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.
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.
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″.
Animals–mostly birds but other critters too–have taken up residence in my art for many years. I didn’t exactly invite them. Like squirrels drawn to my bird feeder, I don’t recall intending to focus on critters but they have been drawn into my art. And yet I did put up the feeder, and I did create these images, and so of course I invited them. Birds, frogs, cats, cicadas, squirrels and other critters are with us in life and so too in my art. In Steamed (2011), a squirrel chatters noisily like so many colicky babies (or whistling teakettles), clamoring for attention. In Stir (2010), birds with human legs spring forth to dance or fly. And in Composition With Goose (2009), a calm cat and a very wound-up goose hold forth and argue.
But more recently, in the past half-year or so, I’ve changed a little. I am thinking more intentionally about critters, my relationship to them, and the impact of human activity and climate change on them. I think of my pictures as a stage and the animals and people in them as characters playing a part. But instead of using birds or squirrels to tell stories that are really about people, the critters I’m drawing now are playing the part of themselves and are part of the story. In Frog, My Friend, for example, a frog, a casualty of the South Lawrence Trafficway, is carried off by “Death.” Or maybe the frog is our pet frog that died because we just couldn’t take care of him right. Either way, the frog in this story is a frog. In Run!, a Prairie Chicken plays its own part, too, on the run from Death due to habitat destruction and Kansas politics. In Passenger Pigeon: Abstract Memory, a cloud of extinct Passenger Pigeons becomes abstract and fades from memory. In Robin, Been and Gone, a robin is depicted along with several robin-silhouettes, symbolizing presence and absence, a reminder of what pesticides can do to birds. These are of course my images for my very human purposes, too. But I hope that by thinking more about the role of animals in my work, I can remind viewers that we have a relationship with animals, and that this relationship is fragile.
Making work about the negative impact of humans on critters is a new direction in my art, the beginning of a
larger body of work. I was moved to think more about animals in the broadest sense of the word after reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction. Her book includes story after story of scientists worldwide documenting the process of animals becoming extinct because of human-caused global warming. Animals are leaving us now, and they are never coming back.
In my new work I am guided too by collaborating with my composer-friend Lynn Gumert, of Hightstown, NJ. Lynn and I have talked on the phone and we have exchanged emails, images, and sound. We are working together on loosely-related themes in our work, themes that include the impact of climate change on weather, animals, and us. Lynn is working on a series of related short saxophone quartet pieces, and eventually our work will be presented together. Her first notes to me depicted a river. Building on her compositions I am also playing with images of saxophones and literally drawing their “sound,” as in River Song. In this piece, a Mourning Dove plays a saxophone-river. This, too, is another experiment in visual storytelling.
Please join Karen Matheis and me for our two-person show at the Phoenix Underground, opening Final Friday, June 27, 2014, 5 – 9 pm, from June 27 – July 23 at the Phoenix Underground (825 Massachusetts, Lawrence, KS). I’ll show these works and others too, and almost all of them include animals.
Nearly Spring is complete! It is a seven-foot mosaic mural installed on New Year’s Day at the Free State Brewery in downtown Lawrence, Kansas. The mosaic was a wonderful project and I am writing to give thanks to all of the people who were in one way or another a part of its creation.
Foremost I want to thank Chuck Magerl, proprietor of the Free State Brewery. He was wonderfully supportive throughout this project. He invited me to discuss the possibility of creating a mosaic for a particular spot in the brewery. Our first meeting was in December of 2012 and, while I was hesitant to take on a large-scale mural and had never even used mortar before, I left the meeting excited about the possibility and hoped to get the job.
The ideas for the mosaic grew out of several conversations with Chuck that meandered through broad topics, among them birds, water, and the Lawrence area’s landscape. These themes became core elements in the mosaic. Once we finished the design work I worked intensively on the mosaic for about five months. Chuck provided a place for me to work at the Free State’s eastside brewery, and also hosted an open house there so that friends and brewery patrons could see the mosaic’s development. Thousands-of-tiles-cut-from-ceramic-plates-and-adhered-to-panels later, I am grateful to Chuck for trusting me with the project and for his kindness, generosity, encouragement and help throughout the entire process.
A number of people greatly helped, too. Conrad Snider, a ceramic artist and friend in Newton, Kansas, provided extensive and detailed advice on everything from concrete board, mortar, and grout to how to build sturdy panels that would hold heavy tiles and yet be light enough to move and install.
Todd Pederson and Jim Lewis of Independent Woodcraft in Lawrence built panels for the mosaic that would fit exactly right in that stairwell spot. Todd and Jim also installed the finished panels with what struck me as remarkable ease.
Brit Kring of Kring’s Interiors in Lawrence contributed tiles for the mosaic and in his good-natured way, advice on mortar, grout, and how best to use them in a somewhat unorthodox application. Jana Flory of Krings Interiors also provided information and assistance.
When I first moved into my brewery-studio I felt like an interloper in this industrial setting. But the folks who run the brewery and the brewers and bottlers who work there were friendly and welcoming and soon I felt at home. They helped me in ways large and small with things like holding the door open while I hauled stuff in, raising my work tables onto blocks so that I could work standing up, tidying the place for the open house, designing and building a brace for the largest of my panels so that it would travel in the van safely, and on. So thank you Steve Bradt, Brad Scott, Eric McClelland, Lucas Hachmeister, Matt Luna, TJ Campsey, Rick Berger-Munson, Luke Otter, Patrick Raasch, Steve Rold and anyone else from the crew who might have assisted with the mosaic even without me knowing it.
Thanks to you friends for your conversations with me about the mosaic and for your support (especially Sara Stalling who got the first peek at my design ideas and Lokelani Braisted who sent all kinds of interesting mosaic process information my way), for your social media “likes,” comments, and encouragement, and for attending the mosaic process open house and making it a fun and successful event.
Thanks to Catherine Bolton, Nicholai Jost-Epp, Kathi and Randy Masten, Kristi Neufeld, Kamala Platt, Christy Dersch Schneider and David Schneider for giving me ceramic dishes, pottery, glass, porcelain shards and other special things to incorporate into the mosaic. In addition, Eric McClelland gave me a mussel shell and access to the Brewery’s hardware drawer for me to pick out a few small things to include, and TJ Campsey gave me a bottle with the Free State’s Prairie Falcon beer logo on it — so be sure to look for that little glass piece.
Lastly, I would like to thank my family. My parents, father-in-law, and brother never failed to ask me about how things were going on the mosaic and always expressed their excitement about it. And to my husband Chuck and son Nicholai, thanks for all your support and for picking up the slack especially after school, and for keeping me laughing during a few tough times — you two are the best.
UPDATE: Please see Dave Loewenstein’s blog about the recent comings and goings of murals in Lawrence, KS, including murals by Stan Herd at the former Tellers Restaurant, KT Walsh at the Poehler Building, and me at the Free State Brewery.