Julie Richey’s “La Corrente,” a marble, glass smalti and seashell dress sculpture, has won the Best 3-D Mosaic award, a distinction given to her by the 2011 Mosaic Arts International—an annual international juried exhibition of contemporary mosaic art. “La Corrente” means “The Current” and the piece exemplifies beauty amidst destruction, a theme that Julie was inspired to explore because she created the work of art during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill crisis. We’ve followed Julie’s esteemed career since she won the Orsoni prize and love how her depth of feeling comes through in her work.
We thought we’d treat RBD readers to a sampling of how travel makes an impact on Richey’s creative expressions. She’s planning a Master Mosaic Tour in Italy this fall in case you’re so inspired you want to follow her to the ends of the earth (well, Italy qualifies as that for most of us who long to return again and again)! In her own words: I love to travel—anywhere—and I consider myself fortunate to have discovered a career that allows many interesting travel opportunities. I’ve been all over the US, to Mexico, Italy, the UK and Spain; and soon, I will travel to Australia—all for mosaic-related work.
Looking at my mosaics from the last few years, some are inspired by traveling and finding an image imbedded in my head from the trip. This would be “Night Shirt,” a wall-relief mosaic of a shirt depicting San Francisco Bay at night. I was inspired by a 3 a.m. visit to a park overlooking the city. I held that image in my mind until eventually it came out as a mosaic sculpture. Other works can be inspired by a friend’s vacation stories (as with “La Corrente”), or are formed as a response to an opportunity, be it a commission, a juried show or a public art commission. I’ve made mosaic landscapes of my New Mexico vacation photos and utilized clients’ photos from summers in Canada to make a glass kitchen backsplash for a new home.
For “L’Ambasciatrice,” I was inspired to create a sculptural dress depicting native Texas wildflowers and butterflies for a special event—an art auction benefiting the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX. I love Austin and will use almost any excuse to pop down from Dallas. In this case, I couldn’t finish the mosaic before the deadline, but just kept working on it (for nine months, off and on) until it was fully realized.
Although “L’Ambasciatrice” never made it to the Wildflower auction, it did travel to shows in Mesa, AZ, Galveston and Dallas. I named it “The Ambassadress” because throughout its construction, I carried it everywhere for art demos, including one at an arboretum, the arts center where I taught mosaics, even a church where a pastor used my mosaics to reinforce his theme of “brokenness and reconstruction” for his sermons.
That last one was a stretch, but in every case, this “little mosaic dress that could” allowed people to see a facet of mosaic-making up close. They were very curious about the methods, materials and structure, and the ambassadress did her job well. I’ve been fortunate to travel to Italy frequently—first as a college student for a Rome semester, then as a graduate scholar in Art History. Once I became fluent in Italian, there were return trips for sister-city cultural exchanges, tours with the Renaissance Polyphony chorus of my alma mater, and the invaluable learning experiences I had taking workshops at the Orsoni foundry in Venice.
Winning the Orsoni Prize in 2009 was a dream come true. It was an honor just to earn the recognition—but they sweetened the deal by including a full trip to Venice, a week in their workshop, and a full stay at the beautiful Domus Orsoni bed and breakfast. Talk about reinforcing your career choice! For the dedicated mosaic artist, there’s almost no better place in the world to spend a week wallowing in luscious colors and absorbing the Venetian setting. After more than two weeks at Orsoni and a subsequent family visit, the members of the staff there are my friends, not just professional contacts. I feel at home in Italy. I could spend weeks in Rome and rarely need a map. Put me in New York City and I’m as lost as last year’s Easter egg.
Now most of my days in Italy revolve around mosaics. Where are the truly great sites? How can I get there without spending a fortune and driving my fellow travelers crazy? Who wants to go with me to an obscure Tuscan seaside town to eat spaghetti alle vongole and explore Niki de Saint Phalle’s Tarot Garden mosaics? Two years ago we were on a January choir tour of Italy, and we took a day trip to Palestrina, the birthplace of one of our favorite composers. As soon as we’d finished singing Mass, I bolted up the steep steps of the village to the archeological museum where I knew the famous Nile Mosaic was housed. The hike was crazily vertical, and I was gasping for breath when I arrived at the site but the mosaic was so worth the pilgrimage. Sometimes the desire to wallow in mosaics brings serendipitous moments.
In June 2009 I was leading a small mosaic tour of Rome and had made an appointment to visit Dr. Paolo di Buono, director of the Vatican Micromosaic Studios. He suggested a Wednesday morning. Travelers familiar with the Vatican know that the Pope holds his public audience each Wednesday morning. We expected the Vatican grounds to be quite chaotic, but instead they were quiet and deserted. The audience was set up outside in Piazza San Pietro where Jumbotrons flanked both sides of the colonnade and hundreds of chairs were lined up for special visitors. After we toured the studio with Dr. Di Buono, he offered to take us into Saint Peter’s Basilica through the side door.
When we passed the guard and entered, I realized we had come though Bernini’s famous “skeleton door,” the monument to Alexander VII, at the back of the basilica. I’ve been in St. Peter’s countless times, and have even attended Easter Vigil Mass there with thousands of pilgrims. This time was different: it was almost deserted.
One worker on a miniature Zamboni-style machine drove up and down the nave, polishing the marble floors. Five guys in rappelling gear were perched on the Baldacchino, the high altar canopy, cleaning it with Swiffer dusters. Dr. Di Buono brought us to the entrance of the basilica to see the mosaic works his studio had restored, including an altar painting designed by Raphael that was actually a mosaic.
Looking past the Swiss guards in profile through the open doors, we could see thousands of people outside in the piazza, awaiting the Pope. Inside, it was just the four of us, the Zamboni driver and the Swiffer duster men. We exited as we had come in, via the Bernini door, and as we turned in our security badges and got our passports back, I glanced over to the basilica. Not 30 feet away was the iconic white Popemobile, awaiting Benedict XVI. The guards hurried us along so that the Pope could come out, get into his little car, and start toward his audience. We exited Vatican City, wove our way through the colonnade and popped out into the piazza. There he was, larger than life, on the Jumbotron.
In the two minutes it had taken us to get to the piazza, he’d climbed into his car and beaten us to the starting gate! We’d like to thank Julie for gracing our blog on this Twitter #MosaicMonday, and wish her happy Roaming as she inspires artisans far afield and close at home! Photos of “Night Shirt” and “La Corrente” by Stacey Bratton.