Bass guitar mosaic
Ceramic dishes, grout
All are invited to the opening reception for the Lawrence Art Center’s 2018 Benefit Art Auction on March 9, 2018, from 7-9pm (940 New Hampshire St., Lawrence, KS.) I contributed Windmill this year, a whimsical little scratchboard piece with a few color highlights. If you’d like to bid on it or another auction-piece, you can do so in person through the auction-event on April 14 (tickets needed), or bid on-line at the arts center’s on-line bidding link.
With Nature Sing is a collection of six mosaics, dedicated on Februday 11, 2018, for permanent display at the Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, Kansas.
The hymn All Creatures of our God and King celebrates the visual beauty, music, and force of the natural world. I chose imagery from this hymn as the basis for my mosaics. The cardinal and honey bee mosaics represent all creatures lifting their voices in song; the sun and moon mosaics illustrate the burning sun with golden beam, and thou silver moon with softer gleam; the tree mosaic shows the rushing wind that art so strong; and the mosaic with the human face in profile visualizes sensory response to the beauty and sound of birds, and appreciation for mother earth, who day by day, unfoldest blessings on our way.
The mosaics remind us of our relationship with mother earth. As we delight in the beauty of birds and honor the necessity of pollinators, we must also live in accordance with them, embracing the sun and wind as vital sources of renewable energy. (Click here for information on my mosaic process.)
Special thanks to Darlene Dick, David Kreider, Bob Regier, and Margo Schrag, members of the Art Committee of Bethel College Mennonite Church who are overseeing the commissioning of new artworks for the church. Recent art installations include works by Bob Regier, John Gaeddert, Conrad Snider, and me.
Peace and Reconciliation by Bob Regier, in the church’s gathering place
Many Gifts, One Spirit by John Gaeddert, in the south entryway
Vessel by Conrad Snider, near the columbarium
With Nature Sing by Lora Jost, in the gathering area
These photos of my mosaic process are on display at the Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, Kansas, through March of 2018. The photos accompany a recently-installed permanent exhibit of 6 mosaics titled, With Nature Sing
Making mosaics is a complicated process with moments of magic. Fitting the tiles in place is like putting together a puzzle, except that I create the puzzle pieces as I go along. Although one can buy tiles for mosaic-making or use all manner of things like paper, macaroni, seeds or rocks, I chip my own tiles from secondhand ceramic plates and other dishes that I find in a range of colors and patterns at thrift stores. I have accumulated many dishes over the years, with occasional gifts from friends and acquaintances who sometimes leave their broken dishes on my front porch.
Because I work with dishes that need to be continually broken and shaped, my tile nipper is always close at hand. But before I cut and shape the tiles with my nipper, I use it to break the dishes first with a good solid whack, dividing each into smaller pieces that I can more easily work with. I look for broken pieces that are the right shape and size to fill spaces, and I also cut and clip them to fit more exactly. By the end of a project my work table and floor are covered with tiny discarded bits from this process.
Before the tiling begins, I develop an idea and then make a plan. I play around with images and ideas by drawing in my sketchbook, often little pictures that would only make sense to me, and then I change and expand on these. When I have played around enough and have settled on a concept, I make larger drawings of the key elements at scale, sometimes using reference pictures from my own photos or ones I find in books or on the internet. The last step in the design process is to map the images and key color choices onto a plywood work surface, also called a backer board, with simple outlined shapes in black marker.
I enjoy the creative process more if I leave some design decisions and color choices to resolve in the making process. I have twenty dishpans in my studio filled with dishes in various stages of brokenness, sorted by color, accompanied by smaller containers of smaller pieces that are sorted too, to choose from. I try to create mosaics where the imagery can be read through distinct color-shape areas, and yet I bring color-variation into these areas too, for added interest. Sometimes I sneak other objects into my mosaics to surprise the viewer, among them fossils, rocks, shells, or specialty tiles. My mosaics have become more sophisticated over the years, and yet I continue to learn more and more through the process of making them.
For small wall mosaics like the ones in this exhibition, I work directly on plywood. I scrape and mar the plywood surface first with a screwdriver, and then seal the surface with watered-down Weldbond glue, the same glue that I use to affix the tiles. (For largescale projects on walls or buildings, one would use different materials such as concrete backer board and mortar.)
The final stage is grouting. After I glue all of the tiles into place and the glue has dried, I vacuum the surface to sweep up bits of dust and debris before I begin to apply the grout, a cement-based material used to fill the cracks between the pieces. I use grey or tan grout which contrasts well with a range of colors, but colored pigments are available to mix into the grout, too. It is hard to judge what a mosaic will look like once grouted, so I usually go into the grouting process with some trepidation – how will it turn out? That said, grouting always brings a sense of unity to the work that is often pleasantly surprising. The grout is like magic that helps transform a pile of broken dishes into a pleasing cohesion.
The grout must be removed from the face-surface of the tiles before it dries. Cleaning the tiles is a tactile process because my use of dishes creates an uneven surface, different from mosaics made from uniform commercial tiles. I use my hands and a rubber spatula to remove the bulk of the excess grout from the tiles before I begin wiping away the grout with a damp sponge and rags. The final stages of cleaning remind me of dental work. In fact, I use old dental tools that a friend gave to me to clean the smallest and shallowest pieces that I can’t wipe by hand. Finally, I buff the tiles with Windex, and then the piece is complete.
I participated in the 30IN30 International challenge in November (2017), where artists were invited to make thirty art pieces in thirty days. The project was coordinated by Jessica Rold. I had a wonderful time participating, and was able to complete the project along with a number of other wonderful artists. Click on the boxes below to see each completed work, or flip through my Facebook albums #30IN30 and Process Photos for #30IN30.
The 2017-pack of cards includes art by Lana Grove, Maya Weslander, Brisa Andrade, Chelsea Karma McKee, Johnna Harrison, and Elijah Jackson. All of the submissions will be on display this week at the library.
You can pick up a new trading card every day this week at the library, starting today (Sunday September 24, 2017) through Saturday. My card will go out tomorrow!
My banned book submission celebrates Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement, by F. Arturo Rosales (Arte Publico Press, 1996). Chicano! is one of seven specific texts that were banned from classrooms in Tucson, Arizona, in 2012. Additional books and teaching materials were also confiscated. The books were banned when the Tucson Unified School District eliminated the Mexican American Studies program in response to a controversial state law meant to curtail ethnic studies programs. The law was widely understood to target the Tucson program.
I chose to highlight a book that would draw attention to this egregious case of government censorship. Although Banned Books Week often celebrates novels and well-known classics, scholarly books like Chicano! are sometimes banned, too, and I wanted to show this. I turned the tables a bit with my image, too. Instead of portraying a story that occurs within the book, my image portrays the book itself within the story of its banning. My illustration shows a student protesting the banning of ethnic studies, with the book on her protest sign. Her mouth is taped, a potent image used by students in their protests against the ban.
Rosales wrote Chicano! to accompany a four-part television series by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which aired the programs in 1996. Both are heralded as providing the most comprehensive account of the Mexican American civil rights movement, a movement whose stories are, as Rosales notes, “practically untold.” It was interesting for me to imagine the elimination of the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson, and the protests over it, as a new chapter in Rosales’s book.
Chicano! was pulled from classrooms as a result of Arizona state law HB 2281, which prohibits public and charter school courses that “promote the overthrow of the United States government,” “promote resentment towards a race or class of people,” “are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” or “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” An independent audit of Tucson’s Mexican American Studies program found it to be in compliance with the law and recommended its expansion. But the Tucson school district’s superintendent, along with officials from the Arizona Department of Education, decided the program was not in compliance, and the program was cut. The program was in limbo for many years, with some parts reinstated, as a challenge to the law made its way through the courts.
I am happy to report that in August of 2017, just last month, a judge found that Tuscon’s Mexican American Studies Program was a victim of ‘racial animus,” and proclaimed the Arizona state law to be unconstitutional.
–Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement by F. Arturo Rosales (Arte Publico Press, 1997)
–University at Albany website http://www.albany.edu/jmmh/vol3/chicano/chicano.html
“The conference during which this exhibition takes place, Crossing the Line: Women of Anabaptist Traditions Cross Borders and Boundaries, invited presenters to consider border and boundary crossings in terms of ethnic and religious heritage, gender and sexual identity, geographic borders, private and public spaces, or disciplinary expression. The artists included in this exhibition most often cross lines in order to experiment and question, to make statements, or to think back through time.”
Artists in the exhibit included: Teresa Braun, Jen Dyck, Kandis Friesen, Jayne Holsinger, Jerry Holsopple, Mary Lou Weaver Houser, Gesine Janzen, Lora Jost, Audra Miller, Jennifer Miller, Teresa Pankratz, Jessie Pohl, and Karen Reimer.