Saturday, June 4, 2011

Mosaics and Metaphors

I don't remember when and where I first became enchanted with mosaics, but it happened sometime between 1990 and 2000. Was it the first time I saw original Roman mosaics, or Byzantine, or Arab? Was it Tunisia, Turkey, Cyprus, Aqueleia near Venice, the Vatican, Pompeii, Bath (England), a German museum, or another place? I went on to search for the really important ones, driving from Germany all the way to Ravenna, Italy, for a weekend to see the "City of Mosaics." I searched out the Chora in Istanbul and stood in awe of these ancient Christian mosaics inside a church-turned-mosque-turned-museum. In Rome, I tracked down obscure churches with the oldest mosaics. When I moved to Sicily, I was lucky to be near the famous UNESCO Roman site of Villa Armerina (more photos HERE) and the Monreale Cathedral near Palermo, as well as dozens of other mosaic masterpieces on the island.

Anyway, at some point, I became interested in doing mosaics, perhaps when I saw different instances of their being repaired or created. There is little time for doing anything when you are a full-time teacher, but what a great idea for retirement! Luckily, I retired in Atlanta, a city of 5 million, where one can find classes or lessons on just about anything. Mosaic beginner classes were found, and early in 2010, I began.

So, it turns out, mosaics are like soccer--easy to learn, impossible to master. The good points about it are (1) there is no "perfect," (2) it's okay, even good, to break things, and (3) you can mosaic anything rigid (except people). Some people don't even have a plan or design when they start; they just let it evolve as it happens. Basically, you stick things (tile, glass, stones, broken plates) to a rigid surface (which can even be rounded, like a flower pot), and then fill in the spaces between the pieces with "grout." Grout makes everything look better, even almost professional.

I take my mosaics classes at the Spruill Center for the Arts, and I actually travel OTP (outside the perimeter) for them! In Atlanta, that's like going to the outer limits of space. Spruill, however, is just a big outside the perimeter, and it's such a great place, it's worth the driving adventure. I have hugely enjoyed the laid-back, non-threatening atmosphere of the class, the knowledgeable and supportive instructor, a wide range of classmates, and the satisfaction of learning and improving with each project. I have completed about six projects and am increasingly happier with each one. I am most interested in re-creating the old Roman designs I have seen and photographed, like this tabletop that I made most recently.

When I was teaching in Sicily, I took my AVID (college prep) students on a field trip to the famous mosaics at Villa Armerina. Upon our return, I engaged them in writing a metaphor essay in which they compared their lives to a mosaic. The results of that trip and writing lesson were fabulous. See a brief article HERE. And perhaps that is what draws me ultimately to mosaics. You take a lot of little pieces and put them together into something meaningful. I hope that when the mosaic of my life is done, it has meaning, too.

Small segment of wall mosaic at Monreale, Sicily.


  1. Eloquently stated...yet again. :)

  2. Hi, I enjoyed reading your article. Are you currently working on another mosaic? I would like to learn how to do flower pots. What kind of grout and glue do you use? You are so lucky to have the Art center where you can take the classes. What was the base for your table top? I took pictures at Monreale in hopes of copying the designs in quilt patterns or mosaics. Keep up the lovely work and keep sharing with us! (Elsie)