Earlier this year I was invited to create a portrait for an ongoing, international collaborative mosaic installation at The Ruins Project in Western Pennsylvania. The project, located on the Great Allegheney Passage, at an abandoned coal mine site, celebrates the rich history of the coal mining industry.
My subject, John Moskal, was born in 1887 in Poland, and immigrated to the United States in 1907. He joined other family members who already lived in Whittsett PA and began working in the coal mines. He, and other members of his family, worked in the mines, until it shut down in 1946.
This small black and white photo is the only one I received of him with a horse, to use as my reference. Definitely a challenge!
These are a couple other photos of a younger John with his daughter
& later in life with his wife, Kathryn.
I began by drawing several freehand sketches, coming up with a simple "cartoon"
from which to begin the mosaic work.
details of the work & color pallet
For his face I used Italian, Mexican & Chinese Smalti.
I started with the eyes, and worked outwards from there.
Next I moved on to creating his hat, altering the cap from the original image into a hard hat. I used the bottom of a crystal glass to represent the the miner's light. Ceramic & crockery shards were used for the remainder of the hat. I love the texture & interest that the crockery rims creates.
Next came his shirt & sweater, using a combination of marble and unglazed porcelain, to create additional textural contrast. I was delighted to find this horse image, in my stash of dishes, to button up his shirt.
Next came the all important horses, flanking the portrait/
Again starting with simplified drawing as my guide.
I felt the need to use some metal pieces for the horses' bridles. I was thrilled when Rachel, the proprietor and creative genius behind The Ruins , found & sent me a few wonderful rusty bits (below) that were scavenged at The Ruins. Equally fun, was finding a way to incorporate them into the mosaic.
Rachel sent 3 small rusty circles, but I needed one more. I created a 4th, faux rusty ring, using metallic Mexican Smalti. The horses themselves are all marble and stone, cut by hand with the traditional hammer & hardie. I also found glass taxidermy eyes in my stash, which give them a realistic look. One in particular, is forever staring back at the viewer!
Once the horses were complete, I moved on to
grouting the hat & sweater sections.
The portrait of John Moskal, Master of Horse, complete & pieced together!
It was my intention to visit The Ruins in early September to install the work myself, but due to the ongoing pandemic situation, alternate plans have been made. The mosaic will be shipped to The Ruins & installed by Rachel, before the cold sets in!
To get ready for shipping, I laid out all the pieces, taped & marked them for installation alignment, and wrapped each section for safe shipping.
Next time we see Mr Maskal, he'll be part of The Ruins Project landscape!
Thank you Rachel for inviting me to be a small part of your larger vision.
It's an honor to hang with the ever growing international list of artists
whose work is already, and has yet to be, installed there!
I anxiously await what comes next & being able to visit in person!
My meditative mosaic continues to grow.
Here is where I last left off... (see previous post)
A few details thru the magnifying glass!
As I run out of material, which is quickly happening with most of the materials I started with, the search for additional materials intensifies! With each new material I try to find a way to create smooth transitions. All the while, working intuitively on one area at a time.
In this section I introduce polished hematite stones.
"Hematite grounds and protects us. It strengthens our connection with the earth, making us feel safe and secure. It endows us with courage, strength, endurance and vitality. A "stone for the mind", Hematite stimulates concentration and focus, enhancing memory and original thought."
Finally, I stopped by our local Earth Products business, fortunately its just down the road from me, for more slate. I collected several types, each with its own properties and learning curve when it came to chopping it up. The lighter color is the most flakey, and the darker, much harder.
I started with an outward burst using the soft, sandy colored slate, interspersed with colorful smalti (glass).
Most recently I've begun introducing some larger chunks of slate, layed flat, and at last, pottery shards are thrown into the mix. I still don't know where this is headed, & I'm fine with that. I'm enjoying the process and being in the moment as I select & set each piece.
What I'm working on now has become a meditative process. Moving intuitively from the center outwards, I set up one simple rule, to form a border, in grey scale, around each piece. Beyond that, I'm enjoying making choices piece by piece. With minimal cutting, the chunks remain, for the most part, in their organic form, juxtaposed with the very regular straight lines of the manufactured border tiles.
The idea for this piece came as a direct outgrowth of the series of small works I created just before starting this work. See - Etude series
The predominant material is home-made "rocks", which I created a couple years ago, with variously tinted mortars. Once they are fully cured, I cut them with a hammer & hardie into smaller workable pieces. For the most part I am using the riven edges, which exposes the color & provides textural interest.
Want to learn how to create your own mortar tesserae?
I suggest you check out Julie Sperling's online course.
A bit more explanation, show & tell, directly from my work table.
Apologies for the clunkiness of my video editing, as I attempt to climb that learning curve!
& a little peak at that transition beginning...
Thanks for stopping by.
let me know you were here, by leaving your thoughts in the comments.
Until next time..... ciao!
At long last, one year after my mosaics were installed, I've finally had a chance to visit the garden & see them in situ. It was a very hot summer day, but I wanted to take the opportunity for a short visit. The garden at this time of year was overgrown, yet still vibrant with colorful flowers.
A quick stroll thru the garden.
Photo by Mark Morris
Here I am, with Vaughn, who commissioned the mosaics.
Hopefully I'll be able to visit again in the spring and get an unobscured view of the mosaics from a distance. In any case, I'm very happy with how they look and were hung, as is Vaughn, which is really most important!
Soon, he began showing up to the ex-convent where we, the artists of the 3rd Contemporary Mosaic Art Symposium, Ploaghe worked. He quickly become a constant companion to all.
Thus, the inspiration behind my latest portrait . . .
The heart, is a play on the symposium logo, seen in the center of this sign.
Our Beloved Mascot, Poldo
My materials were a variety of colorful Italian & Mexican smalti, including some luscious large riven chunks which I love, dishes, and slate.
Once I finished laying all the tesserae, the real experimentation began. Flipping the work & reverse engineering a hangable substrate. Here's a time lapse of that process....
Thank you Zack!
For the past several months I've been working on a commission for the garden of a private residence.
In February I gave a talk to a local art group about my experience attending The 3rd Contemporary Mosaic Art Symposium in Sardinia Italy (subject for another post - long overdue). The following day I was contacted by a woman who had been at the talk, who commissioned me to create 2 mosaics for her beloved garden. She'd been introduced to a variety of materials during my talk, and as a result decided on Mexican Smalti, as her material of choice. OK by me!
I chose to use a lightweight, waterproof, substrate which comes in a variety of thicknesses. The Osprey was cut out of the 1 inch substrate which was latter attached to the 1/2 inch background substrate. I was thrilled to find that the 1/2 boards come in 4'x5' sheets, the size of the flower mural.
The Osprey flew off to his new garden home .... On to the flowers!
I started by transferring a cartoon of my design to the substrate, and began the setting here....
Being out in the country, Belinda assured me that I would see some of Australias unique wildlife. Sometimes, they just appeared in front of us, and to see others we had to go out hunting in the night.
Another fun excursion was taking a ride on the Puffing Billy Railway. The line is one of the most popular steam heritage railways in the world and is kept in operation through the efforts of volunteers of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society. The railway aims to preserve and restore the line as near as possible to how it was in the first three decades of its existence, but with particular emphasis on the early 1920s.
I was told that normally everything is lush green, but unfortunately what I saw was mostly brown, due to the recent drought conditions.
We were lucky to have Conductor Fraser, a friend of Belinda's, ride with us, as our personal guide.
Though I flew in and out of Melbourne, this is all I saw of the city, driving to and from the airport. Hopefully next time I'll get there!
Meet my wonderful host Kerry! She took great care of me during my time in and around Sydney & organized the 2 Picassiette workshop that I taught here.
I love the mountains!
I taught 2 workshops - Flowers and Portraits
Here are the results & happy creators.
It was a gorgeous day to take the train and then the ferry into Sydney. Approaching the iconic Opera House from the river was a treat.
Another huge thrill was meeting Julia Sattout and her family. Julia is a fellow member of Julia Kay's Portrait Party, an online art group. It amazes me that I can walk into someone's home, and recognize, not only her paintings, but the subjects of each painting, all of whom, I have also drawn or painted myself. Another JKPP artist met, and signature in my Portrait Revolution book!
& a few random shots from my final walk around the city.