I recently finished this mosaic and really enjoyed working on it. A friend’s mother commissioned the piece for her, to highlight special dishes from her childhood. I incorporated plane-colored dishes from my collection of materials with the patterned dishes they provided. I wanted to create an abstract design that also had a decorative feel to it. To my surprise, I found a doodle in my sketchbook to base the design on. I focused on using the grout lines as a key design element, and enjoyed how that idea worked.
Symbols and Themes
In my last blog, Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm, I described the sources and background of the first ideas for this exhibit. In this blog, I’d like to share about some of the symbols and themes that have emerged in my newer work for this show.
While I have included images of birds in my artwork for many years, more recently I have focused on cardinals. Everybody’s familiar with cardinals and, because of this, images of cardinals have a shared resonance. Four drawings in my show include cardinals. For me, cardinals are versatile characters, sometimes messengers, and sometimes harbingers of joy and Spring. I also include other birds in my artwork, too, often generic-looking birds that represent an assortment of ideas including freedom, the kind of freedom that I imagine goes along with flight, such as the ability to traverse barriers like walls and fences. In two small drawings I exaggerated the wings of a bird in flight to represent a mixture of effort and joy, and in another I exaggerated the wings of a sitting bird (right) to represent a mixture of exhaustion and rest.
I have included images of paper boats and paper cranes in my artwork for several years. I view the paper boats as both fragile and resilient. I’ve used the boats in two pieces that signify the effects of extreme weather; in one a paper boat is on fire (above left), and in another the paper boats are rocked around by a storm or flood. I have a few more weather-related pieces in the show, too, one that includes wind blowing a bird nest from a tree (above right), one of rain in the presence of a curiously yellow rainbow, and one showing a windchime whipping around in the midst of a microburst.
I made a small installation of drawings of paper cranes for this show, too (left). Many of us grew up learning one or another version of the story of Sadako and the paper cranes. Sadako, a Japanese girl, was a victim of radiation sickness from the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on Hiroshima. She tried to fold a thousand paper cranes for good luck and long life, but she did eventually die from leukemia. Over time, the paper cranes have become a symbol for international peace, and that is how I use them in my art.
In the drawings that comprise the installation, I was experimenting with drawing a paper crane every day as a ritual. I began the drawings when President Trump was threatening airstrikes on Syria, which he later ordered. As I drew, I was thinking about the meaning of the cranes and, on some days, drawing became a kind of meditation. The daily drawings were also a way for me to practice drawing and become more fluid with drawing. So, the paper-crane installation is a documentation of that process
Several pieces in the show include images of fences and razor wire (above left and right). These pieces reference prisons, the border wall, detention centers, Guantanamo Bay and, in one, titled ICE (above right), immigration policies like family separation that violate human rights. Naomi Klein recently tweeted, “there is no such thing as a singular disaster anymore – if there ever was. From Covid to climate, every disaster contains every other disaster within it. Every fire is a conflagration of all the other fires.” In my show, I try to make a similar point, that climate change-induced extreme weather events contribute to people’s need to migrate, and inhumane immigration policies deepen the crisis: fires within fires, disasters within disasters.
I also use arches or archways as symbols. In the exhibit, I use arches in three small mosaics (above), several drawings and a collage. Arches can symbolize doorways, or openings, or passageways. I think of them as a symbol for life and hope. They also symbolize safe passage through barriers, maybe even mental barriers. Some of my arches also appear as rainbows, a symbol of promise or hope in some religious traditions.
In my next blog, I’ll share about the art that I have made most recently for this show, made during the pandemic, and how the pandemic has affected my creative process.
Visit my exhibit in-person at the Lawrence Arts Center, now through Dec. 21, 2020. Original art and artist prints, suitable as gifts, are available for purchase. Hours are M-Th 9am-9pm, F-Sa 9am-7pm, and Su 1:30-7:30 pm. As Covid-19 rages on, the Arts Center is pretty low-key these days and it is likely that during a random visit to my exhibit you may find yourself alone in the space. If you would prefer a virtual tour, scroll down the page at this link , courtesy of the Lawrence Arts Center.
This is the second in a series of blogs about my current exhibit, Sound the Climate Alarm, on display at the Lawrence Arts Center now through Dec. 21, 2020. The first blog in this series is available at this link:
Roots of Sound the Climate Alarm
My exhibit Sound the Climate Alarm includes drawings, mosaics, and collages on themes related to climate change, animal extinction, barriers, border walls, and the pandemic. My focus on climate change and related themes goes back about six years, to 2014. That summer, I had a small exhibit at the Phoenix Gallery in Lawrence called Animals. I had just read Elizabeth Kolbert’s book called The Sixth Extinction, and in it she describes and explains the mass extinction of animals that is going on today and all of the ways that this process of mass extinction is caused by human activity, including killing animals for feathers and tusks, spreading invasive species, destroying habitats, and climate change.
I began making mosaics and drawings in scratchboard and clayboard about extinction. One piece, a mosaic included in the Animals exhibit that is not in this show, focused on robins sitting in a tree (above). While one robin is in full color, the others are obscured or silhouetted to suggest that they had been here but now are gone. I also created some small black-and-white scratchboard drawings of animals in cartoon-like scenes, where the animals are leaving, or being disrupted and carried off by the character Death. I included one of these in my current exhibit, titled Death with Chicken (below), and the influence of Death appears in a more recent piece, too, Death with Cardinals (left).
Another influence on the early work in this exhibit, also from 2014, was a local community event called The People’s Climate March Maker/Speaker Party (left). I served on a committee that helped produce this event, a solidarity event with The People’s Climate March in New York City. At the march in New York, as well as at solidarity events around the globe including ours, there was a moment, at noon eastern time, where the hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the march paused to make the loudest noise they possibly could as a way to “sound the climate alarm.” The folks at the march made a huge noise; they whooped and hollered and used everything from sirens and honking horns to instruments and party blowers, to make a very loud noise.
After this experience, I became interested in the phrase “sound the climate alarm,” and made some art based on these words (right). I may have latched on to this phrase because I enjoy visualizing sound in my art, similar to how a cartoonist might visualize sound, where marks and lines stand in for the plinks, pops, buzzing, music or anything else I want the audience to visually hear.
More of those first “sound the climate alarm” pieces are in this show, too, including a mosaic with birds (below left) whose shapes are silhouetted to indicate presence and absence, with colored lines coming from their beaks to represent sound, and the sound then moves in and around human ears. If we really could hear the climate alarm, what would it sound like? Maybe the climate alarm sounds like birdsongs.
I included visual-sound in a few other “climate alarm” pieces too, including a couple small pieces with people disrupting birds with party blowers (above right), and in the piece Death with Chickens that I mentioned earlier, where Death chases a Prairie Chicken with a blaring-saxophone. The images of people blaring horns and instruments are a way to indicate the hapless disruption of animals by people unaware of their own destructive activity.
Additional influences on the work in this show include projects completed between 2014 and 2018 that are not a part of this show but share environmental themes, including two mosaic installations – a mosaic mural at the Free State Brewery in Lawrence, Kansas, and an installation of six small mosaics (above) at Bethel College Mennonite Church, in North Newton, Kansas. Also, in the Spring of 2016, I worked closely with a committee who facilitated a large-scale community project called Heating Up: Artists Respond to Climate Change (right). It was a month-long series of cultural and educational events that involved more than fifty local artists, poets, and musicians, along with faculty and students from Lawrence’s two universities, and representatives from arts and environmental organizations. Heating Up was an exciting project and boosted my interest in responding to climate change in my own artwork, too.
In the process of looking back at my art over the past six years, I recognize that in our society and culture, value is often measured in monetary or financial terms. But artists can represent a different kind of value through the language of art – beauty, care, alarm, loss, grief, pathways, possibilities. In my next blog, I will share ideas about how I have used themes and symbols as part of this language in the more recent work that I have in this show.
Visit my exhibit in-person at the Lawrence Arts Center, now through Dec. 21, 2020. Original art and artist prints, suitable as gifts, are available for purchase. Hours are M-Th 9am-9pm, F-Sa 9am-7pm, and Su 1:30-7:30 pm. As Covid-19 rages on, the Arts Center is pretty low-key these days and it is likely that during a random visit to my exhibit you may find yourself alone in the space. If you would prefer a virtual tour, scroll down the page at this link, courtesy of the Lawrence Arts Center.
I made the mosaic leaf ornament for the Climate and Energy Project’s silent auction, part of their 2019 Annual Fundraiser & Awards Celebration on Sept. 30. You can learn more about the event at the Climate and Energy Project’s website.
I made the star ornament to be included in a window display at Weaver’s Department Store in downtown Lawrence, Kansas, in December. The stars are being made by local artists, and the display is by artist Cyn Lester.
I made the whimsical rainbow mosaic, below, for the Lawrence Percolator‘s “Art Not Bombs” show. Art at the exhibit was freely given to interested community members. The exhibit was meant to express that art is a human right and experiencing and enjoying art should be free and accessible to all. Organizers suggested the artwork could be made with recycled materials. I made this piece with repurposed dishes and a piece of an old wooden handrail.
I am excited to have an exhibit of mosaics, scratchboard, and drawings at the Carriage Factory Gallery in Newton, Kansas! The exhibit runs July 27 – September 20, and is located at 128 E. 6th St., near downtown Newton. Gallery hours: T-F 12-5pm, Sa 10am-5pm.
I am exhibiting my art along with two others, Rachel Epp Buller and Emily Willis Schroeder. The title for our collective exhibit is, Our Lives. Past. Present. Future. My portion of the exhibit is called, “Sound the Climate Alarm,” and my artist statement follows:
Sound the Climate Alarm
In my exhibit of drawings and mosaics, cardinals honk and chickadees sing razor wire. Death chases a prairie chicken with a blaring saxophone. Animals, drawn from memory, reveal the loss we find when we are without them. Origami cranes, an international symbol for peace, fly over walls and meander through chain link fences. And yet, archways that imply the presence of barriers also show a way to pass through them. The cardinal’s song is visually amplified as a message of hope and renewal. A car with loudspeakers on top blasts an unusual wish for the world. With a sense of beauty and compassion, through images that visualize sounds that are both real and imagined, my work “sounds the alarm” on climate change, animal extinction, and other urgent concerns, encouraging the viewer to “listen” with an open heart towards creating a future where there is enough to share and compassion for all.
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.
Some years ago, my family gathered at a ranch in the Flint Hills to spend a weekend and to celebrate my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. As a native Kansas from south central Kansas, I’ve always felt at home in open country and the Flint Hills are that and more, representing a spare and exceptional beauty that is unique to its place.
At night, when we walked outside to experience the Flint Hills night, we saw the stars like we’ve never seen them before and the wondrously speckled expanse of light that is the Milky Way.
That moment inspired several mosaics, among them Night in the Flint Hills, a new commission for the design firm Spellman Brady and Company in St. Louis, Missouri for a hospital in Onaga, Kansas. The Piece is 22″ x 22″.