The CMS Blog

CMS Community Peace Sign Project

January 31, 2019

This February, the Chicago Mosaic School will proudly bring a meaningful collaborative project to completion when principal CMS faculty members Sue Giannotti, Sue Coombs, Casey Van Loon, Martha Crandall, and founding executive director Karen Ami will travel to Humacao, Puerto Rico for the installation of 100+ mosaic peace signs designed and assembled by communities in Chicago and Humacao.

The seeds of the project were sown in the fall of 2017, when CMS certification student and Humacao resident Brenda Montanile was in Chicago following a CMS workshop. At home in Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria had just made landfall on her historic hometown, leaving devastation in its wake. Upon finally returning home, Brenda and her community began the slow process of rebuilding from the ruins, partnering with Elegel Group, a local collective dedicated to graphic and urban arts, to create “Project Grita”. Through the project, local artists and the Humacao community collaborated on over twenty-five large scale murals in tandem with urban renewal and post-disaster rebuilding initiatives. Concerned for the residents of Puerto Rico, we asked, “how can we help?”, but until the stunning results of the mural project started to emerge, the answer was unclear.

Inspired by this initiative, Brenda proposed that CMS partner with Coqui Charities to expand the project to public mosaics. Thanks to these organizing efforts and the support of the project’s local financial sponsors, the Chicago Mosaic School has been able to contribute our materials, studio time, and expertise to the creation of 100 mosaic peace signs. Each mosaic is entirely unique, demonstrating its maker’s individual vision of hope and healing for the city of Humacao. Every single sign features salvaged terra cotta tiles stripped from local Humacao buildings in the storm and repurposed as tesserae. These materials were collected by the city of Humacao and shipped to us with the generous sponsorship of Coqui Charities and private donors including Brenda Montanile.

Along with the participation of the CMS community and our new sister organization, the Bethany Art Center of Ossining, NY, we have been thrilled to enjoy a rich collaboration with the Puerto Rican Cultural Center of Chicago, who co-hosted two studio events with CMS in December so that members of the Puerto Rican community in Chicago can contribute their heartfelt expressions of solidarity with their family, friends, and fellow citizens in Puerto Rico through the creation of one-of-kind art. Mosaicists and Humacao Grita organizers are also helping the local Humacao community to create their own signs to beautify their city and express their vision of renewal.

Upon completion, these diverse communities’ art will not be displayed separately from each other, but will be incorporated together in an integrated installation. As Humacao recovers from the aftermath of such a harrowing ordeal, we hope these peace signs not only enrich the visual landscape of the city, but bear witness to an ethic of compassion, solidarity, and support for the victims of environmental disasters, and the healing potential of art. Installation will take place February 8-12 throughout the city of Humacao, Puerto Rico.


Written by Grace Walsh

CMS Student Vaiju Saraf tells us about her “Andamento – Spilimbergo Style” Workshop with Carolina Zanelli

January 5, 2019


How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back? 

I found out about the Chicago Mosaic School in early 2017 when I moved to Chicago. I was so looking forward to attend the various workshops at the school. I have enjoyed and learnt so much in the school and each workshop had something unique to offer. I always look for new additions and will always keep coming back!


How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice? 

I attended Carolina Zanelli’s workshop in Jan 2018 and it taught me how to establish a flow and create a rhythm in mosaics. The one day intensive workshop was well constructed and provided a good insight of ancient to modern flow styles. We learnt to create movement in mosaics which can dramatically change the impact of it.


What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS? 

I look forward to attending Sculptural forms, Undulation and many more workshops.













Sign-up for Carolina’s upcoming “Andamento – Spilimebergo Style” Workshop today here!

CMS Student Sue Coombs tells us about her Modern Portraiture Workshop with Carolina Zanelli

December 11, 2018

How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back? 

I took my first class in 2006 and have continued taking workshops and am now on staff sharing what I have learned. I consider myself a lifetime student as there is much to learn about this art form and my relationship with it.

How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice? 

Carolina Zanelli’s workshop on portraiture in the Spilembergo style of mosaic was both enlightening and challenging. Working realistically requires that the end result resemble the subject matter in value, detail and expression. My patience was tested in a big way! The contemporary version of mosaic in the Spilembergo style is new to me and a technique that I can readily apply to my own current practice. Carolina spent a lot of individual time with each student to ensure we were understanding the concepts presented.

What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS? 

I look forward to the visiting artists that come to CMS and learning how and why they work the way they do. CMS is a place where like minded people gather, share and create mosaics and to me this is what feeds my soul.


Sign-up for Carolina Zanelli’s Modern Portraiture Workshop here!

The CMS and Humacao Project!

December 7, 2018

We have several exciting collaborative projects on the horizon! The CMS community will be partnering with Coqui Charities in Puerto Rico to bring mosaics to the town of Humacao, which was devastated in Hurricane Maria.

CMS is honored to be organizing a “Peace Project for Humacao” where our volunteers, faculty and students will be creating mosaic peace signs that will be installed throughout Humacao in February.

For more information about this wonderful project, contact us via email at!


Artist Profile: Alessandro Lugari

October 10, 2018

Alessandro Lugari is mosaicist with dual visions. As a contemporary practitioner, he a leader in the medium, forging a patch for a broad emerging base of artists to discover the expressive relevancy of mosaic today. As a historian and conservator, he acts as a vanguard against the threat of time and decay to some of humanity’s greatest antique mosaic treasures. Rather than seeing these parallel visions as antithetical, calling for contemporary art to rupture with the past, they exist on a continuum that celebrates a whole history of creative expression in mosaic.

A native of Viterbo in central Italy, Alessandro gravitated toward historical stewardship from the beginning, studying Conservation of Cultural Heritage at University of Tuscia in Viterbo, before specializing in mosaics conservation in Ravenna. Starting out at the Studio Cassio in Rome, formerly affiliated with the famed Vatican Mosaic Studio through its director Lorenzo Cassio, he later worked as a conservator for the Opificio delle Pitre Dure di Firenze, a fine art conservation institute and museum, and finally made his way to his current role as the Special Superintendent for the Colosseum, the Museo Nazionale Romano, and the greater Rome Archelogical Area, where he directs conservation projects related to mosaics, stones and sectilia. With this extraordinary resumé, it is unsurprising that he is a board member of two significant mosaic conservation organizations, L’Associazione Italiana per lo Studio e la Conservazione del Mosaico (AISCOM), of which he was also a founding partner, and the International Committee for the Conservation of Mosaics (ICCM). He also teaches at the Central Restoration Institute in Rome.

His impressive professional background has made him one of the most authoritative voices on antique mosaic methods, but parallel to this expertise there runs an experimental thread, anxious to develop the creative potential of this ancient medium. In particular, Alessandro has explored the radical notion of mosaic as a performance, beginning in the late 80s with experiments of mosaic-making in time with music. He has carried this unique artistic marriage forward, saying “Music like mosaic is part of my life, it’s my life, the mosaic tiles that form the work following the desired trend, the texture ‘are like the musical notes that make up the melody following the harmony of the chords. The colors, the shapes of the tesserae are the acute sounds, the basses the sharp, the alterations, the nuances of the notes.” In 2002 he “performed” a mosaic live to music at Rialto Occupied in the Sant’Ambrogio in Rome.

He has also transformed his enthusiasm for contemporary practice into Pictor 

Imaginarius, an association and international prize competition sited in Nazzano, Italy. Designed to bring professional and emerging mosaicists together from around the world, the competition rethinks the identity of mosaic by contrasting the medieval setting of Nazzano with the contemporary aesthetics and vernacular of an up-and-coming generation of mosaicists. Likewise, Pictor Imaginarius celebrates and promotes the collaborative and monumental quality of mosaics by sponsoring large-scale public mosaics to be created by a group.

The Chicago Mosaic School is honored to welcome Alessandro back in November as one of our visiting artists, and thrilled to announce that he will be expanding his curriculum with two new workshops. Ostia Antica focuses on ancient techniques and imagery inspired by the Roman port of Ostia on the Tyrrhenian coast, and Hands-On Collaborative Mural Making brings the spirit of Pictor Imaginarius to Chicago with a collaborative mural project.

To read more about these workshops and enroll, please follow the links above!


Written by Grace Walsh


CMS Annual Fundraiser, HAMMERED!

September 14, 2018

Friday, September 14th is HAMMERED! – Annual Fundraiser for CMS- the event everyone has been waiting for!  Live music, art, food, Beer and Koval tastings, a silent auction and raffle with lots of amazing items from Chicago area restaurants, theaters, artists and businesses.

Here are some of the great supporting businesses, artists and organizations:

GreenStar Brewery
Uncommon Ground
Koval Distillery
Mozaic Chips
LillStreet Art Center
Second City
Bark Bark Club
Rosa’s Blues Lounge
Edgewater Candles
Orange Theory Fitness
Tiny Pieces Mosaic Tools & Supplies
Verdiano Marzi
Dugald MacInnes
Pamela Irving
Edgewater Playhouse
Lifeline Theatre
Links Hall
Flatts and Sharpe
And more!

This great evening will be topped with opening for the exhibition of The Marks that Make and include food by Urban Table Chicago and live music by the Chicago band 12:59. Tickets are still available at Brown Paper Tickets.

Your support is important to us- we are settling into our big new space and resettling has been a big transition for the school. If you cannot attend, please consider donating through our website. We appreciate your generosity- always.

CMS Student Laura Marie Sanchez tells us about her Wet Carved Concrete Workshop with Elder Jones

September 10, 2018

How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back? 

I visited CMS one year when it was part of the Ravenswood Art Walk. I’d known about the school when it opened, but my work schedule at the time didn’t allow for attendance. Once it did, I was all in …What keeps bringing me back? Inspiration from the kindest and most creative mosaic artists in the world!

How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice? 

I’d made a limited number of concrete items before but never had I thought of actually carving into it. I’d heard Elder was fabulous, and that’s the truth. This workshop provides an adjunct skill, and while not necessarily a strictly mosaic-fabricating technique, it can be a substrate-fabricating one, and provides another great way to incorporate something you may not have thought of to include in your mosaic toolkit.

What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS? 

You come to realize quickly at CMS that you never stop learning, in any sense. You might try things differently stylistically, or find you gravitate more towards one technique than another … but there’s always as much guidance and support in what you do, as you need or seek it. I look forward to learning everything i possibly can from the best instructors in this art field. And they ARE the best …

Artist Profile: Elder Jones

August 30, 2018

This October, The Chicago Mosaic school will be welcoming back South Carolina artist Elder Jones to share his unique area of expertise: the surprisingly creative medium of concrete. In his own functional and sculptural artworks, his crisp, deco-inspired forms emerge as though popped fresh from a mold, but these works are anything but factory made. Each unique structure is individually made and hand carved using techniques that Jones has developed over a 30 year career.

Elder Jones’ path towards the arts has been insistent but circuitous. His lifelong interest in the natural world originally directed him toward scientific analysis, leading him to pursue both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in biology. However, he soon found that scientific inquiry did not satisfy his bigger questions. “Ever restless within me was an innate longing for the eternal quest and the question of ‘why’. The perpetual wonder for the mystery.” Not long after completing his masters in the early 80s, Jones’ friend and neighbor, nationally renowned sculptor Jack B. Hastings asked for his help with a project. It was then that he discover the creative potential of wet carved concrete and began a casual practice that would blossom into a career.

Over the past thirty years, Jones has continued to work primarily in wet carved concrete, experimenting with different techniques and media. Though much of his work is functional, including planters, steps and pavements, fountains, and architectural installations, he also creates purely aesthetic sculpture. In recent years he has begun to favor figurative work. He sees it as the natural creative progression out of more functional, craft-based objects, saying “the more I enter this area of pure sculpture the more I feel the sweetest part of the creative dance. Looking back I see how my developed craft has unfolded and metamorphosed into aesthetic art. Here is where the best happens. The image glimpses. Intuitive flow. Humbling mistakes. My expression.” Jones’ work has been featured in numerous publications and on the HGTV network. In addition to his robust gallery presence across the US, selected works are also displayed in numerous public gardens and collections, including the Tennessee State Museum.

In concert with this pursuit of expressive creation and dialogue with the natural world that is inherent to so much of his work, Jones has also taken a turn toward a more focused spiritual education. In the late 90s, he began attending the School of Healing Arts in Nashville to learn auric and Kabbalistic healing. Perhaps it is this healer’s instinct that makes Jones such an open, approachable instructor.

Though the process of carving wet concrete is both physically and temporally intense- the drying time of the concrete leaves a finite window in which to work the heavy material- past students have remarked on Jones’ ability to bring a fun and joyful energy into the process that has opened up real passions for carving in both long established artists and enthusiasts new to the medium. In his own words, “although the work is physically hard, it continues to be fulfilling because my passion is the means by which I am sustained and nurtured. This is enough but I strive to keep it ever fresh and unfolding.”

If you would like to take Elder Jones’ upcoming workshop Wet Carved Concrete, enroll here.


CMS Student Chris Elam tells us about his Monochromatic Mosaics Workshop with Toyoharu Kii

August 3, 2018

How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back? 

I originally found CMS in 2008 and took a Mosaics in Architecture course with Joesph Guyer. I remember immediately having the sense that I had found my tribe and that my work in tile-setting was about to take on a whole new dimension. I keep coming back to CMS to reconnect to that tribe, immersing myself in the flow of creative forces that are alive there and to sharpen my own practice.


How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice? 

Toyoharu’s class for me was one of those “beginners mind” kind of experiences. His approach is so counter-intuitive to the way I typically work that I felt I was starting all over again. No matter how many year’s we’ve been honing our technical skills as artists, I think it’s really important to subject ourselves to the uncomfortability of “not knowing.” It’s in that space that our creative practice takes on new forms and shapes and we move forward in our work. I have used Toyoharu’s technique in my own studio particularly to showcase translations of my son’s artwork and have found it to be effective in framing or highlighting a focal point in a work.


What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS? 

This past year I decided to enter the certificate program at CMS, something I’d put off for a number of years. I’ve been working hard in my studio and have made good progress. I now feel that I need to allow myself to receive critical feedback from an artistic community and more seasoned artists in particular. We have such a narrow perspective on our own work and I think CMS offers much needed insight into how viewers receive our work. It’s painful at times to face our blind spots, but it’s one of the major benefits to being a part of an artistic community.


To take Kii’s upcoming workshop, register here today!

Artist Profile: Toyoharu Kii

July 27, 2018

The work of Toyoharu Kii is immediately recognizable for its signature rhythmic texture: “like a fingerprint,” in the words of Karen Ami. As a longtime visiting instructor at the Chicago Mosaic School and an independent lecturer on mosaics in his native Japan, Kii uses his own highly focused and idiosyncratic practice to make students reimagine the expressive potential of mosaics.

A Tokyo native, Kii attended Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music to study painting and drawing, but was soon captivated by mosaics and was granted a scholarship by the Italian government, which took him to Florence to study at the Istituto Statale dell’Arte. When he returned to Japan in 1982, he opened his own mosaic studio, Atelier ING. Subsequently he has charted an distinguished career, realizing over 90 mosaic mural, exhibiting internationally in Japan, France, Italy, Russia, and the United States, and receiving numerous high profile awards, including the first place at the Prix Picassiette in Chartres three times over in 2002, 2008, and 2016. In addition to teaching at CMS, he lectures at Musashino Art University in Tokyo and Kanazawa Collage of Art in Kanazawa, Japan.

Typically, Kii works in a strict monochrome using Italian white marble called “Perlino” or “Biancone”. Rather than viewing the exclusion of color as a limitation, Kii embraces it, saying “I also realized that excluding the color I feel free. I don’t need to think about the effects of color! …I suppose many people would not agree with it. Yet I believe that with the repetitive cycle of hypothesis, creation and presentation, we can have deeper understanding about mosaic art.” By removing the element of color, Kii’s white marble creations become ruminations on the power of texture, dimension, and pattern. The homogeneity of his palette allows him to highlight subtle interplays of light and shadow, positive and negative space, teasing rich complexity out of a deceptively simple aesthetic.

Recently, Kii has been focusing on the concept of rebirth as inspiration for a series of mosaics. Intrinsic to his interpretation of this idea is the power of the earth to heal itself from damage caused by humanity. In this cycle of rebirth, human intervention is a wound around and over which the earth has the potential to produce new life that can cover and erase the scars of our abuse. The timeliness of these ideas reveal the contemporary thrust of Kii’s practice; his mosaics don’t just express a contemporary aesthetic or a material awareness, through them he seeks to reflect on greater issues that affect the world and our place in it.

“I believe fine art should reflect the period in history in which the artist lives and express the artist’s vision of that period in some way,” says Kii. “How can an artist accomplish it with a distinctive artistic medium of mosaic? Finding the answer to that question will enable mosaics to have a voice in the world of art.

In his workshop Contrast Without Color, Toyoharu Kii brings these unique perspectives to the CMS community in order to present a new approach to thinking about mosaic and the possibilities for making meaningful imagery. Students learn to think about the physicality of the medium without the influence of color on design. By breaking out of the constraints of this seemingly ubiquitous design element, students are challenged to think like Kii and embrace the freedom and potential of pure form.

Kii returns to CMS this September to lead this annual workshop. If you would like the opportunity to study with Kii and learn from his totally unique process, you can register for Contrast Without Color here.


Written by Grace Walsh

CMS Student Becca Baruc tell us about her experience in Texture Workshop with Sue Giannotti

July 16, 2018

How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back? 

I stumbled into a GoCM opening and marveled at the works. I had never seen mosaics as a contemporary fine art. That there is a thriving arts community is reason alone to keep coming back, but then there’s this medium that has so room to explore you voice in. Mosaics is a medium that combines so many other mediums, and yet isn’t as understood as other mediums!

How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice? 

Taking Texture expanded the effects I can accomplish with the materials. Like painting or drawing, there are ways we can handle the tools and materials to better create different sounds and sensations. I learned entirely new ways to cut, place, and plan my pieces.

What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS? 

How to find my personal voice in mosaics. It’s one thing to have ideas and concepts, and another to have technique, but to be able to pair the two so I can express my message effectively is what I strive towards.

CMS Student Mary Kirby tells us about her experience in Mosaic as an Expressive Art Form with Dugald MacInnes

June 29, 2018


How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back? 

Good old Groupon had a offer I just couldn’t refuse.

How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice? 

Dugald MacInnes is a brilliant artist who primarily works with stunning Scottish slate with which he creates absolutely remarkable art works. Taking his 5 day workshop was a revelation for me. He had us work with different shapes and materials each day, and by doing this I could get a better sense of the slate and the revelations inside every piece of stone. Working with Dugald was so pleasant and enjoyable that I knew I was going to return to his CMS workshop and learn once again for the Master from Scotland.

What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS? 

The workshops and classes are always interesting and informative. Having visiting artists is such a delight.


Register for one of TWO of Dugald’s upcoming workshops at CMS here!

Artist Profile: Dugald MacInnes

June 7, 2018

Visiting artist Dugald MacInnes brings a unique scientific sensibility to his work and his teaching, embodied by the stratiform construction of his mosaics. In his own words, “it was always the rocks” that informed his artwork, and at Chicago Mosaic School he teaches students how to work with the unique properties of the capricious and rugged material of his native soil: Scottish slate.

Born in Glencoe, a volcanic valley in the Scottish highlands, Dugald (or Dugie, as he is affectionately known at CMS) grew up amidst tectonically dramatic landscapes that inspired a lifelong interest in geology and nature. He studied mosaic murals and design under Scottish mosaicist George Garson at the famous Glasgow School of Art, graduating in 1975. However, unsatisfied with investigating the materiality of stone through art alone, he pursued further study in geology and field archaeology at Glasgow University. In his artwork, aesthetic expression and scientific expertise unfold in tandem though incredibly precise manipulation of brittle materials, and meditative compositions that evoke seismic phenomena.

Favoring an abstract and highly geometric aesthetic, Dugald’s works nonetheless clearly echo geological constructs through clever arrangements of tesserae that mimic sedimentary strata and showcase natural color variegation caused by mineral deposits in the stone. His deep connection to his materials is present at every stage of his work; he personally collects, washes, and cuts the slate by hand. “I attempt to express my feelings, my knowledge, my passion for all things geology; the overwhelming nature of the forces that have formed and continue to form our planet, yet, paradoxically, the fragility of the Earth’s crust, its dynamic and sometimes destructive nature.”

Dugald is Internationally acclaimed and has exhibited throughout the United States, Japan, his native UK, and continental Europe, including as a two-time prize winner at the International Mosaic Exhibition in Chartres, France. In the past year, his work has been featured in over eight joint and solo exhibitions in the United States, France, Italy, Scotland, and Greece and this year he will return as a featured CMS artist at the Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics. He is a member of both the British Association for Modern Mosaics (BAMM) and the International Mosaic Association (AIMC).

In Dugald’s returning CMS workshop “Mosaic as an Expressive Art Form,” he shares these lifetime passions for geology and archaeology- entwined with a forty-plus year career as a mosaicist- with students eager to learn about the unique properties of slate and other stone materials from a true master. At the heart of his work and his teaching is a deep respect for the natural properties and expressive potential of rugged stone in a contemporary idiom, and finding ways for the most primordial of substances to speak for today.

If you would like to take a workshop with Dugald MacInnes, please click the link to view dates for this summer and enroll.

Written by Grace Walsh

CMS Student Jeannette Gonzalez tells us about her Ravenna Method: Ancient & Modern Workshops with Sue Giannotti

May 8, 2018

How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back? 

A friend introduced me to her experience at CMS in 2014, up to that point I had been self taught with a few local workshops to learn from. I knew the moment I walked into CMS that I needed to learn the level of mosaic art I saw all around the school & gallery. My first series of classes in June 2015 included the basic intro which fined tuned what I knew and helped me to create a better, stronger foundation on which each class afterward can build upon. I enrolled into the certification program for the structure to achieve my goals, I have seen tremendous growth and that’s what brings me back , the bonus is the CMS staff, instructors & students. The support and generosity of the time & talent give this community the global reputation of excellence. Always looking forward to my next class.


How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice? 

I took the Ravenna Method Workshop with Sue Giannotti last November. Sue has wealth of knowledge and a passion for the ancient method. She gave us incredible step by step instructions to unravel the ancient method of mosaic making, and supported it with the rich history behind it. The Ravenna method exposed a new option based on the original practice widely used by mosaic artists around the world. I felt confident after taking the Ravenna method workshop to explore on my own and discover the possibilities.

What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS? 

I look forward to discovering more skills in mosaic making and learning to put it together with the artistry to create new pieces. Each class I take enables me to continue growing as an artist, and that is fascinating to realize I CAN do it!

Latin School of Chicago Comes to CMS!

April 27, 2018

Here at The Chicago Mosaic School, we are always thrilled to welcome youth and young students to the school, as part of a robust program geared towards introducing Chicago’s youth to the medium of mosaic, from young elementary school all the way to high school. This past March, we were excited to welcome ten students, ranging from the 9th– 12th grade and two faculty members from The Latin School of Chicago to come and learn the art of mosaic during their Experiential Learning Week.

CMS crafted a customized week filled with educational, hands-on mosaic learning. It commenced with a presentation and discussion in the history of mosaic, from the Roman era to contemporary mosaic art, and the utility and artistry of mosaic throughout the centuries. Students each created four projects; two made with sheet glass and two made with Italian smalti.

The time the Latin School spent at CMS included a demonstration of the safe usage of tools, cutting techniques, application of materials and creating designs, all the way to completing each piece with intricacy. The students were thrilled to be able to create their own design, and turn it into a beautiful mosaic! As there were a number of graduating seniors in the group, there were a few mosaics representing the colleges or universities that they were planning on attending in the fall. Allowing for children to express themselves and play with this tactile and explorative medium in combination with learning the appropriate techniques is an organizational vision CMS hopes to create for all its student projects.

To conclude this week of mosaic making and creativity, each student selected a world flag and used that as the design for their final projects. The flags were selected keeping two components in mind; they were selected on a global scale and represented the multicultural population of the Uptown neighborhood. These pieces will proudly be displayed at the Latin School’s new Uptown building.

CMS has a dedicated team of instructors who work with teaching youth and young people, from large-scale installations at schools, to small individual projects.   We offer both group lessons with school groups, and private lessons.

Working with Lydia and Chicago Mosaic School was a fantastic experience.  We were able to spend a week in the studio familiarizing ourselves with the wonderful world of mosaics.  We not only learned a bit about the history, but also had a ton of hands-on practice creating individualized works.  Particularly noteworthy was the fact that the school and instructor supported each individual student at whatever pace they worked and with whatever project they wanted to create.  Lydia was great helping and guiding everyone’s distinct needs.” – Lourdes Gonzalez, Latin School of Chicago, Spanish Teacher


Written by Lydia Shepard

CMS Student Deb Bell Madsen tells us about her Evening Master Studio Class with Verdiano Marzi

April 10, 2018

How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back? 

Mosaics and stained glass have captured my attention for as long as I can remember. In 2009 I took a weekend workshop in Minneapolis making a mosaic picture frame with stained glass. When I got home my enthusiasm for the creative possibilities sparked an interest in my husband too! Dean found CMS online and we began our mosaic journey together in 2010 continuing to take workshops and classes every year since. CMS has such great energy and to have the opportunity to learn from so many visiting artists and teachers who want to share their experience and knowledge is not something I can put into words.

How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice? 

My husband and I have had the great pleasure of taking Verdianos Modern Expression workshop many times and for the last 2 years we’ve joined him for his Evening Master Class where we can continue to study in a studio atmosphere with his quiet, gentle guidance. He has a way of connecting with students on both a personal and creative level which can be seen and felt in the work students do in his presence. To study with him while he shares his lifetime mosaic journey and creative experiences and knowledge is without measure. Each new project I’ve brought to his workshops has been an entirely different experience and enriched not only my work but also my approach to my practice and my life.

What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS? 

To keep exploring new possibilities and ways to express what I want my mosaics to say. CMS has so much to offer.

Artist Profile: Verdiano Marzi

March 27, 2018

At the Chicago Mosaic School, we call him the Maestro, and with over 50 years of experience as a professional mosaicist he more than lives up to the title. In May, CMS is thrilled to welcome back one of our most venerable visiting artists, Verdiano Marzi. Verdiano first connected with our school when Karen Ami, then acting as president of the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA), invited him to present at the annual conference and teach a workshop at The Chicago Mosaic School. The instant spark of their friendship paved the way for Marzi to conduct an annual residency at CMS that is now in its ninth year, and to exhibit with the Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics many times over, including most recently at SOFA Chicago and Gallery 1070 as part of the GOCM pop-up exhibition.

Verdiano takes a modest approach to self appraisal, suggesting that he is “just like any other artist… I’m inspired by the details of my own personal life and relationships.”* But few artists in the world of mosaics can claim an educational pedigree on par with his: he is a graduate of the Istituto Statale d’Arte per il Mosaico and the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Ravenna, a key locus for ancient mosaics, and attended the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he currently lives. Originally trained in ancient techniques for reproduction and restoration, Verdiano longed to expand his personal practice and moved to Paris as a young man in the 1970s to experiment with a more modern and contemporary aesthetic.

As an artist Verdiano tackles broad human themes such as suffering and hope in crises using a vibrant, modern 

aesthetic sensibility. Coming from a strict religious upbringing, he works frequently with Christian imagery, particularly angels and icons. These works ruminate on role of saints and angels as messengers, not just in scripture but also within the iconology of popular culture. Verdiano 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. He crafts his body of work around a holistic practice that incorporates expressive drawing and sketching both abstract and representational, andoccasionally creating sculptural substructures for his mosaics.

As a teacher, Verdiano is thoughtful and empathetic while drawing on his years of experience to expertly demonstrate and guide students in best techniques. He attunes his technical mentorship to the individual aesthetic vision of each student, and relishes in the individuality he finds, stating, “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.” In addition to CMS, he has taught all over the world, including his native Italy, Russia, Cuba, and his home country of France.

If you would like to have the incredible experience of learning with the Maestro, please follow the links to his special Evening Master Class here.


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

Written by Grace Walsh

CMS Student Rona Pietrzak tells us about her Design Fundamentals Workshop with Sue Giannotti

March 10, 2018

How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back?

I learned about CMS many years ago, when I was still living in Philadelphia. My then-teacher, Carol Stirton-Broad, told us that CMS taught the authentic Ravenna-method; and because I had taken Luciana Noturi’s class in Ravenna, I was quite interested. Since then, I have moved back to Chicago, and I continue to go to CMS because it is a high-quality institution!


How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice?

Oh my! Sue is the best. I first took a three-hour design class with her at SAMA and was blown away with how much I learned in that short time. When I had the chance to take her three-day class at CMS, I jumped at it. I loved her sense of organization, her high-level skill, and her amazing warmth, but I was highly skeptical of her insistence on planning one’s mosaic down to the placement and size of tessarae — because my style tends to me be much more intuitive. However, in that three-day class, she let me convince myself of the value of planning: I discovered that better planning helped me avoid many of the end-of-mosaic problems I have had in almost all my previous work.


What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS?

I am eager to take Sue’s upcoming class, would love to take Dugald MacInnes’ slate class, and want to increase my cutting skills.


Experience this class for yourself and register here!

CMS Student CJ Miller Tells Us About His Drawing Andamento for Mosaics with Sue Giannotti

February 28, 2018

How/when did you originally find CMS, and what keeps bringing you back? 

I was riding the El, staring out the window, and saw the CMS sign at the old location. I immediately grabbed my phone and found the website. During my first classes I was amazed by how everyone – the teachers and the students in other classes – were excited and enthusiastic to share knowledge. That hooked me! The great variety of classes is also a solid draw, all with good scheduling options for those of us with commitments and jobs during the day. I have done stained glass and other glass art for 10 years. I was thrilled to be able to take a refresher on lead came with Casey last year, and to see stained glass used for Intro I. Then the drawing classes, the jewelry/micromosaic classes, cement carving… there are a great many options beyond and adjacent to mosaics on offer.


How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice? 

Studying andamento and how to incorporate it into our designs was immediately useful – Around the same time I was taking Intro II, and was working on a fairly simple design, I thought it would be fine to just “wing it.” However, having JUST gone through the process, I decided to draw out my flows and realized my plan was going to have some terrible flaws. Putting it all down on paper beforehand let me see that I needed to turn half of the background 45° before I poorly placed the first tessera.


What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS? 

Foremost, learning new techniques! In 2018 I’m planning on the direct method, Ravenna technique, and Dalles de Verre classes. I’m trying to get a few solid pieces as an examples to apply for the certificate program this Spring (the more I learn, the less I like my past pieces, the artist’s eternal struggle). Eventually I hope to develop the skills to do very “clean” work, with well-cut tesserae, and possibly even portraiture. Furthering my understanding of some art fundamentals would be great too, when I can fit the next drawing class into my schedule!


Register for Drawing Andamento for Mosaics with Sue Giannotti today!

Artist Profile: Sue Giannotti

February 14, 2018

Sue Giannotti is a Renaissance woman in every sense of the word. In addition to her role as a principal faculty member at CMS where she specializes in Ancient Mosaic Reproduction, she also serves the director of our one-of-a-kind certification program and has acted as an artist translator for visiting artists from Italy. She has been an active member of the CMS team since the school’s foundation in 2005.

One of the most sought-after instructors in the US, Sue teaches six to ten workshops a year in Chicago, though she lives and works predominantly in Saint Louis, MO. She obtained her degree from Washington University in Saint Louis and went on to study mosaic art in Italy, pursuing a certificate from the Orsoni Mosaic School in Venice. In her own practice at Mosaic Opus Studio, LLC, Sue creates personal works as well as public, private, and liturgical commissions for both isolated and architecturally integrated designs. She has served as a member of the board at the Society for American Mosaic Artists.

Inspired by her research and practice in ancient mosaic technique, her work takes a meditative approach to timeless subject matter. In her “Of Myths and Meditation” series, she works to interpret the mythological subject matter of premodern mosaic through a contemporary lens. She often favors subdued compositions and color schemes that redirect focus toward the subtleties of texture and dimension in the materials. In her own words, she engages “the medium’s ability to look soft while often being made from such strong, durable materials- a fascinating dichotomy which extends to people as well.” Of course Sue has also exhibited her personal artwork in many national and international exhibitions, recently including the Foundry Art Centre of Saint Charles, MO, SOFA Chicago 2017 (Exhibiting with the Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics), The Museo del Fiume in Nazzano, Italy, and the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas Texas.

As a teacher and artist, Sue’s passion for ancient technique is put into practice every year in a series of CMS workshops that have become cornerstones of our curriculum and required courses in the certification program. In addition to her three workshop sequence comprised of Drawing for Mosaics, Design Fundamentals, and Undulation, she also instructs ancient mosaic reproduction with Ravenna Method: Ancient and Modern. Additionally she teaches advanced workshops for serious students, including Smalti Dimensions, Texture, and Advanced Materials and Processes.

Fusing the principles of ancient methods with contemporary aesthetics and applications is at the core of Sue Giannotti’s practice. CMS is proud to have her as a principal member of our faculty and core member of our community. See dates for her upcoming core sequence in April here.

Written by Grace Walsh

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