From Trash to Treasure: The Making of a Mosaic Quilt

A few months ago, a woman contacted me and said that she had been looking for a local mosaic artist. She told me that for the past 10 years or so, she had saved the pieces of every special piece of pottery or dish ware that had broken in her house. I was immediately intrigued.

Her idea was to have me make a mosaic out of these treasured bits, to give to her daughter for her 16th birthday, which was just after Christmas.

Beautiful broken bits

I found myself wanting to know all about this young woman, her interests, her style, etc. so that I could create something she would love. Through our conversation, we determined that the mosaic would be in the design of a quilt, somewhat abstract and without a lot of rigid repetition, but with a lot of color. Here is the color drawing we settled on.

There is a parallel between quilting and mosaics, both follow a process of taking objects that previously held one form and function, and cutting and piecing them together to take on a new form and a new significance. This new form becomes a keepsake, telling a collection of stories, old and new. I really enjoyed the quilt research I did for this design.

I wanted this young woman to be able to look at the mosaic and find beauty in it as a whole- in the shapes, colors, textures, and also to be able to look up close at the pieces and recognize them from their ‘past lives’, thus recalling memories she had from those times she used them.

Here is what I created:

And I was thrilled to get an email from my client, the mother of the young woman, right after she had presented the gift. She said that her daughter “loved it, and could not believe her eyes at how so much of our broken pieces could be re imagined so beautifully.  The rest of my family was in awe at how beautiful it is.  Thank you a million times over for the best gift and work of art ever.”

Sunrise over the Range and the Changing Seasons

How a Kitchen Mosaic Came to Life

Throughout this winter and early spring, I designed, created and installed what I feel is my best work to date. The teacher in me feels compelled to share a little bit about the process, I hope you enjoy!

Last fall, my clients Michael and Jette, who have also become good friends, began designing and making plans for a complete kitchen makeover in their house in Florence. Though Michael is a poet and literary translator, he worked for many years as a contractor, so he has done many kitchen renovations. He always knew that when it came time to do his own kitchen, that it would combine the best features that he had seen in all of the others; it would be the kitchen of his and Jette’s dreams. Every single element of the kitchen is custom built, top of the line and very intentional.

As for the mosaic, they knew they wanted an impressionistic style landscape to span the entire kitchen (almost 40 square feet of wall space), including elements of nature such as water, hills, trees, sky, sunrise and sunset. They wanted it to span the different times of day and different seasons of the year. Because their house is surrounded by nature and woods, they wanted to bring that nature right inside the house!

In December, I began working on the design. Here is a picture of one version, which I made minor changes to.
It’s done in watercolors, to scale.

Goldman Painted Design

Michael and Jette were instrumental in the design process, and were very good at communicating what they liked and what they wanted to see changed. I was so grateful for that! Once we were all in agreement about the design, I re-painted it to the full size. Then, I shopped for the materials. I purchased sheets of stained glass from a company called Delphi, and began the epic process of cutting and arranging the pieces, laying them out directly over the full sized design. They were held down temporarily on sheets of contact paper, my favorite method of assembly, called the Double Reverse Method. I worked on this stage for about 6 weeks.

Here are a few pictures of that process:




When I was finished, I covered the entire mosaic with another sheet of contact paper, cut it into about 40 sections (each was roughly 1 square foot) and made a map with hashmarks so I would know exactly how the pieces fit back together. This made it easy to stack the sections and bring them to Michael and Jette’s house for installation.

Here are some pictures of the mosaic all cut up!



By the time I was finished, it was early April, and the rest of the kitchen had been completed, so it was time to install it! The beautiful wooden countertop and cabinets, the stainless steel sink, the floor, the window had all been replaced and looked stunning. Michael worked with me to install the mosaic, which was wonderful. All of his tile setting experience was so valuable and made the process more efficient than if I had hired someone with less experience to assist me.

We re-assembled the sections of mosaic on the floor in the dining room and peeled off the contact paper from the back side of the glass, so it was face-mounted on the contact paper. Then, we mixed up the mortar one small batch at a time and troweled it onto the wall in sections. Together, we lifted each section of mosaic, carefully so the pieces stayed intact, and affixed them in place on the wall. This process took almost three days. The corner seams and edges around all of the outlets required some extra attention and fine-tuning, but the beauty of mosaic is that it’s all in pieces anyway, so adjustments are a normal part of the process!



Once the mortar started to set, we could peel off the contact paper from the surface. After the mortar had set completely (the next day) we grouted the whole piece. We settled on four different colors of grout, to enhance the design. The goal is that the grout color isn’t the most obvious thing you notice, that it complements the colors of the mosaic. I think we chose the right colors because there is a harmonious feeling.

Overall, I am thrilled with the outcome and very proud to show it off. I am grateful to Michael and Jette for giving me the opportunity to really stretch myself as an artist. They were so supportive and communicative all throughout. This process required me to take risks artistically and to work in an impressionistic style that I hadn’t tried before, but I am intrigued to further explore.

I am excited to take on more projects of this scale, and hope that by sharing the photos and a little bit about the process, I will encounter the next opportunity!

Impressionistic Landscape Mosaic Backsplash, Goldman Kitchen, Florence, MA

Impressionistic Landscape Mosaic Backsplash, Goldman Kitchen, Florence, MA

Click here to see more photos

Wild about Local: Entryway Mural at River Valley Co-Op in Northampton

Wild About Local! Meet the Bear, Fox, Squirrel and Rabbit

As a member owner of River Valley Co-Op, I learned this summer that a re-branding and renovation was planned for the fall. As a mosaic artist, I began to think about how exciting it would be to create a mosaic mural for the entryway of the store, depicting the adorable new black bear logo with a “wild about local” theme.

Mosaics are made by cutting and assembling many small pieces of various materials into patterns and designs. They are so intriguing to look at, possibly because of how the brain and the eye work together to discern images, pulling together all the disparate pieces. They call to mind how each of the many parts of the whole are so important to the overall design, and how they work together synergistically. It’s a great metaphor for community, unity and diversity.  It is also exciting to look at a mosaic and find recognizable materials, used out of context. Many types of recycled materials and found objects can be used in mosaics, including pieces of broken pottery and china, ceramic tiles, stained glass, figurines, game pieces, stones, beads, cutlery, keys, bottle caps, plastic lids, and other odds and ends from the junk drawer. Thus, mosaic is an art form that can be economical, and environmentally friendly, turning life into a treasure hunt of sorts. These are just a few of the many reasons why I have chosen this as my medium, and why I thought it would be the perfect medium for a welcome mural for River Valley Co-Op.

My initial meeting with Rochelle and Natasha filled me with excitement about all of the possibilities for the design. Our conversation led me toward a cartoonish style, that would be kid-friendly but not too childish, including animals eating and harvesting vegetables. The new Black Bear with asparagus was destined to play the lead role, but I had to cast the other characters, and ultimately decided on the Red Fox, the Rabbit and the Squirrel. Of course, there was no shortage of locally grown vegetables to include in the design. I chose some that would give a variety of colors to enhance the design.   Here is a picture of the sketch that became the blueprint for the mosaic. Some changes were made to the design, such as the wording.

Mosaic drawings are called “cartoons” because they are meant to be nothing more than a simple line drawing. The detail and texture come from the careful arrangement of the mosaic tesserae, or pieces.

After the design was approved and the colors chosen, I set about collecting the materials. I used recycled stained glass for much of the background, and I ordered glass tiles for the areas where I needed specific colors, specifically for the animals’ fur and some of the veggies. Then my friend Steve Theberge, who is a local potter, gave me a box of his mugs, bowls and vases that he had determined to be “seconds”. Some of them were perfect for making tree bark, with great textures and streaks. I did a combination of smashing with a hammer, and careful cutting with a nipper to turn the pottery into perfect mosaic materials. 

Box of Steve Theberge's pottery seconds ready to be cut up and made into pieces of trees.  Box of Steve Theberge’s pottery seconds ready to be cut up and made into pieces of trees.

Arranging the pieces of mosaic on contact paper to form the design. Arranging the pieces of mosaic on contact paper to form the design. Arranging the pieces on the contact paper to form the design. Arranging the pieces on the contact paper to form the design.

Working in this method, called the double indirect method, I have the flexibility to move the pieces around until I’m happy with the arrangement. The contact paper holds things in place just enough for this. When it was all laid out, I covered the top surface with frosty contact paper, so it was sandwiched between two layers.  I took an exacto knife and cut the giant “sandwich” into about 25 large puzzle pieces, cutting through just the contact paper.

Cutting the mosaic into sections like puzzle pieces. Cutting the mosaic into sections like puzzle pieces. The mosaic cut into sections, secured to the contact paper and flipped over.  The mosaic cut into sections, secured to the contact paper and flipped over.

One by one, I flipped the sections over, braced between sheets of cardboard, and peeled the backing. Now the pieces were face down with the back exposed.  Then I prepared my adhesive, which was a cement-based mix called ‘thin set mortar’. I spread it in small sections onto my substrate, a 3’ x 5’ sheet of WEDI board, which is a compressed Styrofoam coated in cement, making it lightweight and rigid.  I have a special technique to make sure I have just the right amount of mortar on the board to hold the sections of mosaic in place, and one section at a time, I spread the mortar onto the board with a notched trowel, tested the thickness, and attached the mosaic. 

Attaching the sections of mosaic to the board. Attaching the sections of mosaic to the board. Securing the sections of mosaic in the mortar. Securing the sections of mosaic in the mortar.

After the adhesive set for about 15 minutes, the tesserae were secure enough that I was able to peel the contact paper off the surface and allow it to continue curing for at least 24 hours. Then it was time to grout. Grout is the colored cement based substance that fills the gaps between all of the tesserae and serves to unify the design a bit more. I used a few different colors of grout for different sections of the mosaic, carefully smooshing it into place in a circular motion, and then wiping the surface clean. Then, 72 hours later, after the grout cured completely, I gave the surface of each piece a final polish. Then it was ready to install! I was so excited to collaborate with my friend Pat Bennet, a local sculptor, who built the steel frame and cleat system to attach the mosaic to the wall in a way that leaves almost no mark and can be easily moved if it ever needs to be.

Pat Bennet securing the steel frame to the wall in the entryway of River Valley Coop. Pat Bennet securing the steel frame to the wall in the entryway of River Valley Coop.

I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to create this mural for River Valley Coop, a store I love to shop at, with a mission I’m passionate about. I also have a passion for spreading awareness about the art and technique of mosaics, which has been practiced for centuries and is now going through a contemporary resurgence of popularity. In addition to designing and creating custom mosaic installations, I teach workshops for adults and teens on the process described here. I hope that this mural will make people smile when arriving at River Valley Co-Op, and feel welcomed by all of the friendly animals.