Category Archives: Mosaics

Mosaics Can Change the World

Having recently spent five days at the American Mosaic Summit in Philadelphia, sponsored by the Society of American Mosaic Artists, my head is buzzing with thoughts about all of the presentations and workshops. I heard from Carrie Reichardt, who works against capital punishment through craftivist mosaic sculptures.  I enjoyed the talk by Isaiah Zagar where he told us about the history of the Magic Gardens, which now cover several city blocks in Philadelphia and sometimes attract over 600 visitors in a day.

The morning after I arrived, I participated in one of the day-long tours that the Mosaic Society of Philadelphia had organized. My tour was led by Philadelphia artist and teacher Robyn Miller. We stopped at congregation Rodeph Shalom to look at the mosaics on the main street entrance of the building.

Facade of Rodeph Shalom
Facade of Congregation Rodeph Shalom

We ran into a congregant, David Shapiro, who was walking to work and he arranged for us to gain entrance to the building  to see additional mosaics inside as well as a lushly painted and stenciled interior.

Interior of Rodeph Shalom
Interior of Congregation Rodeph Shalom

Our next stop was the Glencairn Museum outside of the city in Bryn Athyn. The interior was filled with mosaics which had been made on site in a glassblowing studio.  The artisans were hired by Raymond Pitcairn, an exacting man who built this castle for his family.  The glassblowers  were tasked with finding formulas that would look like the  tiles used in the middle ages. Through extensive testing they determined that over-firing the glass would  give the tiles a stone-like appearance. This museum was a testament to the handmade: every inch was well crafted, whether it was stone, glass, wood or woven textiles.

Mosaic ceiling at Glencairn Museum
Mosaic ceiling at Glencairn Museum

Next we went to The Village of Arts and Humanities in north Philadelphia that was started years ago by painter Lily Yeh. She went to this neighborhood to create a public art mural and she became permanently connected with the people she met there.   She started working with  people who were strung out on drugs or recently incarcerated and she helped them to see different paths. We were very lucky to have Lily herself show us around the garden. Neighborhood people were coming out of every door to greet her and hug her. She has helped save lives and has established a children’s art center where clay pieces are made that are used in fabricating sculptures and walls and memorials throughout several city blocks in this destitute part of the city of Philadelphia. The children now have a place to go after school, and many of Lily’s helpers have become employed in the arts.

Lily Yeh and
Lily Yeh and Patricia Edwards, who became involved in theater through the Village of Arts and Humanities.

This installation is much like Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens which also grew up in an abandoned city lot in Philadelphia. Things are made out of what can be found and with materials that often don’t last. Mosaics fall apart as quickly as they can be built, but the Village of Arts and Humanities is tended and loved by the community. Walls need to be buttressed because the buildings behind the mosaic murals are crumbling. Sculpted chairs need to be re-tiled and re-grouted periodically, but now there is a small staff that tends to these things. This is life-changing, life-saving art in action.  Each corner is a little rough around the edges, but the artworks are all special to the community.  Lily Yeh embodies the idea of art that helps people and communities put the pieces back together.




City Square with Reflecting Pool

Design for Iron Street Park in Boston by Halvorson Design Partnership

My mosaic, City Square with Reflecting Pool, was installed in the new Iron Street Park on the corner of A Street and Iron Street in Boston’s Fort Point Channel neighborhood in July.

Dan Sacco installing the mosaic in Iron Street Park, Boston

The park was designed by Halvorson Design Partnership, and this mosaic (6′ X 6′) was designed to incorporate the historic themes of the park.  Quotations highlighting  the history of this area are sandblasted into the concrete plinths in the park, and some of the seating is made from original beams from historic buildings.

20 - LR

The mosaic was inspired by the iconic loft buildings in the neighborhood which were built over 100 years ago by the Boston Wharf Company to be used as warehouses.  As you walk around the Fort Point Channel area of Boston you will see round copper Boston Wharf signs on the buildings, which indicate the years in which they were built.  The reflecting pool in the center of the mosaic is a reference to the fact that many of these buildings are built over water.


Mosaics at Maud Morgan Art Center

Seven students in my class produced beautiful work in a workshop at the Maud Morgan Art Center in Cambridge, MA on two chilly Sundays in April.  We worked on 8″ X 8″ squares.  The birds below are by Debbie Whitney.

Mosaic by Debbie Whitney
Mosaic by Debbie Whitney

You may recognize the mosaic below from my class at Mass College of Art earlier in the month.  Kate attended this class at Maud Morgan Arts to finish up her background and grout and frame her beautiful owl.  This is Kate’s first mosaic.

Kate Larabee's mosaic
Kate Larabee’s mosaic

Susan also decided to take the class at Maud Morgan Arts after taking the class at Mass Art recently.  Her two boxer mosaics are finished, grouted and framed.

Susan Berman's mosaic
Susan Berman’s mosaic
Susan Berman's mosaic
Susan Berman’s mosaic

Susan also worked on an abstract mosaic for the first time.  She worked with gradations of light and dark,  subtle color changes, and varying the shapes of the tesserae.

Abstration by Sysan Berman five hours later
Abstraction by Susan Berman

Jennifer created her first mosaic, inspired by a still life with tropical fruits.  She cut the tiles into very small pieces and worked on perfecting curves and color gradations.

Mosaic by Jennifer Jacoby
Mosaic by Jennifer Jacoby

Leslie has some experience with mosaics and used this class to develop an original design and to work on her composition and the flow (or andamento) of the tiles.

Leslie Walters' mosaic
Leslie Walters’ mosaic

Adria has worked in many other media, and this was her first experience with mosaics.  She used one of her paintings as the inspiration for this abstract composition.

Adria Arch's mosaic
Adria Arch’s mosaic

Dianne has been working primarily in clay, and this is her first mosaic.  Mosaics and clay go together very well; the broken pieces of ceramics can be recycled into a mosaic project.

Dianne Henning's mosaic
Dianne Henning’s mosaic


Mosaic Workshop at Mass College of Art

I taught a mosaic workshop which took place on two consecutive Sundays in April 2014.  Six students worked on pieces that were approximately eight by eight inches.  The class was six hours on each Sunday, and the time flew by.

mosaic by Christine Demers
mosaic by Christine Demers

I emphasize design and color in my teaching.  We used handmade tiles made in Mexico, called smalti.

Debbie Whitney grouting her mosaic
Debbie Whitney grouting her mosaic

Students carefully decide on the size and direction of the glass tiles to best emphasize the shapes in each composition.

Susan Berman's pair of Boxers
Susan Berman’s pair of Boxers

Sometimes students work on special projects.  The mosaic below was inspired by Roman mosaics, and uses a background called Opus Vermiculatum.    In mosaics, Opus refers to the style of the background, and Vermiculatum means “worm-like”.  So in this case the background color wraps around the numbers first, like a worm, then goes in a different direction, parallel to the borders.

A house number by Elizabeth Brown
A house number by Elizabeth Brown

We learn about a variety of mosaic materials, including ceramic tiles, millefiori, and glass.  Some tiles are matte, some are iridescent.

Aimee Carvalho's multi-media mosaic
Aimee Carvalho’s multi-media mosaic

The flow and movement of the tiles (or tesserae) in a mosaic is called andamento.  In the owl below, the tesserae follow the outline of the owl.  The moon and the branch surround the owl to create a circular movement in this piece.

Mosaic by Kate Larrabee
Mosaic by Kate Larrabee


Starting a New Mosaic

I recently started work on a 5′ X 5′ mosaic for a new park in the city of Boston.  The installation date is June 1st so it will be a busy six weeks.  I worked out the design in colored pencil, using the muted palette of the Cinca tiles I have chosen for this project.


 The working title is City Square with Reflecting Pool.  The tiles in the middle, watery portion of the mosaic will probably be shiny to contrast with the matte ceramic tiles I am using for the buildings.  Below is the first building coming together.