In 2006, I took a fine art mosaic class at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts with Jonathan Mandell. I learned how to use a tile saw, and discovered representational mosaic is not where my passion is! Of course I chose to render a scene with 4 sets of hands and feet. I admire Mandell’s ability to make lively figures and scenes, and one of the coolest is at Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia, home of the Phillies.
I am not very familiar with baseball, having grown up in Canada, where it is not the national past time. Edmonton acquired a minor league team, The Trappers, in 1981, when I was 14. By then I was already embittered by my complete lack of ability in softball during gym class, and couldn’t understand why anyone would actually watch the sport. But now that I live in the Philadelphia Suburbs, I saw my first Phillies game, and to my surprise, enjoyed it! My husband introduced me to pleasures of snacking throughout on Cracker Jack, pretzel’s, and in his case, beer. I saw a new side of him when he would reflexively stand up and shout on the occasion of good plays by the Phillies. I was fascinated by the zenlike pace of play, and how I felt content to just be there. And there’s a lot to like about an organization that commissioned local artists to create pieces of baseball related art for the new park.
Awhile ago, I was called to report for Federal Jury Duty in Philadelphia, and I was anxious, but it did give me the opportunity to walk over to the Curtis building during the lunch break and see the Dream Garden Mosaic, by Louis Comfort Tiffany, based on a Maxfield Parrish painting. The lobby of the Curtis building is sometimes closed on Saturdays, as I’d discovered the first time I tried to see it, so it was a delight on this weekday to sit on a bench placed directly across from the mural and absorb the grand scale, and intense colors. Composed of thousands of handcut pieces of Tiffany’s own glass, it is 12×49 feet, and took 30 artisans a year to install it. I am sobered by the attempt in the late 90’s, after heirs sold the mosaic to a casino owner. After complicated legal battles, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has guardianship of The Dream Garden, in trust for the people of Philadelphia. I can’t even imagine dismantling such a work, unmooring its very substrate, and home. This photo is but one section of the mosaic, and yet wonderfully detailed, and glowing in iridescence. If you are visiting Philadelphia, be sure to make a trip to The Dream Garden.
At a craft show at the Pen Ryn School, several people had a spark of recognition that I was making something like “that guy in Philly.” This is the first time I’ve had this comparison to the mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar.
My friend Joanne Leva Mosemann took me to Zagar’s Magic Garden for my birthday. She couldn’t believe I had never been there–it’s a pilgrimage for any mosaic artist! And once I was there, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t really known it was there. It is a mosaic wonderland, through the “looking glass” of glass, tile, found objects, and covers rooms, walls, and a courtyard. Zagar’s work wends its way through South Philly, not without controversy, but instantly recognizable and memorable.
Joanne knew I had to see it. I met her when I was chosen to be Poet Laureate of Montgomery County in 2000. She has created a world of poetry in our county, starting single-handedly, and blooming into 10 years of bringing poetry into recognition. As I evolved into a mosaic artist, she has remained alert to the creative spark that all artists share, and all lovers of art.