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The Perfect Imperfections: Wabi Sabi and Mosaic Art

River of Life Cross Mosaic on Slate
River of Life Cross Mosaic on Slate by Margaret Almon

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?

Related Post:

The Beauty of Imperfection:  Hozho

The Beauty of Imperfection:Hozho

Floating Weft Mosaic by Nina Solomon and with Heidi Dauphin and in Collaboration with D Y Begay
Artists: Nina Solomon with Heidi Dauphin In Collaboration with weaver D Y Begay Floating Weft Mosaic, Heard Museum, Phoenix, Arizona 2008 Dimensions: H 5.5’ x W 30’ x D 1’ Materials: Styrofoam/concrete/fiberglass form, handmade tiles. Work commissioned by: The Heard Museum


“. . .the principle of harmony that includes natural variation in size and form. . .Because you are a human being and not a machine, your stitches will display at least some subtle variation.  Together, one way or another, you and your yarn will create hozho, and hozho is fascinating. . .Sunlight also provides hozho–at any given moment of the day, our familiar world will look slightly different due to variations of light and placement of shadow.”  Deborah Bergman p.204-205, The Knitting Goddess.

When I read this, I felt a thrill of recognition, an articulation of what I love about making mosaics–the landscape of textures, the gradations of color, of light, not perfect, not even.  And then I found this mosaic at Weaving in Beauty, Floating Weft, designed by the Navajo Weaver D.Y. Begay, in collaboration with mosaic artist Nina Solomon for the Heard Museum!

Begay comments in a newspaper article, “I didn’t want a mural that was flat and polished. I wanted it to have a dimensional effect, giving it an undulating formation, and to try and capture what you would see in the yarn itself.”

Related Post:

The Perfect Imperfections:  Wabi Sabi