With Nature Sing is a collection of six mosaics, dedicated on Februday 11, 2018, for permanent display at the Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, Kansas.
The hymn All Creatures of our God and King celebrates the visual beauty, music, and force of the natural world. I chose imagery from this hymn as the basis for my mosaics. The cardinal and honey bee mosaics represent all creatures lifting their voices in song; the sun and moon mosaics illustrate the burning sun with golden beam, and thou silver moon with softer gleam; the tree mosaic shows the rushing wind that art so strong; and the mosaic with the human face in profile visualizes sensory response to the beauty and sound of birds, and appreciation for mother earth, who day by day, unfoldest blessings on our way.
The mosaics remind us of our relationship with mother earth. As we delight in the beauty of birds and honor the necessity of pollinators, we must also live in accordance with them, embracing the sun and wind as vital sources of renewable energy. (Click here for information on my mosaic process.)
Special thanks to Darlene Dick, David Kreider, Bob Regier, and Margo Schrag, members of the Art Committee of Bethel College Mennonite Church who are overseeing the commissioning of new artworks for the church. Recent art installations include works by Bob Regier, John Gaeddert, Conrad Snider, and me.
Peace and Reconciliation by Bob Regier, in the church’s gathering place
Many Gifts, One Spirit by John Gaeddert, in the south entryway
Vessel by Conrad Snider, near the columbarium
With Nature Sing by Lora Jost, in the gathering area
These photos of my mosaic process are on display at the Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, Kansas, through March of 2018. The photos accompany a recently-installed permanent exhibit of 6 mosaics titled, With Nature Sing
Making mosaics is a complicated process with moments of magic. Fitting the tiles in place is like putting together a puzzle, except that I create the puzzle pieces as I go along. Although one can buy tiles for mosaic-making or use all manner of things like paper, macaroni, seeds or rocks, I chip my own tiles from secondhand ceramic plates and other dishes that I find in a range of colors and patterns at thrift stores. I have accumulated many dishes over the years, with occasional gifts from friends and acquaintances who sometimes leave their broken dishes on my front porch.
Because I work with dishes that need to be continually broken and shaped, my tile nipper is always close at hand. But before I cut and shape the tiles with my nipper, I use it to break the dishes first with a good solid whack, dividing each into smaller pieces that I can more easily work with. I look for broken pieces that are the right shape and size to fill spaces, and I also cut and clip them to fit more exactly. By the end of a project my work table and floor are covered with tiny discarded bits from this process.
Before the tiling begins, I develop an idea and then make a plan. I play around with images and ideas by drawing in my sketchbook, often little pictures that would only make sense to me, and then I change and expand on these. When I have played around enough and have settled on a concept, I make larger drawings of the key elements at scale, sometimes using reference pictures from my own photos or ones I find in books or on the internet. The last step in the design process is to map the images and key color choices onto a plywood work surface, also called a backer board, with simple outlined shapes in black marker.
I enjoy the creative process more if I leave some design decisions and color choices to resolve in the making process. I have twenty dishpans in my studio filled with dishes in various stages of brokenness, sorted by color, accompanied by smaller containers of smaller pieces that are sorted too, to choose from. I try to create mosaics where the imagery can be read through distinct color-shape areas, and yet I bring color-variation into these areas too, for added interest. Sometimes I sneak other objects into my mosaics to surprise the viewer, among them fossils, rocks, shells, or specialty tiles. My mosaics have become more sophisticated over the years, and yet I continue to learn more and more through the process of making them.
For small wall mosaics like the ones in this exhibition, I work directly on plywood. I scrape and mar the plywood surface first with a screwdriver, and then seal the surface with watered-down Weldbond glue, the same glue that I use to affix the tiles. (For largescale projects on walls or buildings, one would use different materials such as concrete backer board and mortar.)
The final stage is grouting. After I glue all of the tiles into place and the glue has dried, I vacuum the surface to sweep up bits of dust and debris before I begin to apply the grout, a cement-based material used to fill the cracks between the pieces. I use grey or tan grout which contrasts well with a range of colors, but colored pigments are available to mix into the grout, too. It is hard to judge what a mosaic will look like once grouted, so I usually go into the grouting process with some trepidation – how will it turn out? That said, grouting always brings a sense of unity to the work that is often pleasantly surprising. The grout is like magic that helps transform a pile of broken dishes into a pleasing cohesion.
The grout must be removed from the face-surface of the tiles before it dries. Cleaning the tiles is a tactile process because my use of dishes creates an uneven surface, different from mosaics made from uniform commercial tiles. I use my hands and a rubber spatula to remove the bulk of the excess grout from the tiles before I begin wiping away the grout with a damp sponge and rags. The final stages of cleaning remind me of dental work. In fact, I use old dental tools that a friend gave to me to clean the smallest and shallowest pieces that I can’t wipe by hand. Finally, I buff the tiles with Windex, and then the piece is complete.
I participated in the 30IN30 International challenge in November (2017), where artists were invited to make thirty art pieces in thirty days. The project was coordinated by Jessica Rold. I had a wonderful time participating, and was able to complete the project along with a number of other wonderful artists. Click on the boxes below to see each completed work, or flip through my Facebook albums #30IN30 and Process Photos for #30IN30.
“The conference during which this exhibition takes place, Crossing the Line: Women of Anabaptist Traditions Cross Borders and Boundaries, invited presenters to consider border and boundary crossings in terms of ethnic and religious heritage, gender and sexual identity, geographic borders, private and public spaces, or disciplinary expression. The artists included in this exhibition most often cross lines in order to experiment and question, to make statements, or to think back through time.”
Artists in the exhibit included: Teresa Braun, Jen Dyck, Kandis Friesen, Jayne Holsinger, Jerry Holsopple, Mary Lou Weaver Houser, Gesine Janzen, Lora Jost, Audra Miller, Jennifer Miller, Teresa Pankratz, Jessie Pohl, and Karen Reimer.
“Does This Make Sense?” is a ballpoint pen drawing on clayboard (18″ x 14″) that I recently completed for an exhibition in conjunction with next summer’s conference, Crossing the Line: Women of Anabaptist Traditions Encounter Borders and Boundaries, at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA, June 22-25, 2017. Rachel Epp Buller, Associate Professor of Visual Arts and Design at Bethel College in N. Newton, KS, will curate the exhibit.
This piece includes words that have personal meaning for me about critical thinking. Borders between cultures, between different ways of thinking, between different sets of values, even between groups within a shared culture offer both a dividing line and, if we can look across these borders, the possibility of thinking critically about the ideas on each side of the line. And I am of course never fully on one side of the line or the other at any given time; these borders are permeable. Who I am is formed out of ideas and values from my Mennonite heritage and from my experiences and commitments in the wider world. When I think across borders I often find myself asking the important age-old question, “Does this make sense?” By looking both ways, I find new ways to engage my commitment to decency and peace.
I am pleased to have this illustration in Lawrence Magazine for a story about the Douglas County Corrections Facility’s writing program, in its current issue (Winter 2016). Tonight, December 5, 2016, there will be a related poetry reading and exhibit at the Lawrence Public Library, 7pm.
Here is a link to Lawrence Magazine on line. Find the story “Taking On Life” on p. 73, an artist profile of me on p. 33, and my illustration on pp. 76-77.
“The Toll” is a ballpoint pen drawing, 22″ x 30″, that I made for the exhibit “Currently Nontraditional” at the Lawrence Arts Center through Oct. 22, 2016. The exhibit includes works on paper by 12 artists, each responding to some aspect of what 2016 has meant to them.
Artist Statement about “The Toll”
2016 has been a year of violence, mass shootings (including one in Hesston, Kansas, near my hometown), terrorism and war. To depict the pain of 2016, I drew many individual paper cranes as the overall pattern in my drawing. Most cranes are marked, wounded or shot, crumpling and falling to the ground. A few shots miss and a few cranes survive. The paper crane became a symbol for international peace after Sadako Sasaki, a Japanese girl who was a victim of radiation sickness from the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, attempted to fold a thousand paper cranes before she died. My drawing is about the fragility of peace and the toll of violence, with an awareness that every person killed in a mass attack, is an individual who was loved and will be missed.
I was invited to turn an old violin into a piece of visual art! This mosiac-violin will be auctioned off with other decorated violins at a fundraiser for the Newton Mid-Kansas Symphony Orchestra.