Over the last 15 years, I’ve been taking mosaic classes ala working with Italian glass smalti using a hammer and a hardie to create smaller scale mosaics from Michael when he was teaching at Di Mosaico in Tucson along with classes at Orsoni in Venice.
A word about Italian smalti. We are using Italian glass smalti from Mosaici Dona’ Murano and Orsoni from Venice. There’s lots to know about glass and glass production. The glass is manufactured using an open fire furnaces, large pots, glass is melted and then chemicals added to create the color, poured into patties (approximately 12” across). Orsoni not only makes the glass but produces some of the most amazing large architectural mosaic works in the world. I’m happy to send more info on glass and mosaics if you’d like.
Michael studied in Ravenna at the Mosaic Art School with Lucianna Notturni. The method he uses is called the Ravenna method.
I’ve been wanting to create some larger mosaics and I don’t have the expertise to pull it off. Tom and I visited Michael’s studio last October and discussed the idea of working collaboratively. I had a client that was interested in a mosaic for their home, the octopus and the mermaid. And Tiffany DeEtte Shafto, Tiffany’s Art Agency, working with Shirley Wagner at Fine Design Interiors, had a client interested in a whale mosaic for her new home at Kohala Waterfront.
For these projects, I am the designer and Michael is the lead mosaicist. The fabulous part is that I have the opportunity to work with someone who is unique in the US. (There are other mosaicists working with smalti but none who are working in the figurative style that he is or who are able to create the sense of volume and painting that he does in his mosaics.) We’re looking forward to working on multiple mosaic projects together. Of course, all of us continue to work on projects independently.
The construction of the pieces is quite complicated. The painting is completed and photographed. A black and white full size piece is printed up and then the values are isolated. It looks like a large black and white puzzle. Those lines are transferred to a clay bed, that’s the temporary substrate used to assemble the mosaic. The smalti arrives in either patties or cut pieces and is then cut into much smaller pieces to ‘paint’ with. The pieces are quite close together. And because we’re using smalti, the range of values is large. This translates into the appearance of volume and the look of a painting. There’s a subtlety of colors that’s not available in any other glass medium. The mermaid and octopus will have approximately 200 colors in the piece. The whale over one hundred colors.
When the mosaic is assembled, cheesecloth is laid across the glass and adhered with bone glue which is water soluble. The piece is flipped and the clay is cut off and then cleaned off the pieces. The permanent substrate, in this case one is an aluminum honeycomb panel coated in epoxy with sand, the other is a type of wediboard. Colored thinset is laid out and the mosaic transferred to the surface. Then the bone glue is dissolved with water and the cloth and glue are carefully scrubbed off. There is no grout. The pieces are too close together and grout would spoil the faceted surface of each piece of glass which gives the surface its sparkle and depth.
These mosaics will last many hundreds of years. They are truly legacy pieces of art.