The CMS Blog

Construction Update: What’s Going On with the New Space?

July 21, 2017

Now four months into our residency in Edgewater, we are feeling the love from our neighbors and neighborhood partners. The enthusiasm from visitors who stop in has been overwhelming, and the support pouring in from local businesses and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, Edgewater Artists in Motion, Loyola University, and Granville shops and restaurants has been such a wonderful confirmation of our plans for growth. In the midst of all of this positive change, one big question is hanging in the air: what is up with our permanent space?

In January, when we initially learned of the construction setbacks with our permanent home at 1127 W. Granville Ave, the timeline for completion was still being determined, though roughly set for late this summer. As anyone who’s planned, participated in, or paid for a construction project knows, the timeline you create at the beginning is rarely what shakes out in the end, and our situation is no different. Unfortunately, unforeseen structural concerns related to the foundation created a major delay, and the delays have continued as the contractors have added additional structural support and sought out necessary permitting.  Just as of this week, we have a new projected completion date of Spring 2018. We are looking forward to the foundations going in in the next couple of weeks, and could not be more thrilled to have detailed updates to share with our community. Throughout this process, the property owners and developers, architects, and our partners in the alderman’s office have been incredibly supportive in helping us navigate the evolving changes in construction plans.

Armed with this new knowledge and full of gratitude for the generosity of the property owners here at 1101 W. Granville, we are charging forward! Though we were not originally planning to make this space our home for the long-term, we have already seen the eagerness of this community to welcome us and help us promote our mission, and despite the setbacks, we are ready to settle in and give back to the neighborhood. There are definitely some challenges facing us in our temporary space, but we are facing them head-on.

In the coming weeks, look for changes in our temporary space at 1101 W. Granville:

  1. Addressing functional concerns about the building to create a more comfortable and dynamic environment for all of our students and visitors.
  2.  A beautiful new mural in progress from artist Mason Potts (pictured right).
  3. Mosaic installations in our vestibule from Gary Drostle’s June class, Large Scale Mosaics
  4. Forthcoming signage and painting in collaboration with our faculty, volunteers, and After School Matters students.
  5. In the absence of our formal gallery, we will also be exhibiting some work in a pop-up gallery in our foyer.

If you have any painting or merchandising experience and would like to volunteer to assist us in this transformation, we encourage you to reach out to the office at with the subject line “Beautification Volunteering”. We can’t wait to see you at CMS!

New Classes for a New Chapter at CMS

June 9, 2017

We are so excited by all of the growth we’ve seen and experienced already in only a few short months at our new home on Granville Ave! As we look toward the future, we are always looking for ways to expand and diversify our curriculum.

While our focus remains on mosaic fine art, we are widening our lens to include important workshops and classes about key considerations for working artists: how to frame your artwork? How to strengthen your drawing skills? How to thoughtfully engage with a piece of artwork? These questions are all addressed by new classes coming up in our July-December 2017 catalog! In addition to these questions, we are also answering the demand for more stained glass, more jewelry, and more youth and family programming!

Check out all of our new course offerings:


New Stained Glass Classes

After high demand, we are finally expanding our stained glass curriculum! While our Stained Glass class is a perennial favorite, we’ve been met with several challenges. Firstly, as a 10-week class it hasn’t been formatted in a convenient way for visiting students. Secondly, repeat students have been eager for opportunities to move on to a higher level with other more advanced students. Now we have solved the demand for both, with a new Stained Glass I Intensive Weekend, starting this month June 30th – July 2nd, and a 10-week Stained Glass II class for higher level students. The first session of Stained Glass II begins Monday, July 3rd!

New Mosaic Classes

New mosaic classes include a range of course offerings, from a dynamic Memoryware class with CMS founder Karen Ami that explores vernacular American traditions in ceramics and mosaic making to mosaic jewelry classes for both advanced and beginning students. This November-December, we are also offering a fun introductory class to create mosaic ornament gifts just in time for the holidays!

Classes for Artist Preparation and Training

While mosaic materials and techniques remain at the core of our curriculum, there’s more to being a mosaic artist than cutting and applying tesserae! Our new Frame Making workshop teaches students how to mount and frame mosaics- a wonderful skill for anyone interested in displaying or possibly selling their art! Our new, first ever Figure Drawing class will challenge students to work on their foundational art skills, drawing from life and exploring their sense of line, dimension, and representative expression. 

Another workshop we are excited to introduce is something already familiar to many of our students and any readers with a background in fine arts. In our first ever workshop devoted entirely to the critique process- Articulating your Art: Mosaic Critique, CMS founding director Karen Ami and Tiny Pieces owner/CMS community member Andryea Natkin will lead fine art critiques and help students to understand how to approach and evaluate the aesthetic impact of a piece of artwork. It will challenge students to defend their creative choices, while arming them with the language and comprehension to engage in thoughtful, critical dialogue about art. 

Classes for Youth and Family

As CMS continues to grow its youth curriculum, this year we have added workshop offerings specifically for multigenerational learning. Our Family One-day and It Takes Two Workshops get parents and kids working together to learn the art of mosaics and make a beautiful work. We are also continuing this years inaugural run of our Youth Intro to Mosaics weekly class, which will be picking up this fall, just in time for the school year!


If you have taken classes with us before, we hope you grow with us and consider taking some of these classes. To inquiring artists or visitors, we hope you will join us and spread your wings in the wonderful mosaic medium!

Visiting Artist Profile: Maestro Verdiano Marzi

June 1, 2017

Maestro Verdiano Marzi in his Paris studio

Just this week, CMS saw the conclusion of visiting artist Verdiano Marzi’s eighth consecutive annual residency. Marzi, or the Maestro, as he’s commonly referred to around Chicago Mosaic School, is one of our most key visiting instructors. This year’s visit, like many before it, has been a whirlwind of activity. In the past five weeks, Maestro Marzi has conducted two intensive workshops, one weekly class, taught a workshop, lectured, and shown in a major exhibition at the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA) 2017 conference in Detroit. On top of all of this, he has dedicated countless hours in the studio, offering a unique window into a master practice and offering indispensible guidance to faculty, staff, and students alike.

When asked what makes Marzi’s class so unique, CMS director Karen Ami struggled to find the words. “It’s just life-changing. It’s hard to describe, but when you meet him, you understand.” Many students agree and compete for coveted seats in his classes and workshops. But what makes this master artist so impactful is not just his thoughtful and empathetic teaching style, his striking personal work, or impressive resume, which includes the Ravenna School, the École Nationale Supérieure de Beaux-Arts, and the Louvre. It is also the holistic way in which he approaches the practice of mosaic making, employing process elements from a range of fine art disciplines while staying true to the technical heritage of the medium.

Marzi was born near Ravenna, Italy, a landmark city for ancient and Byzantine style mosaics. As a child, he struggled with academic subjects in school, and often made gifts of artwork to the other children in exchange for their help with schoolwork. Seeing his struggle, Marzi’s father went to his teacher to see if there was some other avenue for Verdiano to take to pursue his talents. At the age of eleven, Marzi was enrolled on a scholarship at the Istituto Statale d’Arte per il Mosaico, a mosaic and fine art school founded by Italian Futurist Gino Severini. When he entered the school, he was one of only eight students, taking classes in art and design, history, mathematics, and the sciences, with a special focus on ancient mosaics and techniques.

He left the Istituto as a fifteen-year-old to take a professional apprenticeship with a prominent Ravenna mosaic studio. For five years he travelled back and forth to southern Italy with the studio, executing restorations of ancient mosaics, copies, and commissions. Then a young man, Marzi began to feel constrained by the lack of creative freedom offered by his work in Ravenna. When his mentor discouraged him from pursuing a relationship with his now wife, Beatrice, Marzi took the initiative to leave the studio and follow Beatrice to her native country of France.

At twenty-three, Marzi began a new life in Paris, where he attended the École Nationale Supérieure de Beaux-Arts and was able to cultivate a personal art practice for the first time. Under the tutelage of Sorbonne Professor Riccardo Licata in his Paris-based mosaic studio, Marzi began to explore much more modern aesthetics and imagery. Unlike many of his French peers, he was able to bring a strong foundation in ancient mosaic technique to his study of contemporary art, and build on that knowledge to create a new, dynamic path.

In class at this year’s first session of Modern Expressions with Verdiano Marzi.

In the subsequent forty years, Verdiano Marzi has been able to build a prolific personal practice while supporting himself through teaching. He has taught internationally throughout Europe, and in France has worked through the Louvre pedagogical programs doing outreach with prisoners and at-risk youth.

“Every time I teach, it’s a totally new experience, even if I’m working with students I’ve seen over and over again… Some artists continue to develop variations of the same theme over and over throughout their lives. Similarly, each encounter with a student is like the first time- a totally unique exchange.”**

Marzi began teaching with The Chicago Mosaic School after meeting Karen Ami at the 2010 SAMA conference in Chicago. At the time, Karen was acting president of the organization, and had extended a special invitation to Marzi to present at the conference and teach a workshop at CMS. Since then, their relationship has grown to a deep friendship and mentorship. In recent years, he has taught a class called “Modern Expressions,” where he focuses on helping students to develop their technical skills and aesthetic judgment in order to create expressive personal works. His enthusiasm is only growing, with intentions for developing his curriculum in the coming years.

“Winged Victory” by Verdiano Marzi, 2015. Glass, Stone and Gold. This sculptural mosaic was included in the Marzi’s 2015 solo exhibition, Dal Sogno all’ Opus Veritas, hosted by Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. This sculpture was purchased by the church and is now part of their permanent collection. It was dedicated this May.

Marzi is, in his own words, “just like any other artist… I’m inspired by the details of my own personal life and relationships,” but his personal work is far more wide reaching. He often tackles broad human themes, such as suffering and hope in crises and the links between historic events and the sociopolitical issues that face us today. This summer, Marzi will be traveling to Tokyo for the dedication of a mosaic artwork that examines the aftermath of the 2011 Tsunami, calling for both mourning of the human toll and joy in the memory of the individual lives affected. He will also be creating work this year to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Russian revolution, remaining cognizant of a century of consequences and the founding issues that are still relevant today.

With a strict religious upbringing, Marzi also works frequently with Judeo-Christian imagery, particularly angels and icons. These works ruminate on role of saints and angels as messengers, not just in religious scripture but also within the iconography of popular culture. As he reflects on current events, Marzi says that the timeless motifs of angels and icons are a conceptual medium through which western culture meditates on our own humanity, our place in the world, and relationships to each other and the metaphysical. With regards to literal interpretations of his choices of imagery, the Maestro encourages a less dogmatic approach: “man is the master of his own spirit.”

Verdiano Marzi’s incredible dedication to his art and his role as a teacher has been a transformative influence on our organization. While our classrooms feel just a little emptier when he leaves, we take inspiration from his incredible spirit and commitment to excellence in mosaics. This is the kind of motivation that propels us to pursue our mission every day of the year, but nonetheless, we always look forward to the return of the Maestro.

**All quotes from Maestro Marzi are paraphrased translations from French.

July-December 2017 CMS Catalog

Its HERE! Download the CMS 2017 Schedule

Check out the incredible opportunities for learning at The Chicago Mosaic School July-December 2017:)

Growing Creativity: Four Years of Mosaics with Coonley Elementary

April 5, 2017

Some of our most fulfilling projects are when we can not only help a community to beautify its space, but also when we can bring together different groups in the spirit of creative learning. In the past, The Chicago Mosaic School has taken on many projects with local schools to help supplement their fine arts curriculum and foster placemaking by creating installations with student involvement. This April, we are concluding a particular project that has incredibly enriching to us as educators. 

Spring, Summer, and Fall themed mosaic murals from our previous three years working with Coonley Elementary School students.

2017 marks the fourth year of an ongoing project between CMS and Coonley Elementary School in the North Center neighborhood of the Chicago. Every year, our youth instructors have helped design and oversee fabrication of a series of mosaic murals that depict a tree changing through the seasons. The mosaic is completed by that year’s 5th grade class, with each student creating one tile that figures into the overall design.

This past February, CMS faculty members Casey Van Loon, Lydia Shepard, and Becca Baruc led approximately 120 5th grade students in the construction of their tiles. After previous years of students making a spring, summer, and autumn trees, the 2017 group created a winter tree, using stained sheet glass in beautiful shades of blue, gray, white, and brown to evoke the subtle hues created by shadows and light on snow.

Coonley students dive right in! A pre-set color palette for the project was organized into containers for students to use in their tiles.

Look at that concentration! Students glue the glass to a Wedi board substrate. Image courtesy of Renee Butala, 5th grade teacher at Coonley Elementary.

One completed mosaic tile. The tiles will be arranged into a composite image of a tree and grouted. Image courtesy of Renee Butala, 5th grade teacher at Coonley Elementary.

The mural starts to come together as students place tiles onto the composite! Image courtesy of Renee Butala, 5th grade teacher at Coonley Elementary.

In addition to the murals made by the 5th graders, CMS artists have been working on the fabrication of a large mosaic archway for the halls of the school with the assistance Coonley 8th graders and the mentorship of high schoolers in the After School Matters (ASM) program. CMS artists and ASM participants workshopped the imagery for the archway with 8th students in several design sessions both on-site at Coonley Elementary and at CMS. The scene depicts scenes of the city of Chicago, including the lakefront, the “Bean,” the Navy Pier ferris wheel, and the Chicago skyline. In a clever callback to the 5th grade students’ murals, the archway also depicts four trees- each one in a different seasonal state.

Coonley Elementary 8th graders participate in a design workshop to plan imagery for the broad mosaic archway that will be install at Coonley this April

CMS Instructor Lydia Shepard grouts last year’s Autumn Tree mosaic mural with the help of high school students in the After School Matters program

Because of the large scale of the archway, the mosaic has taken months to complete, with our wonderful ASM high schoolers working meticulously to recreate Coonley’s designs under the the supervision and with the help of CMS artist. The archway has been fabricated in sections that will then be assembled together to create one seamless mural. The archway employs a number of design techniques to create different patterns and textures differentiating the sky from the grass, or evoking the reflective metallic quality of the “Bean” (Anish Kapoor’s iconic Millennium Park Sculpture Cloud Gate). It will be installed at Coonley Elementary this April.

The final mosaic mural depicting a tree in winter.

We are so proud of the students at Coonley for their enthusiasm and creativity, and also with our ASM students for their hard work and dedication to mentoring their young peers. For us, it’s projects like these where we really get to see the full potential of arts education on display! Not only do we get the chance to introduce a new generation to a unique art form, but we get to see our students reap the rewards of engaging critically with a new material, learning to think about aesthetics and expression, techniques and fabrication, and also profit from the lively dynamic of multi-age learning. Now, when they walk through the halls of their school, Coonley kids can see the lasting mark that they made on their environment and their community. 


CMS Certification: building a future for our organization and for mosaics in America

March 21, 2017

Out of the many distinctions that make CMS a truly one-of-a-kind organization, there is one in particular that draws a line separating us from other art centers and educators offering instruction in mosaic arts.

The main mission of the Chicago Mosaic School has always been to provide serious training in mosaic arts overseen by academically trained artists who are acknowledged experts in their medium. In 2013, director Karen Ami, faculty member Sue Giannotti, and then-Education Director Matteo Randi decided to take this mission to its natural conclusion and develop a program for certification in mosaic arts. Our certification program, like our school, is the only one of its kind in North America. Seeing that there was a significant gap in both collegiate fine art curricula and the mosaic arts world, the program was designed with the goal of providing a syllabus of studio classes and workshops of increasing rigor, on par with a bachelor’s degree program.

The full program takes 2-3 years to complete and focuses on many of the key elements of any formal art education: demonstrating material knowledge, improving technique and aesthetic sensibility, and developing an artistic voice. We seek to admit students who are invested in developing their own serious artistic practice, as well as building a career that contributes to creative communities. The intent of the program is not only to help create a higher standard of formal expectations in mosaic arts, but also to train a new generation of artists to teach and steward an art form that has existed for thousands of years into the future.

Our certification students follow a curriculum of 13 core classes and two elective workshops. Once they have taken a given class, the student then returns home to create a personal project that continues the lesson, applying the techniques and materials they’ve recently learned. After completing their personal project for each class, it is subject to strict academic critique from the CMS faculty. Before being awarded their certificate, the students have to complete a portfolio review, take a written and practical exam, and complete a research paper on a historical topic in mosaics.

Students make reproductions of ancient mosaics in a Ravenna Technique class, which teaches traditional Byzantine mosaic methods that have been practiced for over a thousand years.

Students participate in a critique session with two side by side artworks.

As a recent, niche program in our organization, we’ve seen wonderful growth in a few short years. Over 20 students have been enrolled in certification, and with our recent move and expansion, we are hoping that we will be a beacon for artists who are looking for serious opportunities to study mosaics.

Looking to the future, CMS has high hopes for the certification program to play a significant role in our long-term growth. We hope one day to partner with accredited universities and colleges and fill in the gaps in their fine art curricula using our long-established reputation for artistic expertise, high caliber methods and materials, and now our status as an academically rigorous, certificate-granting organization. In the past, CMS has partnered with local institutions such as Columbia College, Northeastern Illinois University, the Art Institute of Chicago, and Harold Washington College to create and teach course offerings. With our certification program, we are asserting the need for formal training in the medium, not as a one-off class or historical curiosity, but as a vibrant, relevant, contemporary medium worthy of intense academic study and elevation in the world of fine art.

We encourage any individuals interested in pursuing a certification in mosaic art to check out our program page!

CMS is beginning a new era- how you can help!

March 2, 2017

After a great deal of hard work and planning, our move to Edgewater is finally underway! The boxes are packed, and the halls of 1806 W. Cuyler Ave are slowly emptying. Although the sight of our longtime home in North Center is bittersweet without all of the materials and artwork that we know and love, our staff, faculty and dedicated team of volunteers are all smiles.

We have nothing but fond memories of our space, but one of the challenges of being off street level is the lack of visibility. Despite our renown within the art world and the world of fine art mosaics, we’ve always been a bit of a well-kept secret of the Chicago art scene. Our community has grown steadily and stayed steadfastly and enthusiastically by our side over the past twelve years, from a group of private students led by our founder Karen in a brave new venture to a body of hundreds every year.

As we take the next step, we are planning for big things to come. Not only is our new home on W. Granville Ave on street level, with spring and summer classes to be conducted in an airy new storefront space, but according to our local alderman’s office, the weekly foot traffic is well over 15,000. This represents an enormous increase in visibility for CMS, which we hope will contribute to our long term plans for growth, and allow us to welcome many new additions to our creative community. 

On our agenda for this transition, we are not just updating our location but are also seeking to improve our overall operations so that we can focus on the future. We are hoping to do more of everything- more programming, more events, more curriculum content, more members, more outreach- but doing more requires more from us and more from the tools we use to do our work. As a non-profit, we rely so much on the generosity of our community, our partners in education, and contributors from all over. We have formulated a priority list of needs that we are reaching out for help in obtaining. Sometimes the simplest of tools can have the biggest effect in creating a more dynamic, efficient, and functional environment so that we can put more time and care into the part we love best: teaching. 

If you are interested in contributing to our transition and our growth in this new era of CMS history, we ask you to consider making a gift of one of the following items. All inquiries on how to support or make a tax-deductible donation to  CMS now or in the future can be directed toward our staff at You can also visit our donations page at CMS is a 501-c3 Not-for-Profit organization.

Of course, we extend a massive embrace of thanks to everyone who has helped us grow to where we are now. Without the support of our students, members, contributing artists, faculty, volunteers, and donors, our one-of-a-kind school would still only be an ambitious idea. We invite every member of our community, from our oldest friends to passing visitors, to feel welcome in our halls and classrooms, wherever the are located. We can’t wait to get started in our new home and see where the future takes us!

A Groupon Milestone!

February 16, 2017

We’re so excited to have received Best of Groupon ranking for the second year in a row! Our Groupon workshops, which run continually throughout the year, started as a way to give people a short-form introduction to mosaic arts but they have grown into a phenomenon.

The three hour hit Groupon Mosaic Basics Workshop provides a brief window into our medium and our method, with a tour of the school and gallery, and an overview of ancient and contemporary mosaics. Attendees then receive an introduction to mosaic tools, techniques, and materials that mirrors our standard Intro to Mosaics courses. The class culminates in creating a 4” x 4” mosaic to take home. Though design templates are provided for those who want direction for their first mosaic, there are always delightfully surprising individual designs and adaptations that help us to challenge our own creativity! One of the main comments we receive over and over again from attendees is how accessible it is. We strive to create an environment that appeals to both art beginners and more advanced students, especially as they encounter a medium they have likely never used before.

Over the past few years we’ve seen enormous growth of this partnership, so much that we can hardly keep up with demand! Just this winter, we’ve had to add five additional workshop dates to accommodate all of the wonderful people eager to see what the buzz was about. And it stands to reason; our faculty has received countless kind words and rave reviews about their guidance and enthusiasm. 

Last year we received a Best of Groupon Award and we are so thrilled to make the cut again! To top it off, we are receiving more enrollments than ever, with over 2,000 attendees participating to date. We’re looking forward to the challenge of beating our high score and welcoming even more visitors and students this year as we get ready for our move to a new location.

 You can purchase a Groupon voucher for one of our workshops here and a full list of upcoming workshop dates can be found on our website.



Update About our Upcoming Move!

February 6, 2017

Edgewater here we come!



Visiting Artist Profile: Carolina Zanelli

February 2, 2017

It was a chance encounter on a train that brought Carolina Zanelli to the world of mosaics. Carolina, a native of Udine, Italy, was just finishing her studies in cello performance and classics when she met a woman in passing on a train who was a student at the Scuola Mosaicisti del Friuli – School of Mosaicists of Friuli, just north of Venice. Carolina found herself intrigued and surprised that she had never heard of this school just across from her Grandmother’s home in Spilimbergo. By 1995 she had graduated with a diploma as Maestra mosaicista.

The Scuola Mosacisti del Fruili in Spilimbergo is just one of several mosaic schools throughout Italy, but with one large difference. Unlike schools in Ravenna and Rome that focus primarily on teaching antique techniques with the intention of preparing the next generation for conservation and restoration work, Fruili takes a more modern approach, teaching their own direct and indirect methods. Their speciality in portraiture is one that Carolina brings to the Chicago Mosaic school in her Modern Mosaic Portraiture workshop.

Carolina’s mosaic career has spanned a range of practices and subjects, traveling internationally to teach and study, creating commissions as well as her own creative work, and working for a time at Mosaïque Surface in Montréal, Canada, and Mayer in Munich, Germany. The Chicago Mosaic School’s mission is to shift from the “craft” oriented perception of mosaics toward a more elevated view that includes mosaic among other fine art mediums such as painting, sculpture, and printmaking. When asked how she feels about that goal when compared to doing more traditional decorative styles and completing commissions, “I like it all,” she says.

However, in her own work Carolina favors the contemporary, opting to play with the constraints of the medium and challenge viewers and herself by reimagining glass and stone as something more ethereal: leggerezza, lightness.

Lately this has included affixing mosaic tile to flexible, transparent silicone sheeting. She also achieves this effect by creating elongated tesserae that evoke flowing movement. “I like to work with different colors, to play around and make something I like,” she says, rather than relying on figuration or representational images. Her Fragments series features organically-shaped mosaic panels that can be hung in any orientation or configuration together or alone. “It’s meant to be playful.”

Though she cites no specific aesthetic influences or deliberate references, Carolina’s work often alludes to meditations on place, choice, and identity. She has made works resembling traditional medieval labyrinths, but uses the familiar forms as a venue to experiment with subtle explorations of color and pattern. According to her website, “Labyrinth represents my own life: How many times have I chosen one way rather than another? Why turn right instead of left, or vice-versa? How did I get to where I am? Can I go back? Where would I be if I had chosen just ONE different path?” Ruminating on the passage of time and the pathways of our lives while manipulating the formal elements of material and design certainly feels like the natural pursuit for someone who found their calling by way of a chance encounter.

As she moves forward, Carolina continues to teach in Spilimbergo and internationally. Much like Karen Ami, founding director of the Chicago Mosaic School, she feels impelled toward building a better presence for mosaics in the contemporary art market and the critical arena. Recalling an exhibition in Paris where she showed her work, she says “there were gallerists there, but they didn’t know what to do with it. ‘Did you paint this?’ they asked- they didn’t really know what it was!” With her art, she endeavors to break away from the question “what is this for?” and implications of functionality linking mosaic to its architectural and decorative pigeonhole and instead let the mosaic medium act as a vehicle for sheer visual expression and artistic process, whether it be decorative, didactic, or esoteric.

Carolina Zanelli has been a visiting artist at the Chicago Mosaic School since 2006. Most recently she taught two workshops, Color Theory and Modern Mosaic Portraiture.

Toyoharu Kii: A Quiet Force

January 17, 2017


Meet Toyoharu Kii~ Japan’s  Mosaic Maestro.


Toyoharu Kii’s work is like a fingerprint; the work that comes from his hands is unique and clearly is like no one else’s. Within a mosaic, one can see the sensitivity of the artists touch and hear the volume of his voice. This is true for Kii’s delicately detailed textured marble compositions. He has been instrumental in the rise of interest in mosaics among Japanese artists and is at the forefront of a new tradition in contemporary mosaic in Japan.

When Kii was 16 years old he decided to formally study art at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. He was a student of oil painting and murals and in his second year of art school he was introduced to mosaics in a short course. This inspired Kii to study in Florence, Italy on a scholarship from the Italian government after his graduation. When he returned to Japan he opened a studio called Mosaic Atelier ING.

“Now,” Kii says, “painting for me is important only to make clear my image for mosaic, butI am not so much interested in painting itself.” Painting is, indeed a part of the approach to mosaics that sets Toyoharu Kii’s work apart from other contemporary mosaic artists. He creates traditional ink paintings on rice paper, many of them, as sketches for future works.

His process is one that he has developed through a disciplined practice over many years. He has found quietness in the white marble and in the interstices between the tesserae. “I hope to enrich the expression of mosaic and elaborate the technique. In Japan, the people consider mosaic ‘a childish play’ and a very simple technique. In my mosaic, the tesserae have various shapes and are composed in different ways in order to obtain specific character of tesserae,” says Kii. “ Please take a look at the tesserae closely when you see my mosaic.”

In Kii’s work, each tesserae has a voice, as does every space in between the chiseled pieces of marble. The whiteness gives Kii’s mosaic subtle variances in color and shadow. In a medium where the material can make the compositions feel rigid, and Kii has found inspiring ways to free it from those traditional boundaries. His work has both fluidity and undulation; the hardness of the marble and the shadows and textures help to express some of the themes in nature that Kii values. There is a ritual of mediation for both the artist, in the creation, and for the viewer in the slow discovery of the work.

Toyoharu Kii had a well-received solo exhibition at Pagoda Red Gallery, in Chicago this last summer, his first such exhibition in the United States. He has exhibited at The Art Museum of Ravenna (MAR), the Chapelle St. Eman in Chartres, France and at The Mosaique Contemporaine in Paray-le-Monial, France. Toyoharu Kii will have a one-man show in November 2016 in Hachinohe City, in northern Japan and where he lived as a young boy.

For the last several years, Kii has been a Visiting Artist at The Chicago Mosaic School where he has encouraged students to explore his process of mosaic making while discovering the beauty of every tesserae. He will be returning to CMS in the summer of 2017 to inspire a new handful of students and to hold a new exhibition in Chicago.

This article was written by Karen Ami for SAMA’s Fall 2016 Groutline Journal. Ami is Founder and Executive Director of The Chicago Mosaic School. Kii will be returning as a Visiting Artist at CMS for a 5th year to teach his workshop “Monochromatic“.

2017 CMS Catalog LIVE online!

December 16, 2016

The Chicago Mosaic School offers an expansive and well rounded program for anyone interested in Mosaic Arts. This year we welcome world renowned artists and some of the finest classes and workshops offered anywhere. This year join us in our new state-of the art facility and see how our educational community can inspire your artistic life.

View/Download PDF Catalog »

For our Friends at home and around the world:

November 9, 2016


November 9th, 2016

To all of our friends from around the world:

Today, the idea of community and mosaics has never been more important. The Chicago Mosaic School is a place for love and respect where we can work together, from different cultures and ideologies, to create a better vision for the world. A mosaic is something of beauty created from unique and varied elements- exactly like the world we live in. Together- in tolerance and love we can make this world a better place.
-Karen Ami, Founder and Executive Director

NEW! Color Theory with Carolina Zanelli- January 2017

November 6, 2016

CMS offers all students a wonderful approach to color theory in this NEW 2-day workshop taught by Visiting Artist Carolina Zanelli. This course is focused on color theory as applied to mosaic. Mixes of color, color graduation, palette and brightness will be explored with a hands on approach and exercises designed to gain greater ease in applying color in your work. Ms. Zanelli is a 1994 graduate of the Scuola Mosaicisti del Friuli in Spilimbergo, Italy. Enroll now !



New Blogpost: “The Poop” on Artist’s Statements

September 8, 2016


Ah…..the obligatory and sometimes stressful task of writing a statement about your artwork. It’s good to be straightforward, because, at the end of the day, the work should speak for itself. Yet curators and the public like to hear what your intention is in your work and, perhaps your process. Less is more and the more one tries to impress with pretend art talk (artspeak, y’all), the more the Bullshit Meter goes off. That is why there are several artist statement generator websites, because there is a formula for creating art blather for the masses.

As Iris Jaffe said in her recent article about Anti-Artist statements: “To begin with, visual artists are visual people: we communicate visually. Descriptive writing requires much more specificity than visual communication. If we had a preference or talent for expressing ourselves through text, we would just write essays in the first place — right?”

After 30 years of creating work, curating exhibitions, participating in critiques and writing about art I think I would understand what some of these statements mean…. but I have no damn idea what these people are trying to say. I am huge fan of humor, and I think these statements are initially hilarious and entertaining. But they are dead-serious, which makes me crack up even more at the irony of it all. Too bad we artists can’t let the work just speak for itself.

So here are my top five worst artist statements (so far). I am taking these out of context to protect the ‘anonymity’ of the writers (I won’t be writing about the – ‘art’ -on this post). So if you can understand artspeak, blather, or gobbledegook, please assist me to translate and comprehend this kind of “writing” here:


1)”These images represent the juxtaposition of the timeless and majestic elegance of nature’s sensory-surpassing miracles with the entangled and growing tensions of our time in culturally reconnecting with the shift away from the human condition of love. In developing my visual perspective, I’ve discerned the fleeting significance from the invariable through emphasizing the growing collective disdain for the socially underdeveloped that has come to define our generation and crystallized over the last decade. Through highlighting this generational discontent in honing its cultural responsibility of deconstructing traditional understanding of social roles against the unrefined purity of the emotionally captivating cycles of nature, my work serves as a middle ground to visually level and gauge the social progress of man by means of extremities occurring in class stratification. In giving careful attention to the mediating filters that propagates socially-constructed irreverence, I aim to address the necessity of breaking down the symbolic paradigms of understanding to revisit the overlooked empathy for humanity and its greater accountability to each other.”

2) “I’m fascinated by the construct of strata in any context. For example- geologically, as a visible record of the continuous deposition of natural and human-generated matter; sociologically as an arbitrary categorization system affording both separation and unification of humans; and psychologically has a chronological composition of our experiences. In all these contexts the juxtapositions of and transitions between disparate elements result in descendants and harmony, muddy vagueness, and sharp clarity. Each layer shifts, settles, and adjusts to make room for the knees and elbows of the next; the pigment or character of one stratum irrevocably colors it’s neighbors; a disturbance in one level beans or fishers outward through multiple others. It’s an infinitely additive process what we at present perceived as the top the surface the current thing is inevitably absorbed, buried, reclaimed by, and in the process serves to inform whatever comes next.”

3) “Comprising layer upon layer of stacked virgin cork coated in pure black pigment, the squatting sculpture dominates its setting. The work is impossible to understand in a single perspective and the spectator is forced to negotiate its sides and edges, unable to access its top. Its natural undulations and inconsistencies echo the raw, worked, sculptural surfaces of Martin’s pigments. The form of Behemoth, and its physical presence in the gallery space, echo the theatrical preoccupations of Minimalist sculpture but the ancient and organic nature of the material conversely alludes to an inherent human narrative that belies these conceptual concerns.”

4) “My work embodies the questions beneath identity and crisis; origin and ownership of cultural signifiers become unsettling and dubious terrain. The work describes the beauty and survival capabilities of the human imagination which outlives assaulted cultures, transplantation, exile and shifts in philosophical paradigms.”

5) “Be that in the battles of the self or the overwhelming and confusing chaos that is our modern times, I seek to find the essence of what it means to be human today; be that the fragility or the resilience of the human animal in the face of endless and impossible questions of life itself.”

And for some real entertainment- here is ArtBollocks Theatre presenting theatrical readings of actual artists statements. Good times! 🙂

By Karen Ami ©2015 Reprinted from ArtAmibaBlog.

Karen Ami is the Founder and Executive Director of The Chicago Mosaic School. She has maintained an art practice for over three decades and has written her share of bad artists statements.

Opening Reception for “Savage Curiosities”



Exhibition from September 2nd – October 28th 2016. Karen Ami (USA) & Pamela Irving (Australia)

Savage Curiosities is a presentation of works by Karen Ami (Chicago, USA) and Pamela Irving (Melbourne, Australia). Their raw, primal imagery is manifested in mosaics, drawings and prints. Ami and Irvings’ process of working together (while on separate continents) reflects a shared admiration of Primitivism, non-western artifacts and early 20th century artworks.

Karen Ami utilizes handmade, inscribed broken ceramic pieces in her narratives. Her use of textured and incised ceramic slabs are imbued with words and hackneyed marks. Pamela Irving is a storyteller who uses playful and slightly menacing imagery to deliver her narratives. Both use pieces of metal, broken china, glass and miscellaneous objects that capture the raw essence that is present within the non-western art and artifacts that they admire. Pamela Irving and Karen Ami’s respective works can be found in public and private collections around the world. This exhibition is an exuberant presentation of their shared aesthetic.

The Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics, Chicago is dedicated to exhibiting and promoting excellence in contemporary Mosaic Arts. The gallery showcases the finest in mosaic art from around the world, ranging from emerging artists to modern masters. Open year round, GoCM is located within The Chicago Mosaic School, the first not-for-profit mosaic art school outside of Europe.

EXHIBITION DATES: September 2nd- October 28th, 2016
ARTISTS RECEPTION (free and open to the public) September 9th, 6-9pm
LOCATION: GoCM, 1806 West Cuyler Avenue, 2nd floor, Chicago, Illinois USA 773.975.8966

SAVAGE CURIOSITIES: Artist Gallery Talk 9/2

August 27, 2016

Please join us for a lively discussion about the new exhibition and works of artists Karen Ami and Pamela Irving on September 6th, 2016 at 7pm.

Savage Curiosities Artist Talk

Exciting changes for CMS

August 14, 2016
efa60224-3be7-46fe-ad33-7a3771eeb831 (2)

Pat Thompson, CMS Founder Karen Ami, Alderman Harry Osterman and Rae Ann and Bob Cecrle on Granville.

The Chicago Mosaic School is excited to announce we will be moving to a new, highly-visible location in Chicago’s historic Edgewater neighborhood, an expanding vibrant arts community. After 11 years of ongoing growth, the school is in need of a larger facility to accommodate our expanded course offerings and programming. In Spring 2017, we will relocate to a new 9,500 square feet facility that will include The Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics (GoCM), larger classrooms, lecture space, 11 dedicated artist studios, resource room, kiln room, and mosaic-related retail. In addition to the amenities inside the school, our new Granville location provides easy access to public transportation, Chicago’s lakefront, and many nearby businesses, restaurants, and shopping.

All of this combines to help The Chicago Mosaic School fulfill its more-than-a-decade long mission of preserving and promoting classical and contemporary mosaics through its course offerings, school programs, community partnerships and teacher training programs–all with an emphasis on sustainability using proper methods and materials.

Big thanks to building owners Rae Ann and Bob Cecrle, Alderman Harry Osterman of the 48th Ward, Architect Patrick Thompson of Maske Dieckmann and Thompson and Nate Gautsche of CRER. We are incredibly grateful to all of you and to the wonderful support we have received from our staff, faculty, board of directors and students from both near and far. Check our Facebook page and CMS blog for updates on our exciting relocation!


SOAMA Tiny Pieces Mosaic Supply