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Sarah Frost

The Language of Mosaic: A Word from Our Muses

Attention class!  Miss Marble (aka Lillian Sizemore) has spotted a wordy trend in contemporary mosaic and she’s going to use it to give us a grammar lesson. The good news is, there is no pop quiz at the end, so all you have to do is enjoy!  Nancie

Toyoharu Kii "Short Stories" Bibliomosaico Exhibition, RavennaMosaico 2011

by Lillian Sizemore

UPDATED for Mosaic Art NOW from original post of November 28, 2011  All photos by author, Lillian Sizemore unless otherwise noted.

In mosaic circles, we speak about a mosaic ‘grammar’ or the language of mosaic. We’re usually referring to the various ancient setting patterns used to express a mood within the matrix of a mosaic. This rhythmic pattern, known as OPUS in Latin, or work, is traditionally expressed using cut stone and glass. In plural, these would be ‘OPERA’. (Well, not like Pavarotti singing ‘La Traviata’, but almost).  Some common forms include Opus Regulatum, a grid-like setting pattern, or Opus Vermiculatum, which comes from the Latin term for “worm” and refers to a wavy, winding setting pattern using very small tesserae. There are many more. We mosaicists like to talk a lot about how a mosaic surface is worked!

Recently, I’ve noticed there’s a contemporary art trend of using words or letters— language— as the mosaic itself.  A ‘double entendre’ if you will. Entendre is French for “to hear”,  So double entendre means a phrase that can be taken in more than one way… And there you have the irony of meaning. Do we hear or see mosaics?

Music, Muse, Mosaic, Museum…all derive from the same Greek root word, μουσική  for music, a divine order…and mosaics are called l’arte musivum, the Art of the Muses.

Class dismissed. But, before you head for the cafeteria, have look at these:

Georgiadi Thessalonikeos Despina "e-book" Mosaic Installations Exhibition at the Old Franciscan Cloisters, RavennaMosaico 2011

Sarah Frost "Querty 5" 2010 Installation at Saint James Hotel, New York City Photo via

Sara Frost "Querty" detail Photo: via

Frost’s pieces, made entirely out of cast-off keyboard keys, discarded by an array of users from individuals and small businesses to financial institutions, government offices and Fortune 500 companies, can cover whole rooms. Each key has a unique history and bears the imprint of the thousands of taps by countless users.

See more of Sarah Frost’s work here.

Samantha Holmes "Unspoken, 10.22.10 - 07.07.11" 2011 detail

Above, Samantha Holmes won a 2000 Euro prize for this piece for the Use of Unconventional Technique and Materials. Seen at the GAEM exhibition at Ravenna Mosaico 2011, this old wooden sample board normally used for mosaic samples of colored glass instead contains folded and bound papers bearing her private thoughts. Read an excellent recount of this work and the backstory from the artist on MosaicArt Now here.

In the photo below, Raniero Bittante’s multi-media mosaic-riff seen at the BIBLIOMOSAICO exhibition in Ravenna. The exhibition, conceived by Rosetta Berardi invited many mosaic artists to create mosaic ‘books’. Using three copies of the Repubblica Italiana, Italy’s constitution, each book is embellished with red, white and green smalti (colors of the Italian flag) and representing the fragmentation of unity – the wads of chewed bubble gum, the cohesion. The “mosaic work” was enhanced by a tiny video screening of citizens blowing bubbles – then the gum was used to stick the pieces (tesserae, in Italian) to the book. A tribute and reflection on Italy’s 150th year.

Raniero Bittante "Bubblegum Italia" Bibliomosaic Exhibit, RavennaMosaico 2011

Referencing language in this page-turner of a mosaic, Jo Braun asks you to read between the lines. She says:

“It’s an experimental blending of contemporary mosaic and the hand-written essay of the tedious variety that school children dread.” – Jo Braun

Jo Braun "Three Page Essay" Works of the World Exhibit, RavennaMosaico 2011

Filippo Bandini for Bibliomosaico 2009 edition

I spotted this work at the KokoMosaico studio in Ravenna: a book filled with peering mosaic eyes.

Mosaic Coasters Photo via

Could these be any more adorable? photo via  Even the little ones are getting into the act…These DIY coasters employ Scrabble tiles into a heart-melting mosaic gift. What a fun Summer craft activity! See how to make them here.

For more of Lillian Sizemore’s great writing on MAN, go here.  You can connect with her to on Twitter, either of her websites:  Lillian and San Francisco  or her blog Lillian Sizemore’s Mind’s Eye


  • Toyoharu Kii here.
  • Jo Braun on MAN here. Website here.
  • Samantha Holmes on MAN here.  Website here.
  • Sarah Frost here
  • More great articles from Lillian Sizemore on MAN here

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