Moasics: they aren't just for Roman bath houses anymore!
September 16, 2008 1:27 PM   Subscribe

Uh oh, you smashed a dish while you were washing up. But you don't get upset, because you know what to do with the pieces. Being both cultured and crafty, you not only know about the long and illustrious history of mosaic art but also that you can make mosaics from china and ceramic shards as well as pebbles, beads (new or removed from old jewelery), shells, marbles, or even lego or Scrabble tiles. So you take those pieces of your broken plate (and others that klutzy you has broken in the past) and, following some basic instructions, make numbers for your house, a fireplace surround, a birdbath, a flowerpot, a table or two or four, a tray, picture or mirror frames, a wall mural/homage to Hitchcock, or even a floor. By now you're wishing you had a spare basilica or Roman villa so you could really go nuts. And, besides planning on picking up some thrift shop china, you're eyeing that 48-piece reindeer-and-elves Christmas dinnerware set your mother-in-law gave you a few years back and thinking it's really too bad you're so clumsy and likely to break it in the very near future.
posted by orange swan (20 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
Wow... that's really, really cool stuff. BTW, the Roman Villa link isn't working 9at least for me) where was that supposed to go?
posted by Navelgazer at 1:40 PM on September 16, 2008

you know what i would love to see in mosaic? animation!
posted by sexyrobot at 1:45 PM on September 16, 2008

And if you're in the south of England, the Roman Villa at Bignor is worth a visit. Part of the charm is that it just looks like a not-very-interesting farmer's field when you drive by it.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 1:52 PM on September 16, 2008

you know what i would love to see in mosaic? animation!

Two tabs of LSD should take care of that for you!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:52 PM on September 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Mosaics didn't interest me much until I saw the one in the movie Alexander - instead of cobblestones in an outdoor meeting area, there was a map of the world, a stone mosaic that was the ground, impervious to elements, and a useful map (and an aide when explaining things to the movie's audience).

Since then, pristine cobblestones or paving now looks like wasted opportunity :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 1:57 PM on September 16, 2008

Thanks. Now I feel like a barbarian using these broken plates as improvised weapons.
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:59 PM on September 16, 2008

Man, I'd love that Psycho one in my shower. Awesome!
posted by Eekacat at 3:45 PM on September 16, 2008

Here is a Flickr set of some sidewalk mosaics I found in Seattle.
posted by Tube at 4:10 PM on September 16, 2008

You know, I'd never really thought much about mosaic, except to look at it with a kind of shrug. I'd been doing pickup deranged street theater gigs at the American Visionary Art Museum for four years when they started the first phase of their project to cover all the bare concrete on the facility with a mirror/bottle/ceramic mosaic, and at the time, I really thought it was a step backwards for the place. Forgive me, but I happen to like bare concrete in modern architecture.

Of course, after four more years of pickup deranged street theater gigs, when I was in the midst of a flounder-y attempt at being a freelance building contractor to atone for almost twenty years as a high security micrographic tech and media archivist, they asked if I'd be interested in coming on board for the next year-long phase of mosaic construction.

I'd consumed my 401k, churned through my savings, and was well on the way to the kind of depression where you keep finding yourself on the floor of your kitchen in your underpants surrounded by empty Cool-Whip containers, so naturally I said "sure!"

As construction engineer and number two guy to our lead artist/educator, I spent a year on a diesel lift, mounting rails and cement board panels, helping the artist mark the panels with the overall design, coming up with solutions to technical problems and working out ways to make our final project more long-lived (those media archivist years, with all the boring study of materials archivality, came in handy), and transporting heavy crap from one end of Baltimore to the other. Some 20,000 pounds of finished mosaic panels rode on the top of my Metro that year, which is why my car still rides a little funny.

We worked with kids in juvenile detention programs, homeless shelters, drug treatment centers, and they did most of the construction work and a fair amount of the design, within the overall outlines the artist laid out, and it was the kind of experience of watching people's attitudes change through the study of art that really justifies spending money on art. By the end, when we were rushing to beat our deadlines and the end-of-project date on the HUD grant that funded the project, I came down from the diesel lift and spent the last several months doing mosaic work, too, to help out.

Funny thing, that.

I still love raw concrete with the woodgrain and the formwork tracery visible, but after a year spent working on that mosaic, and reading up on Hundertwasser and Gaudi (Park Guell—holy mother of suwheeet jeez), and taking lots of field trips to Philadelphia to see Isaiah Zagar's works in progress and Lily Yeh's art parks, I have to think I've definitely incorporated the rough logic and lyricism of mosaic into my approach to the world.

I'm still at the museum, hired on after the grant ran out as the head of facility tech and maintenance, and I'm still working on mosaic, doing little projects here and there when I can sneak them into the garden or hidden corners around the place, and mosaic becomes an answer to a lot of questions that you wouldn't normally connect with mosaic. When regrading our wildflower garden to improve drainage, and after trying to figure out a way to raise the beds without doing something ugly and unnatural looking, I realized that, rather than hide the low curb walls I'd have to build, I could build them freehand (earthship-style), given them a scratch coat, and mosaic them (with a little help from my friends), and bring a little Gaudi to Baltimore.

You get where you can't stop yourself, which is why there's a sad tendency for mosaic to devolve into hippie kitsch, alas, but I'm doing my best to practice restraint. What it really gives you is this amazing sense that there's nothing that can't be salvaged, reused, or repurposed—that everything belongs somewhere, in a context that maybe only you know, and so you mix up a fresh batch of thinset mortar, oil up your glass cutters, and have that great moment of revelation that comes from seeing what's possible.

I think I'll start out right here, in this blue-green glass.
posted by sonascope at 4:51 PM on September 16, 2008 [9 favorites]

mosaics rule! thanks for this!

be sure to also check out: Beehive Design Collective - Mosaics

and here's a Mosaic Touring Bike
posted by jammy at 4:57 PM on September 16, 2008

when there are more favorites than comments you know you have a quality, time-intensive, interesting post...thanks OS.
posted by dawson at 5:04 PM on September 16, 2008

This was a fantastic and fun post. Thanks! And damn that Christmas dinnerware set to hell!
posted by thatbrunette at 9:04 PM on September 16, 2008

Those Hitchcock murals are great. Some of them are really well done. - Then again, I'm pretty much for anything that glorifies Hitchcock movies. Thanks for that.
posted by Kimothy at 9:36 PM on September 16, 2008

That basilica link goes to a picture of the cathedral at Monreale, right?

Isiaah Zagar's lot is a hoot and a holler. I was visiting Philly and walked by it with a friend. We had no idea who had done it.
posted by 3.2.3 at 10:16 PM on September 16, 2008

This was awesome. Thank you. Now I have to break things.
posted by crataegus at 12:45 AM on September 17, 2008

Our Bottle cap art car
posted by electrasteph at 4:00 AM on September 17, 2008

millions of people go to the walt disney world magic kingdom. and while they all see "cinderella's castle", very few of them notice the gorgeous mosaics in the archway that tell the story of cinderella.

links to a blog entry and flickr tags "disney + cinderella + mosaic
posted by rmd1023 at 4:45 AM on September 17, 2008

Oh man, I love mosaics. I'm totally gonna go home and break shit.

Great post!
posted by 912 Greens at 1:13 PM on September 17, 2008

Metafilter: where you keep finding yourself on the floor of your kitchen in your underpants surrounded by empty Cool-Whip containers
posted by mecran01 at 8:22 PM on September 17, 2008

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