Mosaics Great and Smalti

JoAnn Locktov

Author JoAnn Locktov, whose book Mosaic Art & Style is a fascinating glimpse into the world of mosaics, knows her way around, into, out of and through the medium. She’s been gracious enough to agree to share with Roaming By Design’s readers an article she wrote for Glass Craftsman Magazine, which appears in the current issue. I’ve visited the Orsoni foundry and stayed in Domus Orsoni in Venice, which is filled with glinting compositions, so I can attest to the fact that it is a dreamy spot on earth and the perfect place to be inspired to reach stellar heights in the art of mosaic making.

Thanks to JoAnn for sharing this informative piece on the 2009 Orsoni Prize winners (and congratulations to you talented recipients!): The Orsoni Prize was created to honor artists working in glass mosaic. The Orsoni foundry in Venice, Italy, has been creating glass smalti and 24k gold mosaic since 1888. Honorary President Lucio Orsoni, the great grandson of the founder Angelo Orsoni, together with Pino Bisazza, President of Trend Group, are the jurors. The biennale Prize is open to artists throughout the world. This year 98 mosaics were submitted from 15 countries to compete for the Grand Prize of Euro 1,000 and a one-week trip to Venice to attend a Master of Mosaic class at Orsoni with Maestra Antonella Gallenda.

Additionally, awards of 24 karat gold mosaic were given to one Honorable Mention and three Finalists. The five artists were rewarded for their unique vision. The subjects, both representational and abstract, showed an intimate glimpse into the varying techniques and inspirations of the artists. Consistent amongst all five were the use of a martinella (hammer) and hardie, the classical tools of the antiquity, to shape their tesserae.

Julie Richey's Award-Winning Mosaic

Grand Prize winner Julie Richey of Irving, Texas has been creating mosaics for 19 years. Originally working in marble with a wet saw, Richey discovered glass smalti and she treasures “the meditative atmosphere” in her studio that working in glass provides. She recognizes the consistent color of smalti and notes how the intensity “stays true no matter how small you cut it.”  Richey’s winning sculptural mosaic “Night Shirt” was inspired by a 3 a.m. vista in San Francisco, enjoyed at a cliff-side park overlooking the bay and bridges. The base is a methodical layering of Styrofoam, aluminum mesh and fiber tape on Wediboard cut into the shape of a shirt. Richey applied several layers of thinset and fiberglass mesh to develop the undulating folds and used tinted thinset to apply the smalti. The jurors awarded Richey the highest honors because of her ability to create an “atmospheric landscape of pure poetry that harmonizes with the sculptural form of the clothing.

Magda Busetto’s Vision in Mosaics

A resident of Venice, Magda Busetto lives within walking distance of Orsoni. She stops by the foundry often to select glass from the 3,000 hues available in the color library. Busetto first started creating mosaics in 2005, after a trip to Australia. Working in the direct method, Busetto chose to commemorate a moment in time when she “met a magnetic, piercing glance of an unknown person.” Busetto was able to capture the spontaneity of that glance, with the combination of smalti, gold and a convex mirror. She worked quickly, relying on instinctive memory to guide her hands. According to Orsoni and Bisazza, the eye is “Startling, rather than looking at the mosaic, it is watching us.”  Busetto will receive 3 kilos of Orsoni 24 karat gold mosaic for winning Honorable Mention.

Greg Haas’ Blue Wave

Greg Haas, of Houston, Texas, is drawn to “the solid form, saturated color, material massing, tessellation and reflective brilliance that true smalti offers.” His “Blue Wave” is an achievement in simplicity due to his cutting of the blue smalti “on angles to allow reflectance and shadow to create the image.” By giving equal weight to the space in between, Haas created a “mosaic relief” utilizing the physical properties of light and shadow created by the single colored smalti. A Finalist winner, Haas along with Kate Kerrigan and Angela Staehling will receive 1 kilo of Orsoni 24 karat gold mosaic.

Rainy Day Central Park by Kate Kerrigan

To render a mosaic in the limited palette of black and white is to ignore the essential property of the hand-made glass. In “Rainy Day Central Park,” Kate Kerrigan, a resident of the San Francisco Bay area, works in the traditional chiaroscuro technique of Renaissance masters. Her emphasis is on shading and andamento to create form and perspective. Kerrigan’s ability to “capture an intense light” secured her the Finalist award. Stepping back often to observe from a distance was critical to Kerrigan’s ability to replicate the mosaic from her own photograph. Numerous palettes of grey were effectively used to keep Kerrigan “organized” and make the transitions seamless. Kerrigan’s style and technique has changed dramatically in her 11-year career. After studying in Italy, she was “wooed” by the texture of smalti, and the hammer and hardie, which remain her chosen tools and material.

Angela Staehling’s Mosaic Entry

Angela Staehling has been a professional artist for 17 years working in many mediums, primarily painting. While traveling abroad for a year with her family in 2008 Staehling discovered Orsoni and the art of mosaics. She enrolled in a 3-day workshop and was inspired by the “organic nature of glass allowing the art form to change appearance as light reflects off it from different angles.”  Visiting bath houses and grottoes, and admiring the use of shells and their opalescent shimmer inspired “Coraux Rouges” which is her first mosaic after completing the course at Orsoni. The use of text in Staehling’s art is reminiscent of her work as a graphic designer. Now home from her extensive travels and living in Rock Island, Illinois, Staehling envisions an entire series of sea forms. Fabricating her mosaic with smalti, seashells, and hand painted gold leaf, Staehling succeeded in achieving a “sophisticated use of coral smalto while keeping an naïve simplicity in the design.”

For Lucio Orsoni it brought back memories of the sampler boards that taught him to read as a child, when it took a strong visual image to demand his attention. Orsoni is a foundry where every piece of glass is still made by hand. It is also a school where students can have access to every color imaginable and instruction from mosaic masters. The Master in Mosaic educational component represents Lucio Orsoni’s lifelong dream to  “spread the divine art of mosaics.” All 98 mosaics submitted for the 2009 Orsoni Prize are available to view on the Orsoni web site. It is the quintessential purpose of the Orsoni Prize to celebrate creativity through both recognition and education.

  • Julie Richey

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Saxon. We both have the same affection for Orsoni, Venice, and all things smalti. ~ Julie Richey

  • Greg Haas

    Nice article and happy to learn about your blog…dig the architecture and travel posts….

  • Saxon Henry

    Congratulations, Julie! Yes, Orsoni is one of my favorite spots in the world! Good luck in all you do!

  • Saxon Henry

    Thanks, Greg: congratulations and good luck with your creations in the future. I love learning about new talent and this post was great for that!

  • ClarityK(Sarah)

    What a beautiful medium to work with – inspiring

  • Nan

    These works are just astounding, and how distinct they are, one from another. Really illustrates the variety of visions these artists have for the mosaic medium.Julie, your jacket is just wonderful — I love the detail of the label, fabulous.Viva i mosaici, and thanks for the lovely article.

  • Saxon Henry

    These are such talents and I am so happy to be able to feature them. Thanks for stopping in. I’m going to check out that light fixture on your site yesterday…right down my alley!

  • Saxon Henry

    I know, right? I’m so thrilled that JoAnn and these mosaics artists are on my radar (and you, too)! Thanks for stopping in, Nan!

  • JoAnn

    It is the intention of the Orsoni Prize to bring international recognition to contemporary mosaic artists and Saxon you have beautifully supported the mission of the Prize by sharing this article. Grazie mille!

  • Saxon Henry

    Love, love, love the opportunity to spread the word, JoAnn! It’s such a great opportunity for artists to have access to Orsoni, and the visuals are so beautiful (and you know how I love that)! Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!

  • Rich Holschuh

    Limiting myself to two words: WOW and THANKS.

  • Saxon Henry

    I know, right? Thank YOU! And thanks for all your great twitterisms during the past few weeks. I miss getting to come to Vermont (went to Vermont College in Montpelier). I’m guessing you are just about to see the first signs of spring soon?

  • Karin H. Edwards

    Great post! Fabulous subject! Hurrah for JoAnn, her new book, and the wonderful artists she highlights!

  • Saxon Henry

    Hey Karen! So fantastic to see your name pop up here! I’ve missed you…how are you?

  • Karin H. Edwards

    I’m great. Out of country for a month but back and still a fan. By the way, very clever title. “smalti” ha!

  • Saxon Henry

    I hope you got to go somewhere lovely! And you are one of my absolute favorite fans (says thinking it’s so the other way around)! Thanks (re: title)…I try!!! So great to see your name come across my radar, as always!