Santa Maria in Trastevere. That beautiful church in Rome was packed full of remarkable treasures; mostly mosaics and the Cavallini frescoes. When I visited the church some years ago, I recall how majestic the mosaics were - Jesus tending his flock. There was a line of sheep each one with a different pattern to his wool coat. The tesserae of the mosaics were set into the cement in the direct method at slightly different angles. This caused the colors to glisten and change hue depending upon how the light hit them. When I put my lire into the light box to bring the mosaic into a spotlight I was so moved by the sublime beauty that it brought tears to my eyes.
A guard seemed to be duly impressed by my artistic/religious epiphany that he invited me to look at a smaller mosaic around the corner that was hidden behind a glass door. This mosaic was a square Roman emblem depicting ducks and a goose in a water scene. The tesserae were mostly stone but possibly some vitreous glass as well as the blues and greens were so vivid. To my surprise the guard who led me to the spot opened the glass door and told me to put my hands on it to feel the tesserae. I’m sure this was not standard operating procedures for tourists but I did so, grateful that I could touch what a Roman artist from antiquity had touched. I remained for a while at the site making a sketch of this mosaic.
A few days ago I revisited my sketch, and, revising history again, decided to make the sketch into a detailed drawing (I have a postcard of the original mosaic as a guide should I wish to consult it). Even though the mosaic was square, once again I decided to use the whole long page and create details at the top and bottom. I used small decorative lines and details so that the mosaic became a tapestry of patterns. Or perhaps it is more like a pottery design. It is an amalgam of sorts: past, present, decoration and documentation.
May 21, 2013
I thought of this story once more when I completed a sketch that I did in the Ukraine of an old woman sitting underneath trees. The old woman was actually vending fruit by the roadside and not observing the trees, but I decided to pay homage to my grandmother’s annual ritual and draw spirits amongst these trees. The creatures that are floating or flying around in the trees were taken largely from images of the same that I saw in a local museum in Zaparoze, a small town in the Eastern Ukraine where we were staying with my father’s cousin. The drawing is in charcoal with highlights and shadows in grey, white and black pastels. I made the spirits diaphanous, in keeping with their ethereal nature.
May 19, 2013
Today is a good day to reflect upon my mothers and what they meant to me. I say mothers because I was blessed with two mothers: who shaped my formative years, and my mother-in-law, who was my mentor, dear friend and second mother throughout the greater part of my adult life. My mother-in-law always referred to me as her second daughter - an honor indeed. I am a motherless child now, but grateful for the years of motherly companionship that I had.
May 17, 2013
Making this mosaic more archival and dressed up took some doing. I first made a painting over the photocopy of the grasshopper tile- making it now a “real”art work. I then carefully peeled off all the wall paper - which was peeling off anyway. The now bare matt board was resurfaced with gesso and faux finished in acrylic to look like tile and stone. After coating the whole piece with acrylic varnish to make it slick, I then used various color paints to grout with. Yellow around the center, green in the circular areas and cementitious looking mica in the middle.
This is the last of my paper mosaic renovations. They are now all pressed, dressed and put to rest.
May 16, 2013
May 15, 2013
Now that I have concluded teaching mosaics in the public school system I have decided to retire these demonstrator mosaics by bringing them to a conclusion as well. This required some initial repair work followed by using more stabilizing archival materials to finish the works. The colors of commercial matt board used for picture framing (what I used in the mosaics for classroom teaching as it could be acquired for nothing) was often fugitive as well as monochromatic and not terribly interesting. So in order to complete the cat mosaic posted above, I first made a new supply of tesserae with acrylic paint over gesso on matt board. I faux finished the acrylic paints and added mica textures to give them a stony appearance. I then painted over, rather tediously, all of the existing pieces on the original work to match the replacement tesserae.. I used archival glues this time to adhere the tesserae to the remaining blank areas, feeling a burst of satisfaction as that last little space was filled up. After everything dried, I gave the mosaic several coats of an acrylic varnish to bring out the colors as well as add a hard, slick surface that I could grout like a stone or glass mosaic. For the grout I used different colorants added to an acrylic mica mortar for each section grouted. The mica gave the impression of a cement base and was easily wiped off the surface. Overall, I’m pleased with the effect although the flickering shine of the mica looks better in person. And now cat is here for keeps instead of half done in a box.
May 13, 2013
I still used plenty of commercial tools when making my ceramic vessels and musical instruments, but my brush with Native American tool autonomy keeps me on the lookout for the common object that might be just the right tool.
May 12, 2013
While making revisions to this sketch I decided to compete each figure differently. The first one I treated like a painted piece of ceramic, with a decorated doll-like face and body. As I turned to her companion, I completed her form with an overall dark texture. The effect I was going for was a more tactile one - like a raffia draped object to be touched and held. To emphasize her corporeal form I left out facial features. Her hips were larger than those of her companion and her feet decidedly stumpier as well. She was earth. Fertility. Primordial and universal. By contrast, her friend represented the cultural, sporting the face of civilization.
May 9, 2013
For my last pit firing I had created a large bass ocarina from red stoneware clay that I had placed in a mold made from a large river rock. I liked the smooth abstract shape - like a Brancusi sculpture. This ocarina was pieced together in two parts which unfortunately separated in the greenware stage right after I had carefully burnished the surface with rose colored terra
But since the separation did not affect the mouthpiece I decided to put the two parts back together and route out a grove along the seam line for an inlay. The piece was bisqued at a low temperature then smoke fired in the pit for a subtle surface design. The smoke pattern on this piece turned out well so I glued the two pieces back together and was pleased to find that the ocarina still played - although a bit on the quiet side. Using sand paper and my handy dremel, I evened out and widened the inlay grove and set to work with my inlay. I made a lavish inlay consisting of fresh-water pearls, green stone, gilded glass and glass beads. Not content with that, I riveted out a few more holes and added some pearl cabachons on the surface.
Rather than use the usual grout - way too plain for pearls - I used irridescent and pearlized acrylic paint, mixing with mica mortars and potter’s pink for the exterior edges. After polishing the ocarina with butcher’s wax and buffing to a satin sheen I set it on my mantel to admire it. A friend who was visiting admired it as well, dubbing the vessel “Dolly Parton’s Ocarina,” for its flamboyant feminity.
May 8, 2013
My very first ocarina, pictured above, was a thick-walled vessel that made a rather pressured, whining sound - I optimistically imagined it to be lilting. Since the holes were arranged in a straight line along the top surface of the vessel, it doubled as a water whistle. Filled with water and slowly swirled then emptied as I blew air through it, it created a sound reminiscent of a loon. This was quite apropos for the abstract bird design that I had painted on the surface with underglaze pigments and overglaze 24K gold enameling.
As time went by, as I became thinner skinned about foggy, vague and limited sounds, my
I had only a small dremel and this old ocarina was a lot thicker-walled than I had anticipated. As a consequence it took some time to bore out and shape the hole. And then it left this white bare clay hole. What to do? I just happened to have enough metal leaf to decorate this exit and the coloring seemed to match the exterior gilding well. So now my retrograde ocarina has been upgraded.