One of my favorite materials is gold smalti: a chunk of glass plus a thin layer of gold and an even thinner layer of glass on top. This luscious dish of smalti was made by the Orsoni Factory in Italy, and I buy it by the ounce, even though I covet it by the ton. Someone asked me if this is the gold used in the ceiling of San Marco in Venice. I looked it up, and Orsoni has since its beginning in 1888, manufactured mosaics for the renovation of the Basilica. It supplied more than 1,000 ancient 24K gold plates that decorate the 8,000 square meters of the structure.
G is for gold smalti, luscious, glowing, gold. As smalti from Orsoni is described at mosaicsmalti.com,
“. . .it is real 24-carat gold. It has to be the purest gold to withstand a firing and beating process that obtains the incredible results. With just one cubic centimeter of gold, more than six square meters of beaten gold may be produced in a layer so fine that it is scarcely perceptible to the human eye. The gold leaf is then sandwiched between a transparent glass base and a fine, hand-blown glass that protects the surface. The three elements, heated once again, are welded into a single slab that is free of cracks even in the most minute fragments.”
I was smitten with gold smalti from the moment I received a few precious pieces in a grab bag of miscellaneous smalti. It’s usually sold by the ounce or by the piece, and it’s fortunate that a little goes a long way. This is what makes Byzantine Churches glow. This is what grabs the light and gives it back to you with incredible depth and intense color.
I made this mandala almost entirely from gold smalti, as a gift for Dr. Ed Schillinger and his family, when he was dealing with pancreatic cancer. He was a kind man, and in his memory Stratoz makes “Dr. Ed Mandalas” with a portion of the proceeds going to Pancreatic Cancer Action Network(PANCAN). Another G word is Give, and I encourage you to contribute toward pancreatic cancer research.
Jenny Hoople over at Authentic Living has a cool post on The Beauty of Imperfection–Wabi Sabi, where she describes the Japanese philosophy of the beauty of our transitory world, where everything decays, and is all the more precious for it. I’ve explored the Navajo concept of Hozho, and like Wabi Sabi, it captures much of what I love about mosaics. Jenny uses natural materials in her jewelry, knitting and other arts, and loves the accidental veins of color in stones and I resonated with her question:
I think a lot of people feel this way, but perhaps we are a minority? If we weren’t, then diamonds wouldn’t be so popular. I’m always amazed by the gems and minerals collections in museums, those rough rocks with brilliant splashes of color and interesting crystal formations. What’s even more amazing is that the perfect, cut gems draw a bigger crowd, are kept in a special dark room with lights for better viewing, and are supposed to be worth more. That is so weird.
I am part of this probable minority. I love gold smalti, the fabulous Italian chunks of glass with an exquisitely thin layer of gold sandwiched under a layer of colored glass, but I love the gold smalti “nails” even more–seconds from the factory, and are irregular, chipped, scratched, crazed leftovers. They are hard to get because the smalti factories pride themselves on making firsts.
I started the River of Life Cross without knowing it would have a river in it. I was using gold nails, with a base of aqua glass. As I pulled out the most compelling pieces, I realized that some of the gold was completely missing in places, and could flow together like a river of pure watery blue through the body of the cross. I listened to the the missing places, the imperfections and flaws, and let them shine forth in their own Wabi Sabi beauty.
This is how I imagine God seeking us in our imperfections, seeking our creativity and human loveliness in the midst of decay. What is your favorite imperfection in your world?