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Quills & Queues: Pieces came together for mosaic artist

Karen Rycheck is a Rogue Valley artist on a mission. A professional public artist working in Ashland and Talent, she is a member of SAMA — the Society of American Mosaic Artists — and also a participant in Clayfolk, the Southern Oregon Potters Association. Although she primarily create mosaic art, she also creates functional ceramics, stained glass, sculpture, and various other media.

I sat down with Rycheck to talk about her current and future projects.

JG: Karen, tell us about your artistic and creative history.

KR: I’ve practiced many mediums throughout my artistic career, and currently focus on mosaics and ceramics. My current project is a public mosaic mural funded in part by the Haines and Friends Foundation. My work can be seen at www.missmosaic.com.

JG: What is it about the Rogue Valley that made you settle here as an artist?

KR: When I first visited the Valley back in 2003, I was looking for my “forever” home. I had an actual list of criteria for what I wanted and needed to make my new home great: Climate, population under 50,000, quick access to hiking and beautiful places, public radio/TV, college town, culture, healthy open people, and supportive of the arts, to name several. I’d moved around the Midwest since leaving home after high school and never found a place I felt I fit in, or where artists were valued as such. The most common question people asked me when I told them I was an artist was “What’s your real job?” When I tell people in the Valley I’m an artist they say “That’s great, what medium?” Ironically, once I moved here in 2004, I discovered that public art wasn’t officially supported by the city of Ashland! Luckily, Lloyd Haines made a stand against the outdated policy and many folks came out in support of public art, and the laws changed for the better. I was actually able to help create the first publicly funded public artwork in Ashland, the Rio Amistad mosaic on Granite Street, in 2005!

JG: Tell us about the Bee a Part of Art project.

KR: I conceived of this (mosaic) pollinator garden mural last year in response to the Haines and Friends Foundation grant application. As a mosaic artist, I am always looking for large, blank swaths of concrete to apply tile to, ha! One was the low stage front next to Talent City Hall, and across the lawn from the Talent Public Library and playground. Knowing how important pollinators are at this time in our history, I thought it apropos to draw attention to the subject while beautifying our town and celebrating it’s designation as a Bee City. I love my community, and I love drawing kids (and adults) in and educating them through their own curiosity. Community art is such a perfect, non-threatening way to bring people from all walks of life together to meet and get to know one another better, creating ownership and pride in where they live. Collaborating with Talent Maker City, I am holding two-hour work sessions at my home studio, where up to eight people at a time create a mosaic flower to add to the mural. When flower-making ceases in mid-July, I will bring all of these elements together to create a garden scene with the words “Talent: Bee City, U.S.A.”

JG: How do you see the public best supporting public artists?

KR: By getting directly involved in the arts, by contributing their time as public art commissioners, by positively contributing their voices in a timely manner and bringing forth solutions rather than complaints, by contributing their dollars which are so vitally needed, and by recognizing the positive economic impact public art has on the economy. Art can bring us together if we are willing to work together.

— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com.

Photo illustration by Karen RycheckA mock-up of an upcoming mosaic mural planned in Talent.