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Clare Booth Luce and the Healing Work of Mosaic

Mosaic gift for Frank Lloyd Wright from Clare Booth Luce

























There’s something about mosaics that draws people.  I came across these photos of mosaics made by the playwright(among other things, including Congresswoman) Clare Booth Luce, which she gave to Frank Lloyd Wright at his Arizona home Taliesin West.

I know Luce’s name because of a play she wrote, The Women, which was also made into a movie.  Intrigued , I discovered that Luce was introduced to mosaic by Louisa Jenkins, a mosaic artist from Big Sur California.  Luce’s daughter Ann, a student at Stanford, died in a car accident at 19.  In her grief, Luce converted to Catholicism and commissioned artists to design a chapel in Ann’s memory at Stanford.  Louisa Jenkins created the mosaic altar at St. Ann’s chapel, a Madonna with rosary.  Jenkins was drawn to sacred art, and did many works for churches.  I was sad that photos of Jenkins work on the web are almost non-existent

Through the wonders of interlibrary loan, I checked out Jenkin’s book on The Art of Making Mosaics from 1957.  Her daughter Barbara Mills was a co-author, and together they have many observations that rang true.Mosaic at Taliesin West by Clare Booth Luce

“Any artist who has watched adults as well as children enter a studio where tables are spread with multi-colored trays of stone and glass can testify to the attraction of these materials.  Baubles of glass, clinking stones, and bits of bright crystal seem to fill a hunger in people.  To handle them is happiness.”

Perhaps handling these stones and glass gave Clare Booth Luce some happiness after the death of her daughter.

What art should you like? What art should you make?

Bear Paw Quilt Stained Glass by Wayne Stratz.
Bear Paw Quilt Stained Glass by Wayne Stratz.

I’ve been contemplating the “shoulds” that keep recurring in my mind, careening about in arbitrariness. My husband’s love of his grandmother’s quilts led him to a desire to make his own quilts, and after surviving a class in which he was surrounded by calico, he began his elegant patchwork of batik and abstraction. He was mighty good at matching points and seams. His summer as an assistant to his father, a draftsman, aided in this. He finished the quilt top, and then it sat in a dresser drawer, because basting seemed tediously daunting.

This is where he lands in the limbo of what he should do–finish the quilt with a multitude of tiny stitches, slog through. Fortunately, the quilt top came up in conversation with a friend who loves quilting, who practically demanded to finish it, and a bartering deal was struck, whereby Wayne made a 99 piece stained glass panel inspired by a bear paw design quilt block in exchange for the finished quilt. He enjoyed making that stained glass. 99 pieces was a challenge, but not a duty.

I remember taking a drawing class in 2005, and loving it. Suddenly seeing the world, knowing that I carried the ability within me to interpret the world on paper. I didn’t have to research it, or carry anything but pen and paper. I wanted to draw everything. Drawing draws you close to your subject, an intimate way of seeing, noticing things that were invisible to you just seconds before. In the midst of this the “shoulds” butted in, and insisted I needed to be making collages, because I was good at making collages. This voice has seemingly infinite energy, a persistent whine. It simply wants to perpetuate itself. It’s not sophisticated enough to actually encourage creativity, but pretends that it is helping you. In a moment of courage, I decided to set collaging aside. It was scary. You can recognize the “should” voice because it quickly degenerates in doom, into dire visions of failure and worthlessness.

There is no reference manual that indicates exactly which are you should love, hang on your walls, or create. You are your own reference.

Getting Ready for the Grout Zone and Avoiding Mosaic Procrastination

Grout.  Grout. Grout.  I’m gearing up for a grouting session.  Designing, choosing tesserae, gluing–all these are intriguing in and of themselves.  Grouting is more of an act of faith.  I usually collect several pieces and grout all at once because getting organized takes a good part of the time.  Gloves, mask, acrylic admix, a container, a stirring implement, layers of blank newsprint that I can peel away one by one as the excess grout piles up.  Each mosaic needs to be masked with painter’s tape to protect frames and backs.  I cut up non-scratch scrubbies into 1 or 2 inch squares for helping the glass emerge from the grout, as well as get any blobs of glue on the surface of the tesserae.

Thinking about it probably takes more energy than actually getting started.  Procrastination creeps in, subtle at first.  “Well, I need to make a few more mosiacs that will need brown grout so I have several to do at once,” combined with the call of the glass.  I’ve talked to quilters who have a similar challenge, and accumulate multiple quilt tops that all need basting and stitching, and some get handed down from generation to generation until someone finally picks up the thread.

Starting a mosaic is the moment of possibility.  Grouting can feel like a test–will this turn out ok?  And it also requires moving into the grout zone–a meditative state of mind.  Once the admix meets the grout powder there is a limited amount of time of pliability before it cements.  You grout in “real time”–and this requires being present in the moment.  An hour is about as long as the grout remains workable.

I have grouted enough mosaics to know that the rewards are great in taking the grouting leap, but it’s still an awesome process.  My husband is going to take pictures of my next grouting session.  Stay tuned for the grout adventure!