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
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!
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.
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!
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
I first learned of CMS when I visited the SAMA exhibit at Navy Pier. It took me a few more years to visit the school and sign-up to my first class. That was 4 years ago and I never left, taking one class after another, each class adding another layer to my work. The friendly welcoming environment at CMS made me feel at home immediately. The level of education kept me coming back. Each workshop opened another door. Each teacher/visiting artist deepened my knowledge and understanding of mosaics and helped me develop my own voice.
How has this visiting artist workshop you’ve taken informed your practice?
I’ve done large scale mosaic in the past. I wish I took Gary’s class before I did! Gary Drostle is not just a great teacher, he also made learning fun. The amount of information in this workshop can be confusing if not for the way Gary broke it down, step by step, hands-on tackling every possible problem that may or may not occur if you were to do a large scale mosaic, indoor/outdoor, in warm/cold climate, floor/wall mosaic. Although it was a large class, Gary found time to give us all personal guidance. As a bonus we also had a daily informative slide show. This workshop was very professional, informative and fun.
What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS?
As part of the CMS Certification program, I probably took almost every class that is offered. However the learning process never ends. I’m looking forward to participate in more visiting artist workshops, whether it is an artist I already know or a new artist to the CMS.
Master Mosaicist Gary Drostle has been a key member of the Chicago Mosaic School’s Visiting Artist roster for over ten years. Working as a professional public artist for over thirty years, he brings his skill in making monumental works to the midwest every year for the Large Scale Mosaic Workshop.
This focus on public work is part of Gary’s utopian view of art. He states that “to me this is a profoundly democratic view of art for all, on the street, enhancing and changing our environment, interacting with people, landscape and architecture reflecting a sense of place through the expression of our history and humanity, it is this that inspires me.”
Gary is based in his native London, but has traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East, the Near East, and the United States. After obtaining his degree from Hornsey College of Art in 1984, he entered almost immediately into a publicly-focused practice, primarily tackling mural projects. He studied marble carving and mosaic arts in Italy, becoming a Master Mosaicist with Orsoni in Venice, continuing to apply these skills toward large-scale projects, and gaining expertise in not only the artistic practice and technique of designing and fabricating on a monumental scale, but also the intricacies of communication and logistics that are fundamental challenges in large-scale and community-oriented projects. Gary’s work segues seamlessly between contemporary aesthetics and more historicizing forms such as medieval or Greco-Roman designs, as well as between representative, decorative, and abstract imagery, remaining flexible to adapt to shifting collaborative visions and site-specific context.
Beyond mosaic, Gary has worked to create murals, frescoes, works in Keim, and illustrative media such as book illustrations, cartoons and comic art for newspapers and magazines, digital painting, and more. However, his status as a mosaicist precedes him; as a former president of the British Association for Modern Mosaic (BAMM) and ongoing editor for BAMM’s Andamento magazine devoted to mosaic history, he stands as a preeminent figure in the international stage of mosaic arts.
In the past two years, Gary has completed eight significant public artworks in the UK, Bahamas, and US, and received two awards for his 2015 restoration of the incredible Tottenham Court Road Tube Station mosaics originally designed an installed by famed Scottish artist Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. In 2017 he acted as a juror at the SAMA International Summit in Detroit, alongside several other key members of the Chicago Mosaic School community.
Gary returns to CMS twice this year to share his expertise and his warm spirit with us! You can register for his workshop here.
Written by Grace Walsh
The Chicago Mosaic School came into focus while taking a taking a local pottery workshop.
My family then presented me a CMS gift certificate which I applied to a jewelry workshop and my first Smalti Weekend class back in 2010. I was hooked!
Since that time I have taken nearly every workshop available and am attempting to complete the Certification Program. My goals is not necessarily to be proficient enough to teach — my goal has been to concentrate on an art form that brings joy in my retirement from graphic design, to use my hands, not technology, to create attractive pieces, to assist and share what I can with others, and to become acquainted with like-minded artistic people.
How have the classes and workshops you’ve taken informed your practice?
Last January I took Carolina Zanelli’s Portrait Workshop—what an eye-opening experience!
This was the first time I was introduced to a method of replicating a portrait by matching the tonal properties of a photo placed below a transparent acetate overlay, then transferring it to a permanent base. It was liberating to use large pieces of full-depth Smalti, in unusual shapes—the modern Spilimbergo method, that I have come to appreciate. Carolina was gentle, soft-spoken, very approachable, and spent equal time with each student. Gripping the hammer close to the head, I watched as she fine-chiseled tesserae until it was the perfect fit—a skill I have taken away and used since.
What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS?
I have found great value in every workshop and am learning that they build on each other. I’m proud of the pieces I have produced in each workshop, but have yet to find a style of my own. This year I plan to commit more time to working at home in order to progress. The support of the friends I have made and the CMS Staff have kept me coming back. CMS is very fortunate to host accomplished artists from around the world, each with their own unique approach and mosaic techniques.
Not long after CMS opened in 2005, I enrolled in a 4-day “Intro to Smalti” taught by the amazing Karen Ami. Karen ran the school in a small building on Ashland Ave. There were five student desks with good lighting, supplies and instruction. I’ve come back more times that I can count!
#1 reason to return (no question): The quality of the teaching!
CMS instructors, both on staff and visiting artists, hold to high standards of mosaic practice. They impart their skills and experience with generosity and care for student education and development.
#2 social climate. CMS is friendly. The welcoming attitude from teachers, staff and other students is crucial to learning and retention. I felt received and accepted as a beginner, and I feel the same today.
How have the classes and workshops you’ve taken informed your practice?
Profoundly. The vast majority of my mosaic education came via CMS workshops and experiences. Every class/workshop has been beneficial. After most workshops I incorporate the new skills/ideas into my own work. Occasionally, I simply take the learning, but my own work moves in other directions. I find it quite valuable to study the wide variety of mosaic art forms, even if some of those skills are not a mesh with my artistic trajectory.
What do you look forward to in your future learnings at CMS?
CMS offers students abundant opportunities to learn. The more dedicated the student, the better the results. It was (and is) necessary for me to put work into the educational process (both in class and in my home studio). I cannot always identify immediate results, but across time the growth in my mosaic practice is marked…..and quite satisfying.
It is crucial for me to remain open to innovation in mosaic art. I am confident that in future workshops, I will have the opportunity to explore (1) creative use of materials, (2) experimentation in design, (3) innovative methods of substrate creation, and (4) professional development as a working artist. But more specifically, I want to improve my practice with more instruction in sculptural forms, Design II, and maybe more effective use of stones.
In her words, “mosaic is not only a way for me to express myself as an individual, to play with colors and shapes… It is also a journey inside myself, as I engage in cutting pieces and rebuilding reality”. In addition to exhibiting internationally, Carolina’s work has been featured in Eventi and Vanity Fair magazines, and in Sonia King’s 2003 book, MOSAIC.
A native of Udine, Italy, Carolina was just finishing her studies in cello performance and classics when life redirected her to the Scuola Mosaicisti del Friuli – School of Mosaicists of Friuli, just north of Venice. She graduated in 1995 and maintains an ongoing presence there as an instructor. Fruili is one of several mosaic schools throughout Italy, but unlike schools in Ravenna and Rome that focus on teaching historical techniques geared toward conservation and restoration work, Fruili takes a more modern approach, teaching their own direct and indirect methods. Their specialty in portraiture and their unique approach to andamento techniques are features that Carolina brings to the Chicago Mosaic School in her yearly workshops.
Beyond teaching, Carolina’s mosaic career has spanned a range of practices and subjects, traveling internationally to teach and study, creating commissions, and developing a personal creative practice. In her personal work, Carolina favors the contemporary, opting to play with the constraints of the medium by reimagining glass and stone as something more ethereal: leggerezza, lightness. With her art, she endeavors to break away from the characterization of mosaic as decorative or architectural background and instead let the medium act as a vehicle for focused visual expression and artistic process.
Her recent work has involved affixing mosaic tile to flexible, transparent silicone sheeting to create a diaphanous effect, further achieved through elongated tesserae that evoke flowing movement. Her past work has also reflected on place, choice, and identity, including mosaics that resemble traditional medieval labyrinths, using the form as an apparatus to experiment with subtle explorations of color and pattern.
Written by Grace Walsh
Sign up for Carolina’s upcoming workshops!
It wasn’t until after graduating from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor’s of Education and a Master’s of Arts in 1989 that Pamela Irving believes her education truly began.
“My early interest in mythology has led me on a course of looking at ancient Roman mosaics. I am interested in their form, function and storytelling. Though my own work looks very different to the ancient Roman works, I reference them and my ceramic background as much as possible. The work of the ancient practitioner is my constant teacher and muse.”
Pamela Irving is well known throughout the world for creating works that are full of color and character, whimsy and subversion. Her large-scale installations can be seen around the city of Melbourne, most notably at Luna Park and Patterson Station (an international mosaic mural collaboration which she facilitated over several years). Pamela has also exhibited here at the Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics in shows such as Contemporary Virtuosos, Savage Curiosities, GoCM at Gallery 1070 and more.
Pamela first came to The Chicago Mosaic School in 2011 to give a public lecture, and has been with us ever since. Picassiette: Storytelling in Mosaics with Pamela Irving is an annual CMS workshop where students are given a story and then asked to express that story using broken or unbroken shards and objects that they may have a personal connection with. Year after year this workshop is filled with eager students. What makes Picassiette so successful?
“I think the students enjoy the fact that they make their own works rather than a set theme or one technique. My workshop is not designed to get students to learn any one skill; it is intended to allow students to explore their own ideas. The students can employ any number of techniques and materials and skills that they have learned in other CMS classes. I hold the belief that everyone needs to know some techniques, however what I think is more important are developing ideas. Once you have an idea, then you will find an appropriate technique and material to create that idea visually. I am interested in fostering people to develop their own story/ideas and to find the right materials and form in which to do that. I think my approach to teaching can help students to loosen up and make shifts in their thinking about their own work and what is a mosaic. I think the workshop is evolving and I want to continue to evolve it. As my own works grow and change, obviously my teaching changes. I like to teach by example.”
While Pamela is most well known for her physical art, she still looks at the art world through an Art Historic lens:
“I am keen to introduce CMS students to the richness of Australian Art. One thing I have noticed is that during my Fine Arts degree we studied American Art but that is not reciprocated in your art education institutions. While Australian Art parallels the American and European Art movements, we have some incredible practitioners that I think the students at CMS would benefit from seeing and hearing about. I hope to introduce the CMS community to some people who might change their American centric view of Art history.”
While we love Pamela coming to CMS, it’s good to know that she loves us too:
“CMS is such a unique place. I think it is a very exciting creative community to be part of, where ideas, techniques, history and forms can be and indeed are explored in so many way… where all the different approaches are embraced and validated.”
The Chicago Mosaic School is standing at another exciting threshold! More specifically, the Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics (GoCM), CMS’s formal gallery, was uncovered from its temporary year-long storage to make a huge step into a broader contemporary art forum: our art fair debut at SOFA Chicago this November 2-5 at Navy Pier!
SOFA (Sculpture Objects Functional Art and Design) is unique in the topography of international art fairs in its specific focus on sculptural art and design. Launched in Chicago in 1994, the fair boasts an average of 80-90 participating galleries each year and approximately 35,000 attendees in four short days. But inclusion in SOFA is not an open affair. Every year hundreds of applicants compete for coveted exhibition space, with high stakes: the fair results in an average of 15-20 million dollars in annual sales. With a strong emphasis on educational exhibition, a portion of the display space is also reserved for museums, non-profits, and universities, accompanied by a lecture series.
So what exactly did we see at the Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics’ two-fold SOFA exhibit?
Contemporary Virtuosos exhibits work from six award-winning international mosaicists who should be familiar to the CMS community: Verdiano Marzi, Toyoharu Kii, Dugald MacInnes, Pamela Irving, Carolina Zanelli, and Sue Giannotti. As those who have taken their yearly workshops will know all too well, these artists are some of the brightest stars in the mosaic art world, offering groundbreaking works of incredible nuance that each explore significantly independent aesthetic territories.
Variegation is a unified composite installation of singular works by twenty-one established and emerging artists. Comprised of a grid of 7”x5” mosaic vignettes, each work within the installation is an individual element that interfaces with the surrounding pieces in a larger conversation, like tesserae within a mosaic.
GoCM was honored to contribute to the SOFA Lecture Series with a panel discussion moderated by Karen titled What Was Old is New Again: Perspective on Contemporary Mosaics. GoCM artists Pamela Irving (AU), Angela Sanders (CA), Sue Giannotti (MO), and Executive Director of the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA), Dawnmarie Zimmerman who discussed their individual paths to mosaic as an art form, and their growing interests in developing methods and process.
It’s not by coincidence that GoCM is making its big debut this year- our participation has been the result of months of vision and planning spearheaded by Art Administrative Director Oona D’mello and Executive Director Karen Ami, including the development of an independent gallery website earlier this year. In the process of moving to Edgewater, GoCM has come to forefront of our consciousness, literally and figuratively: starting next summer at 1127 W. Granville, the gallery will be occupying the storefront space of our facility. With GoCM acting as the physical face of our organization, the time is ripe to grow and develop its visibility and prestige in the contemporary art world. A long-time goal for both GoCM and CMS has been to raise awareness of mosaic as an explicitly contemporary medium. With our participation in SOFA, we were the only mosaic-specific gallery operating on such a broad stage with the highest caliber of exhibitors.
This has not been the work of one or two individuals; it has been the long-awaited result of years of collaboration, dedicated support, and significant creative work by a whole community. It is also just a single step forward on a long journey. We are so proud of our community and hope you will continue your support by attending SOFA, spreading the word, and looking out for all future programming at the Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics! We encourage all of our readers to come visit us at 1101 W. Granville to see our pop-up gallery featuring works by our Contemporary Virtuosos and our ongoing 4×4 project wall.
For about 5 years, The Chicago Mosaic School has been honored to have award-winning artist Elder G Jones come through our doors to teach his workshop, Wet Carved Concrete. Seen on HGTV and in such publications as Southern Living Magazine and the San Francisco Exclaimer, Jones is internationally recognized for being an expert in cement carving.
When I (the non-artist, but art enthusiast) think of sculpting concrete, it doesn’t seem possible. Do you pour it into a mold? Do you build it up like clay? Is it like when you were little and played with wet sand to make a giant drip pile? Surprisingly enough, it’s none of those. It turns out that the sand and cement mixture that is used sits in a form until it is stiff, and then as the material is hardening, you are able to slice, scrape and carve your piece into its desired shape.
It’s a subtractive process approach to sculpture, much like the work of Rodin or Michelangelo, who famously said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” Our students were given the opportunity to reveal their sculpture from that sand and cement mixture.
This workshop has drawn students with little-to-no experience (the workshop has no pre-requisites), to our more advanced students who have taken a variety of classes at the school. Student Elisabeth Bartky says that what drew her to this workshop was her “discovered passion of carving” that she found in her Clay in Mosaics workshop (taught by CMS Founder and Executive Director Karen Ami).
According to Barky, Wet Carved Concrete with Elder Jones brought a different element to the practice of carving in which you need to practice “The Three Fs”: fearlessness, flexibility, and to be fast. But in addition to enjoying the added challenges of carving with concrete, working with Jones was definitely a highlight for students. He “is a great instructor with a fun personality, eager to share his knowledge and experiences.”
This workshop happened to overlap with The Edgewater Festival for the Arts, a public event in our new neighborhood. Many passers-by were able to come in and observe this workshop, which drew the question “I thought you were a mosaic school – what does carving have to do with mosaics?” Not only can your 40lb completed project later be mosaicked, but at CMS we delve into the art world in a larger way. From figure drawing to clay classes, you are able to hone in on your other artistic skills and bring it back to mosaics – or not!
written by CMS student, Helen Miles
Chicago Mosaic School: Gary Drostle and students proudly installing the Pride mosaic. @Helen Miles Mosaics
The Chicago Mosaic School was founded in 2005 by artist Karen Ami and now plays a pivotal role on the international mosaic stage. Classes run throughout the year on every aspect of mosaic making and the list of teachers and visiting artists who run workshops reads like a Who’s Who of everyone who’s anyone in the mosaic world. Thanks to a grant from Creative Scotland’s Open Project Fund I recently spent five days there learning large scale mosaics with Gary Drostle.
Chicago Mosaic School: students’ works after being set in thin set and before grouting. @Helen Miles Mosaics
Chicago. Say the word and what do you think of? You think wheat, you think wind, you think the Chicago Bears, you might think about that great big shining Anish Kapoor bean sitting in the middle of the Millennium Park and now, if your mind runs along mosaic tracks you think: the Chicago Mosaic School.
The Emperor Justinian at the Chicago Mosaic School. @Helen Miles Mosaics
There are, as Dr. Seuss would say, lots of thinks you can think. But it’s important to keep this think high up there on the think list because it wasn’t so long ago that if you had any interest in mosaics you would think of Italy, probably Ravenna first and Spilimbergo second and so the very fact that you are thinking about Chicago and mosaic schools in the same thought means that the mosaic world has shifted on its axis. Not just slightly, but one of those tectonic lurches that none of us can ignore.
Chicago Mosaic School: Lisa Domenici’s bird before grouting. @Helen Miles Mosaics
I have wanted to go to the Chicago Mosaic School for more years than I care to remember. To be fair, I have also wanted to study mosaics in Ravenna for about the same length of time but when the moment came to apply for Creative Scotland Open Project funding to extend my mosaic practice into new territory, the Chicago Mosaic School won hands down. In fact, there wasn’t even a contest.
Karen Ami and Gary Drostle at the Chicago Mosaic School. @Helen Miles Mosaics
The main reason was Gary Drostle and his course in large scale mosaics. I find it inconceivable that anyone reading this blog would not know Gary or his mosaics, but just in case you are a mosaic newbie, then let me just say that his public art works once seen are never forgotten. They range from the boldly iconic to the quietly nonconformist taking in courage, energy, delight and technical wizardry along the way. He specialises in making large scale, site specific mosaics for landscapes and interiors across the UK and abroad. But if you want to learn his mosaic-making techniques, there is only one place you can go – the Chicago Mosaic School.
The force behind the school is Karen Ami, a classically trained artist who switched to sculpture and ceramics after studying painting. ‘I would save all the pieces of my broken sculptures and then one day I attached a broken sculpture to a new sculpture and the [mosaic] obsession took hold,’ explained Karen.
Chicago Mosaic School: a corner in Karen Ami’s studio. @Helen Miles Mosaics
Karen tried to find out more about mosaics, but hit a brick wall. The only places which offered serious courses were in Europe so, undeterred, Karen began making mosaics out of her own studio which eventually led to her setting up her own mosaic school: ‘I was told that it was a crazy idea, but I needed to try. I knew that if I failed, at least I would have tried. This is not about me, this is about a community, a supportive collective which is not just local, but international.’
Chicago Mosaic School: Gary Drostle’s attentive students. @Helen Miles Mosaics
Karen’s determination, artistic rigour, mosaic focus and downright charm won the day and her school now attracts renowned mosaic artists from all over the world. I had to travel almost 6,000 kilometres from Edinburgh because Chicago is the only place that Gary – who is based in London – teaches his large scale mosaic course. Scottish slate artist Dugald MacInnes, Japan’s Toyoharu Kii and the Italian maestro Verdiano Marzi also run annual seminars there while an ongoing programme of workshops covering all possible aspects of mosaic caters for every skill level and interest group throughout the year.
Chicago Mosaic School: Gary Drostle and student Etty Hasak talk through some mosaic technicalities. @Helen Miles Mosaics
So off I went, joining 13 other students from America and Canada most of whom were full time professional mosaic artists but the group also included a mother and daughter team from Texas, an investigative journalist from Toronto and a publisher from Utah. Ahead of us stretched a week of practical and technical instruction on the logistics of making big (that means big) mosaics. Up until now I have been concentrating on smallish domestic-scale pieces often on mesh – panels for niches, kitchen splash-backs, fireplaces – so the purpose of taking the course was to help me climb out of my tesserae-lined comfort zone and get familiar with different approaches.
Gary’s teaches the reverse method on paper and, since the technique is applicable to any size of mosaic, you learn big by working small. We approached our 30cm by 30cm panels in exactly the same way as we would if we were making a mosaic ten times the size – dividing it up into smaller sections, numbering them and then rolling up the paper and unfurling it bit by bit as we applied the tesserae using flour paste glue.
Chicago Mosaic School: Gary Drostle’s students working with their rolled up paper designs. @Helen Miles Mosaics
In-between mosaicking we were treated to informal lectures from Gary on every conceivable aspect of making public art mosaics using his own works as examples. You name it, Gary covered it: design, tesserae, health and safety, fixing mosaics, trouble shooting, weather conditions, grout colours, movement joints, substrates and packing. The Chicago Mosaic School is currently in temporary premises – the new purpose-built school is under construction a stone’s throw away – so we had the added bonus of being able to experiment with our new techniques with actual mosaics on actual walls (which will later be pulled down).
Chicago Mosaic School: Gary Drostle gives a mosaic installation lesson. @Helen Miles Mosaics
Used to working alone in that comfort zone I mentioned above, I find it hard to conjure up the mental focus I need when making mosaics in a formal group setting and so my class mosaic wasn’t my best, to put it mildly. But I went to learn and learn I certainly did and now I need to head out, nippers in one hand, tile adhesive in the other, and start making my own great big beautiful outdoor mosaics. Needless to say, I’ll keep you posted!
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:
- Addressing functional concerns about the building to create a more comfortable and dynamic environment for all of our students and visitors.
- A beautiful new mural in progress from artist Mason Potts (pictured right).
- Mosaic installations in our vestibule from Gary Drostle’s June class, Large Scale Mosaics
- Forthcoming signage and painting in collaboration with our faculty, volunteers, and After School Matters students.
- 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 email@example.com with the subject line “Beautification Volunteering”. We can’t wait to see you at CMS!
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!
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 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.
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.
Its HERE! Download the CMS 2017 Schedule
Check out the incredible opportunities for learning at The Chicago Mosaic School July-December 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit our donations page at https://chicagomosaicschool.com/product/donate/. 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!