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  • Art You Can Live On

    Architectual mosaics create durable, functional accents
  • When the tiles in her favorite outdoor table crumbled, Marcia Bolsinga resurrected the surface with a mosaic in turquoise and gold.
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  • When the tiles in her favorite outdoor table crumbled, Marcia Bolsinga resurrected the surface with a mosaic in turquoise and gold.
    She's since applied the centuries-old technique to other pieces: a wooden table with peeling finish, a mushroom-shaped lawn ornament, even an old guitar that had lost its musical value but not its potential for artistic expression.
    "It adds such color to something that's generally pretty blah," says Bolsinga, 63, of Eagle Point.
    Bolsinga learned the fundamentals of mosaic from artist Joanne Chase, formerly of Ashland. Before she moved to Eugene in 2006, Chase held several annual workshops at her South Stage Road studio, usually to fabricate mosaics for the garden or for small objects intended as gifts. This month, Chase returned to the origins of mosaic with a weekend workshop on the subject of mosaics for architectural flourish.
    "I guess I'm a really practical person — I like art that you can live with and on and around," says Chase.
    Extensively used in Roman times for flooring and then by Byzantines to adorn walls and ceilings, mosaics in modern living spaces can be functional or decorative but usually blend both purposes.
    "It's just like having a tile floor or a counter," says Chase.
    Most homeowners, however, wouldn't tile an entire kitchen in Italian glass tiles at $25 per square foot. So they contact Chase, 49, to add a visual accent with the longevity of other durable surfaces. Shower floors, kitchen backsplashes, tiled foyers, bathroom friezes — Chase's Mazama Mosaics dress up dwellings from New York to Honolulu.
    "I would love to do more carpets," she says.
    By "carpets," Chase means rectangular mosaics that evoke patterns in traditional Persian or Turkish rugs for installation in wood floors. The short edges of her "Red Magic Carpet" even imitate fringe, a time-consuming process in 1/4-inch glass and porcelain tiles.
    Chase's mosaic commissions typically cost $275 per square foot, which includes consultation. But for $225, participants in Chase's three-day workshop at Ashland's Illahe Studios & Gallery learned how to construct their own functional, fine art.
    "I always have enjoyed working with color and glass and then the concept of working with pieces and putting it all together," says Bolsinga. "It feels a little bit like you're at a quilting bee or something."
    Chase starts with a "crash course" in design, encouraging participants to think in "really broad strokes" rather than minute detail. Tile nippers are used to fashion different shapes from her rainbow of medium-sized, Italian glass tiles, included in the workshop fee.
    "It's like a candy store of stuff," says Bolsinga.
    Mosaics are assembled either on fiberglass mesh — similar to swathes of small tiles commonly linked for ease of installation — or using the reverse method. Making a mosaic as a mirror image, right-side down on a sticky, clear sheet of vinyl, yields a level surface ideal for furniture. Tiles arranged in reverse must be the same color all the way through.
    The workshop's final day was spent grouting the piece onto backer board with thinset, the same tinted, cement-based material used in standard tiling. Grout protects the piece and "harmonizes the design," says Chase. Embedding the tiles' edges in grout eliminates the need for grinding or polishing, she adds. Mosaics that aren't grouted should be installed on a dark background with little or no space left between fragments, says Chase.
    "I think you have to be willing to be really detail-oriented," she says. "There's a certain amount of tedium to completing a piece."
    While some mosaic supplies can be purchased for just a small investment at home-improvement stores, the range in a project's cost can be "enormous," says Chase. Artists can "Dumpster-dive" for tiles or broken dishes, browse thrift stores or scour flooring outlets for close-out sales.
    Bolsinga prefers buying her raw materials online. But for her next installation, she's on the lookout for cast-off furniture or a tuneless musical instrument.
    "I kind of like ... found things sometimes," she says.
    A piece with more permanence, though, will have to wait until Bolsinga's next major home makeover.
    "I wished I had learned to do this before I put in my cement patio."
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