists working in mosaic during this era claimed to be “self-taught” and characterized mosaic as “not that hard” to do. In the case of the Petroleum mural, a water-soluble adhesive oozes out between the gaps covering the tops of the tesserae (pieces). Johnson reported that it turned white on contact with water. I consulted with Michael Van Enter, a Texas art conservator who has worked on hundreds of midcentury mosaics, and he suggests that the adhesive is most likely Elmer’s glue or some kind of hide or hoof glue. It was not uncommon for midcentury mosaic to be mounted on unprepared plywood with white glue, a practice that is eschewed today. From a tile-setting standpoint, the work exhibits a hurried “hand”, identified by awkward and misshapen cuts, with uneven and scattered placement of the tesserae/tiles.

The glass tiles sit in pools of yellowed glue that oozes over the surface. The mural is not grouted, common for smalti and vitreous glass.

A mixture of smalti and vitreous tiles display a haphazard nipping style with random placement and tiny chips used to fill awkward gaps.

On the other hand, the artful composition of the design, and the material surface shows a clear and knowledgeable use of color and texture. The flicker effect of color juxtaposition, the multi-level texture surface, excite the eye, along with the division of space the composition provides for a lively and attractive surface play. A trained textile artist like Mr. Smith would have the transferable skills to serve well in designing a mosaic: color blending and knowing how elements are seen from a distance are skills that provide a natural crossover between the two media. Smith could have figured out how to nip the tiles from a how-to mosaic book, which were widely available and popular at the time. He might have asked a colleague who was actively making mosaics for a couple of tips. Judging by the slapdash setting style, it appears he set the mural himself, without contracting a professional mosaicist to execute the design.

The Los Angeles Petroleum Club Mural provides us another valuable window into the atmosphere and use of modern mosaic in the American architectural landscape. Its physical evidence expands on the emerging level of expertise amongst American artists, experimenting with a new medium. It’s content delivers a glimpse into Los Angeles’s recent past, economics and built environment. The discovery of the Statler Hotel’s Petroleum Club mural, along with the loss of the lobby work, continues to emphasize the cultural relevance, significance and importance of preserving our American mosaic legacy. We can’t always depend on cultural institutions to swoop in and preserve our visual history.  We are fortunate when an individual like Gregory Johnson takes personal initiative.  Sometimes, there’s treasure where you least expect it.

Thank you to Gregory Johnson, Kevin Vogle, Katie R. Edwards, Russell Tether, Qathryn Brehm, Timothy Ronk, and Greg Andrews.

Lillian Sizemore, April 2013

Selected subsequent media coverage:


  1. Long Beach Petroleum Club
  2. See more on the topic of mosaic imports in Lillian Sizemore’s article about the midcentury Picasso mosaics
  3. Art Goes to Pieces, by Dave Weinstein. CAModern, Eichler Network,,1
  4. Adam Arenson’s blog is a repository for his research on the Home Savings brand adamarenson dot com.
  5. Millard Sheets official website is maintained by his son, Tony Sheets.
  6. See – Lillian Sizemore’s recent project, a 1956 film restoration includes footage on the making of the Police Facilities Bldg. mural.
  7. Michael Frary:
  8. Paul Peter Hatgil:
  9. In 1946, Fogel accepted a teaching position at the University of Texas at Austin and became one of the founding artists of the Texas Modernist Movement. At this time he began to devote himself solely to abstract, non-representational art and executed what many consider to be the very first abstract mural in the State of Texas at the American National Bank in Austin in 1953.
  10. Stewart, V. (1955, Oct 09). MOSAICS: A western renaissance. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), pp. L17.¬† 

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SAMA’s Best: Mosaic Arts International 2013

Via Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA)

How wonderful.  A venue for the Society of American Mosaic Artist’s (SAMA) annual member show, Mosaic Arts International, that is a perfect fit.  Tacoma’s Museum of Glass (MOG) has all the right stuff to showcase contemporary mosaic splendidly.  The internationally-known museum has the architecture and lighting to make mosaic literally and figuratively shine. More important, MOG has a natural kinship with mosaic through the medium of glass.


That’s what MOG’s Executive Director and Curator Susan Warner told us in a brief interview at the exhibit last month; “We were happy to partner with SAMA in bringing attention to contemporary mosaic” said Warner.  “There is a natural connection for MOG because glass has been used in mosaics for millenia.”

So, here we have a big, beautiful, world-class setting for MAI 2013, an exhibit composed of 47 works by artists from 7 countries.  The “survey of contemporary mosaics by members of (SAMA)”, as Exhibitions Committee Chair Karen Ami describes it in the catalogue, began its 3+ month run January 28th and closes May 5th.

A visitor and Jim Bachor's "Fresh Meat Series"

This year, MAI’s Jurors included  Seattle-based professional arts administrator and curator Jordan Howland, award-winning Australian mosaic artist Pamela Irving and classically trained Italian mosaic artist and teacher Matteo Randi. The results of their labors is an exhibit that provides a very wide view of contemporary mosaic and how artists are employing the medium today. In MAI 2013, visitors will find some lovely classical mosaic work, luscious abstracts, in-your-face-graphic pieces, intriguing sculpture and some interesting experimentation with materials and techniques.


MAI 2013 could be an eye-and-mind opener for MOG visitors.  Let’s hope the exhibit gets the attendance it deserves.

Now, let’s have a look at some of the highlights of the exhibit whose makers have been kind enough to supply us with photos and their Artists Statements.

Side note:  If we have one bone to pick with MAI, it is the lack of Artist Statements in both the exhibit and the catalogue. Reading an Artist Statement is almost like having the artist whispering in your ear – giving you “inside” information and taking you directly into what he/she was striving to achieve. This is especially important if you only have only one example from an artist’s ouevre from which to learn about them. We missed the Statements and believe that newcomers to mosaic would have benefited from their insights as well.

Invited Artist ~ Toyoharui Kii (Japan)

Toyoharu Kii "Spring" 27 x 45 cm Marble

We applaud SAMA’s addition of an invited artist to MAI. Toyoharu Kii is a master and the three works shown provide the public with an excellent introduction into how just powerful mosaic can be as an expressive medium. Mr. Kii’s work is collected internationally and renowned architects commission him regularly for large-scale mosaics to compliment their designs.

"Round and Fertile Spring" 70 x 70 cm Marble

The hallmark of Kii’s work is his intricate patterning and weaving with tesserae that draw the viewer in for hours of contemplative study.

I make mosaics as a skin of architecture. A skin woven in marbles and smalti on the surface of the architectural space. So the texture has primary importance in my mosaic. The shadow and the density of tesserae carries my messages. – Toyoharu Kii 

"Round and Fertile Spring" Detail

Mr. Kii will be the keynote speaker for SAMA’s conference in April.  We are very much looking forward to meeting him.

MAI 2013 Winners

Best in Show:  Gary Drostle (UK)   Entwined Histories  

Gary Drostle "Entwined Histories" 2012 10 x 3 x 3 ft. Best In Show Mosaic Arts International 2013

London-based artist Gary Drostle has done it again – created a site-specific artwork that reflects the very soul of the place in which it resides.  Situated on the former grounds of a rope maker that served the maritime industry of London’s east end, this 10′ tall sculpture was commissioned by the Poplar HARCA Bow Arts Trust to celebrate the community’s roots.  Waves of immigrants established their first communities in Poplar with many of the men working on the docks and the women in local textile factories.  Drostle took this history and gave it a literal translation that is stunning in both its appropriateness and heart.

“Each strand of the rope represents a different community through the textiles of the homelands.  All of these weave together to form the new community that is Poplar and Bow in east London, each strengthened by the other and facing out to the world with a golden core.” – Gary Drostle

Patterns seen here: Irish, Begali, Ashkenazi Jewish, William Morris Damask (Islamic inspired), African

Innovation in Mosaic:  Erin Pankratz-Smith (Canada)  Penance 

Erin Pancratz-Smith "Penance" 2012 24.5 x 17.5 x .5 in.

This is another place in the exhibit where more information for the viewer would have been extremely helpful.  What, specifically, did the Exhibitions Committee, which determines this particular prizes, find “innovative” in this work?  Knowing that would have made the exploration of it a great deal more satisfying.  That being said, this piece looks very little like what the general public would expect from the word “mosaic” – that is for certain.  And yet, it has all of the components that make a mosaic a mosaic – individual tesserae that contribute to a new whole, andamento (rhythm), texture, modularity, refraction, interstices.

UPDATE March 14:  At our request, SAMA provided the following regarding the Innovation Award:

The Innovation Award is in recognition of the work that encourages experimentation and challenges the definition of mosaic art. The award is selected by SAMA’s Exhibitions Committee, chaired by Karen Ami, from the final selection of work determined by the jury. The 2013 committee was comprised of Ms. Ami, Terri Pulley, and administrator of the MAI Jury process, SAMA’s Executive Director, Dawnmarie Zimmerman. The selection of “Penance” by Pankratz-Smith was in recognition of the work’s success at blurring the roles of tesserae, substrate and adhesive in mosaic art. Traditionally, substrate and adhesive play supporting roles to the tesserae’s primary role in communication of movement, form, shadows and light. Pankratz-Smith levels the playing field giving the surfaces under the tesserae equal significance in her depiction of living life in limbo.

Looking at Pennance we went straight back to our childhood and the black crayon “scratch” drawings that absorbed us for hours.  Each one of those was a bit like an archaeological excavation and this piece hit us the same way – the longer we looked at it, the more places it took us to until finally were looking at technicolor graffiti along a river’s edge.  Here is what the artist had to say about her work:

“Penance” is about that state we put ourselves in when we are not living our lives, living in limbo, waiting for something, hoping, stuck. The scratches in the background are tally marks and the stones our days. – Erin Pankratz-Smith

"Penance" Detail

Juror’s Choice Jordan Howland – Lynne Chinn (US) Arabesque

Each Juror was asked to select a favorite from the exhibit to receive an award and this is the one place where valuable information was readily available to the viewer.  The complete Juror’s Statement from the catalogue was posted next to each mosaic.

Lynne Chinn "Arabesque" 2012 12 x 29 x 14 in

Lynne Chinn’s “Arabesque”, which received my Juror’s Choice Award, challenges the physical boundaries of the medium while demonstrating an accord of form, color, and light.  It is organic, elegant and, to me, emotionally resonant. – Jordan Howland, Public Arts Manager, 4Culture, Seattle, WA

We concur with Ms. Howland’s assessment of Arabesque.  In fact, she said it all.

From the Artist’s Statement:

The sinuous form of this sculpture achieves the feelings of lightness, buoyancy, and fluidity that intrigue me and inspire me. I designed the interior depths to sparkle like caviar at the bottom and then reach up in waves to captivate and dazzle the observer. The exterior coating, laid horizontally, simulates material deposited as sediment in water which over time has been consolidated by pressure; the result is a feeling of age and stability that gives balance to the sense of fluidity.  – Lynne Chinn

Arabesque drew viewers like a magnet.  We overheard one little girl ask her mother if she could “get into the box” with it.  For us, it was the strongest entry in MAI 2013.  It is a thing of beauty, a quality not readily rewarded in the art aesthetic of the moment.

Juror’s Choice Pamela Irving – Jim Bachor (US) Fresh Meat Series

Jim Bachor "Fresh Meat Series" 2012

We are huge fans of Mr. Bachor’s and have featured his work before on MAN.  In the “Meat Series” we love Bachor’s juxtaposition of a classical mosaic motif with a contemporary conundrum. So did Juror Pamela Irving, herself an award-winning mosaic artist from Australia.

Jim Bachor "Italian Sausage" 2012 11x14 in. Smalti

“For me, Jim Bachor’s ‘Fresh Meat Series’ is the most successful in this exhibition. Reminiscent of Herakleitos’ Unswept Floor mosaic, 2nd BCE, this work is located in a contemporary context and time. It tells a 21st Century story yet harks back to our ancient mosaic traditions. It tick’s all the boxes for me. The Work is smart – it takes an idea and turns it into contemporary mosaic art. Intelligent works like this will take mosaics into the art history books of the future.” – Pamela Irving

"Unswept Floor" 2nd Century CE

Jim Bachor "Chuck Pot Roast" 2012 11x14 in. Smalti

Jim Bachor "Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts" 2012 11x14 in. Smalti.

Juror’s Choice Matteo Randi – Brooks Tower (US) Via

Brooks Tower "Via" 23x17 in.

How marvelous!  Here is Juror Matteo Randi, a classically trained Italian mosaic artist and teacher going outside of his personal “mosaic box” to select a wonderful work by Brooks Tower as his Juror’s Choice.

In this work, even though I am looking at a mosaic without any tesserae I am receiving love and passion put together with a very fine technique and materials.  The image moves my feelings with spenserieratezza (lightheartedness, joyousness) – as if I am riding that bicycle in the mosaic myself. – Matteo Randi

Tower works in opus sectile which is sometimes characterized as a genre of mosaic and sometimes, especially in the Italian mosaic world, categorized as “inlay” work.  No matter.  Randi has the right of it.  This work absolutely overflows with spenserieratezza and we are grateful for the new addition to our vocabulary.  Via is highly representative of Tower’s ouevre which always combines mind-blowing technique with gut-wrenching emotion.  He is an original.  From the Artist’s Statement:

I like the choices forced on me by opus sectile – choices that echo throughout my thoughts – of where to abstract and where to faithfully depict, how to suggest with a simple line or two the most complex of visual experience, emotion and narrative. – Brooks Tower

Additional Works From MAI 2013

We have selected another eight works that we found noteworthy from the exhibit and include them here with excerpts from the accompanying Artist Statements.  We think they are examples of what Juror Pamela Irving spoke to in her Juror’s Statement.

If works of mosaic are to advance from the ‘craft’ realm to the ‘art’ realm, they must have something to say. Pretty colours and a mastery of technique should not be the guiding criteria for a mosaic practice. Ideas and imagination are important.  If you have something you wish to convey, then the artist will discover the techniques and materials in which to say it.

Have a nice stroll through the MOG gallery and don’t forget to click to enlarge.

Jo Braun (US) – Monument

Jo Braun "Monument" 2011 39x56 in. Vintage smalti, glass, mortar, pigment.

Inspired by volcanic geological stratigraphy, Monument explores the creative tension between horizontal color bands distributed over space, and vertical columnar structures deposited over time. It’s the enactment of a tedious narrative with an uncertain beginning and no definitive end. – Jo Braun

"Monument" Detail

Karen Dimit (US) – Miss Cucuteni 2011

Karen Dimit "Miss Cucuteni 2011" 2011 80x21x21 in. Smalti, travertine, fossils, minerals, pearls, silicon carbide, coal, millefiori, wire, rhinestone, ceramic, shells, wood, metal, mirror

“Miss Cucuteni 2011” is the latest sculpture from the “Subway Goddess Pageant”. A exhibit titled “The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley 5000 – 3500 BC”  introduced me to this fabulous figurine from Cucuteni, Draguseni (modern-day Romania/Moldavia). Keeping with the original figurine’s amazing markings, I created a tapestry of Mother Nature. However, on one side, the creation is lush and pristine, while the other half is marred with environmental destruction. The right to control, exploit and subjegate things labeled female carries into today’s politics and actions. – Karen Dimit

"Miss Cucuteni 2011" Detail

Sophie Drouin (Canada) – Roadside Slush

Sophie Drouin "Roadside Slush" 2012 18x22 in. Burnt copper, marble, selenite, granite, calcite.

This mosaic is the latest in a series celebrating winter as a vanishing species. This piece portrays wet urban snow, a substance despised for the seasonal inconvenience it imposes on us. Here, the textures of slush are abstracted, but rooted in reality.  For instance, the carbonized copper foils are a representation of the frost-tipped leaf litter that is often found in the roadside mash-up.  The beauty of slush is limited at best, even taken out of context like this, but I feel it is important to depict this common form of urban snow as global warming diminishes the number of truly cold days in our winters. – Sophie Drouin

"Roadside Slush" Detail

Kate Jessup (US) – Tense Twinships

Kate Jessup "Tense Twinships" 2012 36x52 in. Glass, wood, thinset, stone, found objects

In my port city, I am presented with constant evidence of how our human activities are simultaneously dictated by and relentlessly disruptive of the natural processes happening around us. It’s a constant clashing of forces. The primal yet ever­changing entanglement between man and nature, filled as it is with great love and wretched abuse, behaves to me very much like a twinship. In fact, it is perhaps the greatest twinship, mirroring the many others that compose our existence. Me to you, man to woman, twin to twin, and all the fundamental dichotomies we participate in – their defining effects on the individuals involved, and their inevitable dynamic evolutions, as well as the role of any pair as a third, unique and influential entity – are the concepts informing this work. – Kate Jessup

"Tense Twinships" Detail

Shug Jones (US) – Coming Into The Light

Shug Jones "Coming Into The Light" 2012 29 in. diameter Mexican and Italian smalti

Much of my life was spent working as a fine art painter employing oils, watercolors, and colored pencils to create representational works reflecting my view of the world. For the past decade, I have been intrigued with using glass to create my art. Stained glass and smalti entice me with their colors and textures. Blending colors without physically mixing them, cutting and laying the materials so that they lead your eye in the direction I want it to go, bringing you into the scene I was compelled to create. – Shug Jones

"Coming Into The Light" Detail

Sonia King (US) – Coded Message: Invisible Ink

Sonia King "Coded Message: Invisible Ink" 2011 35.5x25.5 in. Glass, ceramic, white gold, smalti,, quartz, silver, marble, rock crystal, seashell, pearls, aluminum, selenite, abalone, pebble, stainless steel, bone, coral, flourite, dinosaur bone, mirror.

Recently I’ve been thinking about coded messages, cryptic communications, misunderstandings, unspoken thoughts, static sounds, secrets, and undercurrents. I’m fascinated by the contrast between overt communications and possible subtexts. In our complex, information-packed world, it’s difficult to decipher the true meaning of so many conflicting messages. In ‘Coded Message: Invisible Ink’, the tesserae are fixed without visible adhesive on a hand-formed substrate, reminiscent of rumpled piece of parchment. This offers the possibility that the message could change at any moment or even be erased. Viewers can decode the work, finding their own meaning. – Sonia King

"Coded Message: Invisible Ink" Detail

Ilana Shafir (Israel) – Through The Waves

Ilana Shafir "Through The Waves" 2011 47x47 cm Handmade ceramic pieces, stones.

This mosaic is about movement. Something is moving fast through a stormy sea, creating high waves. It cuts through the currents and stirs them in its pass. I leave it to the viewer to guess what it could be. – Ilana Shafir

"Through The Waves" Detail

Betsy Youngquist (US) – Harry

Betsy Youngquist "Harry" 2011 8x7x4 in. Antique porcelain doll parts, glass beads, vintage glass stones, glass doll eyes, grout.

Children with their vast capacity for wonderment weave tales of gossamer, create magic kingdoms, and pass through invisible portals to lands of untold enchantment. Creating art is a means to return to the looking glass and reenter the garden where flowers whisper and birds can talk. As my beaded characters emerge they carry with them tales from the other side of the mirror. I am grateful for the joy and astonishment experienced through their journey. –  Betsy Youngquist

"Harry" Detail

Correction:  The Innovation in Mosaic Prize is conferred by the Exhibitions Committee, not the Jurors as was stated in the original post.


  • Mosaic Arts International 2013 runs through May 5th at the Tacoma Museum of Glass
  • The entire exhibit can be viewed on SAMA’s website here
  • Video lecture on the exhibit and contemporary mosaic by Dr. Jo Braun here
  • Information on SAMA’s conference in Tacoma April 10-13 here





Luca Barberini Bone FlowersElaine M Goodwin Touching ParadiseJulian Modica SurfaceJulian Modica SurfaceLuca Barberini Bone FlowersLuca Barberini Bone FlowersIlana Shafir Whirl