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Three Americans Become Part of Prestigious Italian Museum’s Contemporary Mosaic Collection

On 11, May 2013 | 9 Comments | In Uncategorized | By Nancie

Sonia King "Depthfinder" 2011 24 x 18 in. Photo courtesy of the artist.

When the contemporary mosaic collection of the Art Museum of the City of Ravenna (MAR) reopens after a major redesign in October, three works from American artists will be exhibited alongside a pantheon of Italian masters.

MAR Curator Linda Kniffitz tells MAN that Sonia King (Dallas, TX), Samantha Holmes (New York City/Ravenna) and Kate Jessup (Seattle, WA) will each have a work in the newly redesigned loggia of this former 16th century monastery. The redesign/reorganization project was funded through Open Museum, a European Project and will be completed in time for opening of the city’s international mosaic festival, RavennaMosaico 2013

With its impressive collection of contemporary mosaic art and important research through the Center for Mosaic Documentation, the MAR is arguably the world’s most important contemporary mosaic museum.  We are very excited to see this strong embrace of American mosaicists within its walls.

Sonia King ~ Depthfinder

Sonia King’s Depthfinder (above) was the first of the three works to be acquired by the MAR. In October of 2011, Curator Linda Kniffitz wrote:

Sonia King’s work, “Depthfinder”, will be added to the Museo d’Arte della Città di Ravenna and included in the new collection of contemporary mosaics. The Museum is pleased to exhibit this new work that allows a comparison between the characteristics of mosaic art from the school of Ravenna with the creation of an established American artist.

King is one of the US’ best-known mosaic artists and has studios in Dallas and San Francisco. Her work is characterized by a seemingly unlimited palette of natural and man-made materials that are meticulously cut and arranged in ways that call to mind geologies and cosmologies. Of Depthfinder, the artist writes:

I create mosaic in response to the diversity and complexity of our world, attempting to create serenity and calmness from tension and chaos.  Elemental materials form new relationships with the addition of every tessera, creating landscapes both familiar and unreal.  Does “Depthfinder” explore new worlds in deep space or an ocean abyss where floating organisms populate the dark sea floor catching bits of reflected light?  I hope viewers look at the world around them with different eyes after seeing my work.

Samantha Holmes ~ Unspoken 10.22.10 – 07.07.10

Samantha Holmes "Unspoken 10.22.10 - 07.07.10" 2011 55 x 55 x5 cm Photo NTMP

Samantha Holmes‘ Unspoken 10.22.10 – 07.07.10 was acquired by the MAR in November of 2011 after it won the Banca Popolare di Ravenna Award for the Use of Unconventional Technique & Materials in the Young Artists and Mosaic (GAEM) competition of that year. The work consists of an empty smalti sample board filled with folded sheets of paper fastened with knotted wire. It is highly representative of Holmes’ work which is always intelligent, emotionally charged and extraordinarily beautiful. Of Unspoken, the artist writes:

“Unspoken”, deals with the challenges of self-expression across linguistic and cultural barriers, but also personal ones. Faced with the inability to articulate my thoughts aloud when I first moved to Ravenna, I began writing them down in moments of frustrated expression. “Unspoken” acts as a bookcase of these unvoiced ideas, thoughts left unsaid during this period of verbal isolation. Written on receipts, train tickets, scraps of paper found in a given moment of reflection, each “tessera” represents a sealed account of an instant in time – folded, sealed with wire, stored away. What is contained within ranges from the mundane to the profoundly intimate, a written record of a private self in a period of transition.

Kate Jessup ~ Aspen Stump

Kate Jessup "Aspen Stump" (2010) 17x24x7 in. Photo Jaime Rossignol

The most recent work to join MAR’s Contemporary Mosaic collection is Aspen Stump by Kate Jessup.  Stump was first shown during RavennaMosaico 2011 as part of the International Association for Mosaic (AIMC) Exhibition Musivo. There, it was singled out by arts writer Roderick Conway Morris in his review of the mosaic festival published in the New York Times.  MAN readers may be familiar with Jessup’s work which we recently highlighted in our review of Mosaic Arts International 2013.  Here is how Jessup describes her inspiration for Aspen Stump.

This piece is both a response to and a celebration of my home in the Pacific Northwest which has historically been highly dependent upon the logging industry. The aspen is native to the region and stumps like this are common in areas where trees have been harvested – they are the epilogue of mankind’s insatiable hunger for resources. Long after a tree has been processed into any number of useful or banal items, its stump will have acquired a new life of its own.  From its surprising beginning until its organic return to the earth, a stump maintains its own grouchy, truncated beauty.

Is there an American mosaic aesthetic?

A few years ago we participated in a class being taught by an instructor from the famed Mosaic School of Friuli, Spilimbergo. At one point she said to us, “You’re all so free! How I envy you.” And, indeed, without the constraints of centuries-old European traditions and expectations, American mosaicists swarmed into the medium with innovation and chutzpah. The other side of the coin, of course, was that American mosaicists worked without the solid, art-based foundation that the rigorous European training provided. The work was often uneven, derivative or just plain clunky.

This has all changed dramatically in the last five years with the confluence of access to classes taught by international masters, the growing body of mosaic work available on the internet and the maturation of individual artists who have carefully and conscientiously explored the possibilities of the medium.

What we see in King, Holmes and Jessup is a level of artistic sophistication and emotional resonance that puts them on the world’s stage. We are happy to see that MAR thinks so, too.

We look forward to seeing these works within the sure-to-be splendid redesign of MAR’s Contemporary Mosaic collection this October while we are in Ravenna for RavennaMosaico 2013.  For more information on the festival – including deadlines for exhibits, go to

Enjoy – Nancie

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  1. Sonia King

    It’s great to be in such good company! I hope we can all have a toast in Ravenna this October. Many thanks for the thorough article, Nancie.

  2. Kate Jessup

    Thank you for the wonderful article, Nancie! I feel utterly honored to be in the company of these artists. I still remember giving an audible gasp when I saw Unspoken in Ravenna, and I’ve been a long-time admirer of Sonia’s work. Brava, everyone.

  3. Debora Aldo

    This is a wonderful acknowledgement of Americans and the mosaic art being made in this country. Thanks for letting us know Nancie.

  4. Julie

    So happy for Sonia, Kate and Samantha. All honors well deserved. I think it’s fantastic that American voices are echoing through the vaulted ceilings of the MAR.

  5. Linda Thatcher

    Thank you Nancie for the news! It’s so great that these three American masters have been recognized by the MAR. So proud of all three and honored that, in a way, they represent us. Great work everyone!

  6. aida valencia

    Congratulation to them and excellet work! Thanks so much Nancie for all the work you do for mosaics and culture

  7. Carole Choucair Oueiajn

    Wonderful news and congratulations to all of them!
    Thank you Nancie!

  8. Lilian Broca

    Excellent article! Thank you Nancie and congrats to the lucky and deserving artists whose work was acquired by MAR.

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