In the summer of 1973, I made my first visit to Ravenna, Italy. I had gone there to see the Byzantine mosaics that I had studied earlier that year in a history class. It was a short visit, culminating in a Beethoven organ concert at night in the Basilica of San Vitale. The mosaics of Ravenna were stunning to see in person. And then I left.
Many years later, after retiring from work, I began to take mosaic classes in Arlington, MA. It began with a two and a half hour ‘taster’ class and proceeded to more mosaic ‘experiments’ and more classes.
When planning a vacation in 2017, I was looking to do something different than only being a tourist. Someone suggested taking a mosaic class in Italy. I had not thought about Ravenna for years. In July 2017, I returned to Ravenna to take a five day mosaic class at The Mosaic Art School. The class was wonderful with students from various countries. While I did not create a ‘masterpiece’, I could see my progression from day to day.
In total, I was in Ravenna for six days. And six days was not enough.
In June of this year, I returned to Ravenna to take another mosaic class. But this time, I planned to spend more time in Ravenna and also to visit some cities close to Ravenna that are easily accessible by train.
Ravenna is in the Emilia Romagna region in northern Italy. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its 5th and 6th century mosaics. Ravenna was the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 402AD to 476AD. Its ancient history is rich with some interesting more recent historical events (supposedly the mosaic stars in the Mausoleum of Galla Plaida were the inspiration for Cole Porter’s song Night and Day).
Ravenna is basically synonymous with the word ‘mosaic’. Mosaics are present everywhere; not just in churches or museums, but on street corner signs, on benches, in parks, on sidewalks, on modern buildings, and of course in the mosaic studios and schools throughout the city. But Ravenna is also a food lovers’ paradise.
The Emilia Romagna region is home to other wonderful cities known for their regional foods. Parma is famous for its hams and cheese. Modena for its balsamic vinegars. Bologna for its fresh egg pasta dishes. And all of these can be had in Ravenna. Seafood is also in abundance in Ravenna. Marina dal Ravenna on the Adriatic Sea is a short bus ride away and is worth a visit for lunch or dinner.
Beginning around 6pm every day, prior to dinner most cafes offer ‘aperitivo’. Aperitivo is actually the pairing of a drink (alcoholic or not) with an assortment of finger food. It is a time to relax, read, spend time with friends or just people watch. The amount of food offered ranges from satisfying to an overabundance making it unnecessary (or impossible) to eat dinner. Dinner time is at 9pm. Breakfast is at 8am. Lunch is at 1pm. Aperitivo is at 6pm. It is a lot of eating.
Ravenna is a small city. It is a ‘walking’ (or biking) city. In the center of the city there is a pedestrian zone with many cafes and shops. At the center of the zone is the Piazza Del Popolo. From early morning to late at night it is busy with locals and some tourists. At night the area is filled with families eating dinner or walking around having gelato. The pace is slow and meandering seems to be a favorite past time. Compared to other famous destinations in Italy (Venice for instance), Ravenna is relaxed; uncrowded and, the local people are very friendly and inviting. Even those who do not speak any English will have a long conversation with you in Italian even when you have tried to make it clear that you do not speak much Italian. And Ravenna is a safe place. Possibly the most dangerous thing is the number and swiftness of the bike riders.
Ravenna is also home to Dante Alighieri’s tomb; live theater; an annual music festival; ballet, and other cultural events. But for me, it is about the mosaics. Aside from the Byzantine mosaics, contemporary mosaics abound in Ravenna. The Museo d’Arte della cittia di Ravenna (MAR) houses contemporary mosaics as well as paintings and sculptures. The museum is also home to the International Mosaic Documentation Center whose mission is research, study and the promotion of mosaic art.
This year I returned to the Mosaic Art School to take the five day ‘Standard Intensive’ class during which I made a Byzantine reproduction using the ‘double reverse’ technique and another reproduction using a contemporary technique. While the ‘double reverse’ technique was fascinating and fun (working on lime drawing out the tesserae, using a multitude of Italian smalti and some marble, gluing, washing, flipping from the temporary lime base to cement, etc.), the skills I acquired during the five days will be extremely useful as I move forward with future mosaics. I gained a much better appreciation of where to begin with the subject, how to create flow and possibly most importantly, just about mastering cutting using a hammer and hardie.
I have made a few friends (all ‘locals’) in Ravenna whom I hope to stay in touch with. And although it is a long time off, I think I will be returning to Ravenna again next year to make a floor mosaic!
How did you get started in mosaic art? About 11 years ago, my partner and I made a 25’x25’ brick patio of intersecting concentric circles that was inspired by all the beautiful piazzas in Italy. The center of each circle was a 8 inch circle that we needed to do something with. We placed pieces of brick and stone in the cement filled Sonotube slices to make small mosaics of our favorite things and places. That got me going. I then found a class that met once a week at Mass Art in Boston and made my first mosaic. But what really got me excited about mosaic art was Lynn Moore at Mosaic Smalti. After her class I made my Sunflower mosaic. I met Bill Buckingham and Michael Welch at a Cambridge mosaic show and tell where I brought my sunflower mosaic, that was also inspired by that same trip to Italy. Bill loved it and It became the cover for the catalog of the first Somerville Mosaic Exhibition. The rest is history.
2. What or who inspires you?
Wanting to create art for outside was my original inspiration. I am coming back to that now. I love the Spilimbergo Style. Currently I am enthralled with Dino Maccini’s work.
3. What is your favorite material and why?
I am a texture person. I like smalti and stone. I find the natural hues of stone and the bling of smalti pair really well. As a kid, I had a rock collection and always found geology interesting. I love fossils.
4. Where would you like to see your art go over the next few years?
I have started playing with encaustic wax and cold wax and oil paint in my mosaic work. I aspire to create abstract art integrating these materials and techniques.
5. Share a tip, either mosaic or life?
Let yourself play! My best work seems to come from letting myself be free and experimenting.
6. Why do you mosaic?
Mosaic was what made sense for outdoor art. I enjoy a beautiful yard and the hands on physical making of the art. I find the process meditative.
7. What is the best workshop you have taken and why?
Meeting Dagmar Friedrich in Spilimbergo Italy and learning the lime plaster technique. I really like open quiet space in a mosaic, the old world feeling it can give or the totally modern effect it can also create.
8. What are you working on now?
I am working with some hand made bark paper and encaustic wax with stone. I also have the challenge of integrating mosaic into a tree I am having carved into a sculpture in my yard.
In January NEMS launched its first community project. Over 30 members made mosaic leaves from templates provided by Amanda Edwards. Amanda and crew installed these mosaics on a mural at the Ronald McDonald House in Portland, ME.
We visited the installation in early June as part of a Portland, ME mosaic tour. The tour started at Amanda’s Studio in Cape Elizabeth, Maine with light refreshments and a meet and greet. From there, participants visited the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) where they went on a special tour of the facilities and viewed the tree mural with heart-shaped leaves created by NEMS members. The mosaics in the mural were awesome, as you can see from the great pictures taken by Su Bailey.
But that’s not all. From RMH, everyone headed to downtown Portland for lunch and a walking tour of Portland’s Old Port and Art’s District lead by Amanda. The program ended at Allagash Beer, where Amanda installed a 92′ floor mosaic along the mezzanine overlooking their bottling facility. Everyone had a great time touring the facility and, of course, tasting the beer.
NEMS members recently participated in an exclusive tour of Artaic, a company located in the Seaport’s Design Center. Artaic uses design software and robotic mosaic assembly systems to fabricate large custom architectural mosaics very quickly.
We had a lively discussion with Founder & CEO, Ted Acworth who discussed how the firm came to be and how it sources suppliers. He described several of the projects they’ve fabricated and was interested in feedback on how the software could benefit mosaic artists. Graphic designers showed us how to use the software to visualize and manipulate an original piece of artwork, illustration or photo into a mosaic and how that mosaic will look using different materials and grout colors. Then, we took a tour of the robotic assembly system. Mosaic tile is loaded into sleeves and the software tells the robot where to place each tesserae in a square foot frame.
A message from Deb Aldo: Dear NEMS Members- As the Co-Chair of SAMA I’d like to give you a bit of background on my mosaic journey and let you know about some of the benefits of attending the conference. I started to make mosaics in 1997. Back then there were no associations near me, no one teaching classes, just books in a library which were dated and dog eared but fascinating nonetheless. When I started, my work was not very good. I worked in the landscape and construction industry, earning my degree in Landscape Architecture. I joined SAMA and quickly found others who were on a similar mosaic related trajectory. SAMA provided an opportunity to focus on what I wanted out of mosaics: The pursuit of general knowledge, history, process and technical skills. To my surprise, I actually became a “real” artist. I took classes for years at the conferences and was the recipient of the Robin Brett Scholarship, a terrific learning and traveling experience. Becoming a professional mosaic artist occurred in part because of SAMA. As some of you may know I work locally and nationally and on large scale architectural installations with a specialty in pebble mosaics. Not everyone who makes mosaics wants to make a living at it. For many it is an escape and release from daily stressors. Even if you make mosaics as a hobby they are a creative endeavor, they feed the soul, they help get us out of ourselves and deeper into ourselves. Art makes people happy, so does making it.
Here are a few other reasons that you should get to this conference while it is in your backyard!
1. The conference is NEVER less expensive than when it’s local. Yes, we know, New England is a big place but considering that both Detroit and Philadelphia were close, both were still a plane ride and a hotel stay away. Drive or train in and out, stay with a friend. This may be the only time SAMA will be in New England. “Are there any NEMS members who would be willing to host out-of-towners so they do not have to pay for a hotel?” Glynda Benham, SAMA Boston 2018 Co-Chair
2. Connect with other like minded individuals. Some are regular folks, some are more “name brand” but everyone is willing to share their company and their knowledge. Many who have gone to multiple conferences are still friends with folks we met at the first conference.
3. World class instruction, business classes and just for fun classes. You can learn new skills in a matter of days.
4. Cory Huff is speaking this year. He is an artist and mentor on marketing and the business of art. He’s an excellent speaker talking about useful information! A must see.
5. There are two major exhibits at the conference- IMA and the Invitational. The participating artists have been honing their craft for years. The is a range of styles, materials, storytelling, intellectual process or just breathtaking beauty to behold. The exhibits are filled with creative original work. Looking at their art is an inspiration which often leads to an urge to make better art because you now know what better is!
6. A mind boggling array of events, only a few are listed here: Meet up Meals, Mosaic Salon where SAMA members can sell their non juried work. Volunteer opportunities, Tours in and out of Boston, a swag bag filled with info and mosaic goodies, events both at the conference and throughout the city.
7. Mosaic Marathon- The opportunity to have social and mosaic experience on a large scale public project. Anyone at any level can show up and work for an hour or for days on end.
8. The Cafe, and other lecture series, Professional Development, hours of relevant lectures all mosaic related.
9. Total immersion into the mosaic world for a few days. With lasting impressions and resulting friends!
10.NEMS is offering a scholarship of $150 off the conference fee to the first 10 people who register with SAMA. Provide proof of registration from SAMA and NEMS sponsorship fund will reimburse $150. First come first served, preference to those who have NOT been to a SAMA conference. Available to NEMS members with current registration.
A few words from the new Vice President of NEMS and another of our members who is a long time conference attendee-
“I had the opportunity to go to the SAMA conference last year in Detroit. I am relatively new to the mosaic community and did not know what to expect. What a got was more than I could have imagined. The opportunity to be with others that have the same passion. Seeing the exhibits was absolutely amazing. I met people who truly enjoyed discussing their art and how they work. The other fun thing for me was the vendor marketplace: I was able to see and touch before purchasing new materials. found the vendors to be very knowledgeable. With the conference in Boston this year it is a tremendous opportunity for us all to go!” Beth Goulet
“If you’re connected with NEMS you have taken the step to meet people in the New England area who are involved with making and appreciating mosaics. Going to the SAMA conference extends that step to the next level: Those NEMS members who are professional mosaic artists, who teach their techniques and show their work nationally and internationally are almost all SAMA members and have been attending the conferences for years. NEMS greatly benefits from their expertise and from the associations they have made with other professional, talented mosaic artists from around the country and the world. At a SAMA conference you are right in the thick of it, shoulder to shoulder meeting people you wouldn’t otherwise, seeing pieces of art up close that you usually see in a book or on your computer screen. Being exposed to art and artists working in the highest level of mosaic art is an experience not to be missed.” Carol Cataldo
Carol A. Krentzman, a mosaic artist, and Helen M. Salzberg, a collage artist, teamed up to create a body of work called “Fabulous Faces in Translation.” Carol used Helen’s specially created collages to design and create her mosaics. The video “Two Women Making Art” tells their histories, shows them working in their studios and tours their recent exhibit at The Center for Arts in Natick.
NEMS celebrated its second year at an Annual Meeting on November 5, 2017 in Framingham, MA. Fortyeight members gathered for a program that included a critique of mosaic art made by nine members. Cynthia Fisher, and Cathleen Newsham were the critique team that provided feedback on what worked in each piece and made suggestions for improvement.
At the annual meeting, we elected a new slate of officers for the organization. They are:
Michael Ferriera, President
Beth Goulet, Vice President
Terry Bromfield, Treasurer
Mary Bowles, Secretary
We also introduced the co-chairs of all committees as well as our new webmaster, Cassie Doyon.
Amy Marks discussed the results of the annual member survey and suggested that the new officers address two issues: making the exhibition process more inclusive so all members can participate and create programs in regions outside the Boston metro area. In addition, members wanted more programs that would help them improve their mosaic skills and techniques.
We updated everyone on the SAMA Conference and introduced our first community services project at Ronald McDonald in Portland, ME. In addition, we introduced the concept of an All member exhibition at the Somerville Museum this winter.
We ended with a talk on photographing mosaics with your mobile phone by Carrie Fradkin.
We ended with snacks, networking and viewing members’ mosaics in the Salon. A great end to a great year!
Earlier this year, 30 NEMS members went on a private tour of the mosaics and stained glass at Ayer Mansion, Boston’s Tiffany Treasure. Our tour guide provided us with stories about the family who commissioned the building and put the project in historic context. After the tour, we were treated to a catered reception. A wonderful event. Thanks, Suzanne! If you missed it, you can go on a public tour. See schedule at http://www.ayermansion.org/Visit.html.
Here’s what we learned. The Ayer Mansion was builtbetween 1899 and 1902 for businessman and art collector Frederick Ayer. It is the only surviving residence created by American artist and designer, Louis Comfort Tiffany.
At the Mansion, we viewed the Tiffany-designed stone and glass mosaics, graceful metalwork, Favrile glass vases, custom furniture, intricate plaster work, and elaborate art glass windows as well as exterior mosaics.
Tiffany was influenced by the art of the East. We saw this in the rich Near Eastern patterns and color combinations in his mosaics and glass.
In the entrance hall of the Ayer Mansion, Tiffany combined mosaics and stained glass to transform an ordinary hall into a sumptuous, luminous stage set, perhaps intended for amateur theatricals and musicals.
The mosaics of the apse-like stair opening are composed of semitransparent glass backed by metallic foil to reflect light, creating an iridescent effect. The three-dimensional effect of the tromp l’oeil pavilion on the stair landing was created through Tiffany’s characteristic use of “plating” or layering clear and opaque glasses to add depth of color and three dimensionality. The adjoining marble engaged columns, raised on a slightly projecting plane, further add to the optical illusion.
One of the most popular events was a walking tour of mosaics of Boston’s Southend led by Lisa Houck and Suzanne Owayda. In case you missed it, here are the details on each mosaic, complete with Google Map links so you can go on your own tour anytime you like. Enjoy these unique and beautiful mosaics of Boston’s South End!