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SAMA’s Best: Mosaic Arts International 2013

On 13, Mar 2013 | 16 Comments | In Uncategorized | By Nancie

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





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  1. nkonge moses ezra

    am also aglass mosaics artist in uganda
    i have really felt persnal xpression with the artist generially passion to mosaics

  2. nyarenga innocent

    A student of INDUSTRIAL AND FINE ARTS specializing in mosaic at MAKERERE UNIVERSITY KAMPALA UGANDA, I real thank you for sharing your brilliant ideas which are giving me courage and inspiration in my work.
    we hope for more inspiring work for us to keep in line for the betterment of the new generation.

    • Nancie

      Welcome! And I hope you find much more inspiration here at Mosaic Art NOW. It is wonderful to know that your university is supporting study in the mosaic medium. Keep making!

  3. Liliane Jonckheere

    Thanks for the nice pictures. We Belgians can only dream of such fantastiche exhibition!

  4. Lauren Leighton

    What a joy it was to see these in person! As much as I enjoy looking at mosaics online, experiencing them, their size, their texture and light was amazing!

  5. Joan Schwartz

    Thanks so much for doing this story on SAMA!

  6. Carole Dobson

    Thank you for sharing this lovely exhibition. It was heartbreaking to have to miss SAMA this year so this is a consolation prize

    • Nancie

      Carole, there is always Houston in 2014!

  7. kat gottke

    thank you so much for sharing this .. its brilliant ,, so loved seeing all the new creativity out there thank you xxxx loved it

  8. Con Kiernan

    Thanks to the gang at MAN for putting these beautiful pieces of art out there for us to slobber over and influence our own directions in art. It’s exciting and yet gives me an anxiety rush. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Keep it up.

    • Nancie

      Grazie for the kind words, Con. And I don’t think you have anything to feel anxious about. Warm regards – Nancie

  9. אראלה דודזון

    נהניתי מהעבודות
    זיהיתי את העבודה של אילנה שפיר והוקסמתי ממנה
    היו עבודות נוספות מופלאות
    אראלה דודזון

    • Nancie

      A translation: I enjoyed the works I recognized the work of Ilana Shafir and I was fascinated by her
      More work was remarkable Erella Davidson

  10. Marcelo de Melo

    It is a very interesting show. ‘Penance’ is such a fantastic work!
    It is great that SAMA decided to invite Toyoharu Kii – a true master and a great character. I visited his atelier in 2004 in Tokyo, what an incredible experience.

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