Friday, March 16, 2012

February travels part four; Joy, Mosaic, and Tornados in Kentucky

After riding through 7 states (and back one) on a series of Greyhound buses to get to Lexington, I arrived at the conference hotel at about 9:30am in clothes I had been wearing for 3 days straight and in an altered state due to sleep deprivation.  I slept for 2 hours straight, dreaming of missed stops and rude bus drivers.  When I woke up, Krystie Rose (my roommate) was off cavorting with mosaic artist friends, so I was able to enjoy space alone, something I need a lot of in order to maintain my sanity.  I showered and felt all of the stress of the trip wash away.  When I looked out our window, we had a great view of downtown Lexington, which was surprisingly charming.  Best of all, I could see a Starbucks just across from the hotel.

So, I bought a bagel and coffee and used my Nook to access their free wi-fi.  Every sip of quality (not bus station) coffee was more delicious than any I had ever had.  That was the BEST bagel I've ever had.  I could hardly contain my euphoria, having arrived, being comfortable, knowing I could look forward to a week of mosaic immersion.  There was something else, too; a sense of triumph.  I felt like I had come through a rite of passage, stepping out of my comfort zone, facing adversity, and I was just fine.

Granted, when I think about it now, it seems a bit overblown.  I wasn't in mortal danger, I did not witness a tragedy, I didn't survive anything all that serious.  If I had, I would have been traumatized.  But, as a very quiet person who avoids social situations and prefers solitude and home to raucous fun and adventure, it was a transformative experience.  I felt changed.

I used my internet to find a coin-op that claimed to be a very short walk from my location, so I collected the clothes I had been wearing through tropical areas the previous week (stinky!) and started walking.  I had to stop several times to ask strangers directions.  I finally found it in a rougher section of town.  And, once my clothes were clean, I was even more filled with gratitude.  Clean clothes!  Whoo hoo!  I spent the day getting some much needed exercise and made it back in time to have dinner with Krystie Rose.

I had to rush back to a volunteer spot at registration where I learned that my Greyhound story was spreading like wildfire.  People said, "That was YOU?"  It was a great conversation starter, and I was feeling about 10 times more outgoing than usual, so by the end of this year's conference, I had about 10 times more mosaic friends than before, and it was a great experience.

For those who don't know, the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA) holds a summit each year in a different city.  About 400-600 mosaic artists attend from the U.S. and abroad.  By attending these conferences, I have been exposed to innovative techniques, a wider variety of materials, different applications, and motivation to find my unique voice and seek to execute the highest quality mosaic art that I can muster.  To be honest, I sometimes regret it.  I wish I could just go back to blissfully making crafty, fun mosaic with no sense of how much I need to improve.  Opus what?  Mosaic grammar who cares?  Hammer and hardie, who needs it?

Ali Mirsky & Bonnie Fitzgerald
I never take the workshops.  The cost of getting myself there and staying in the conference hotel is already more than my business can absorb.  But, I always glean good information and inspiration from the seminars and presentations, and those impressions have guided me in my work.  I would not be doing what I do now if not for SAMA.  This year, I enjoyed a presentation by Rachel Sager about using hammer and hardie to break open rocks and stones for use in mosaic. Another by Laurie Mika and Jeannie Houston Antes addressed the topic of narrative mosaic, which I found very timely, considering I've been making a series and teaching workshops on commemorative mosaic panels, which are essentially narrative.  Another presentation by Bonnie Fitzgerald and Ali Mirsky described the collaborative process in public art, detailing the process of completing this gorgeous project: (Well, I seem to have no control over where the image goes.  It should appear somewhere on the page.)

Every SAMA conference is accompanied by an international exhibit featuring juried mosaic art from all over the world.  The exhibit is open to the public, and helps to inform the public that mosaic is more than an ancient art form and more than a fun craft activity.  The possibilities are infinite and every exhibit is more amazing than the last.

I was pleased to be able to volunteer as an assistant in Carol Shelkin's workshop.  I took her workshop last summer and I'm still practicing with using color and value to create dimension in mosaic, so it was good to have a review of the information.  Besides, Carol is a delightful person and it is a joy to spend time with her.
This is my practice piece from Carol Shelkin's workshop.
Another conference activity is a mini-salon, where participants pay a small fee to display their own small mosaic, and everyone comes to check it out, and many bid on and purchase the artwork.  My piece "Second Thought" sold, which is great because it helps offset the cost of my trip.
Another activity that takes place at each conference is the Mosaic Marathon.  One person designs and leads in the creation of a mosaic that is completed by SAMA members in shifts throughout the conference, and donated to a local nonprofit organization.  This year, the mosaic was designed and managed by the intrepid Christine Brallier (see her blog about the conference here  I love sitting side-by-side with other mosaic artists, working with materials I am not accustomed to.  I always get to meet people I've heard of and whose work I've admired, so it is a great experience.

There is so much that I'm missing, if any mosaic artists are trying to live vicariously.  But I especially enjoyed the keynote address, which was the director of the movie "Who Does She Think She Is?" which follows a group of women artists who are trying to juggle career and family.  It was an emotional day for the predominantly female SAMA members, and I left with a new sense of resolve.

The most exciting part of the conference, however, had to be Friday afternoon, when we were all ushered into the storm shelter of the Lexington Center while a tornado passed nearby.  It didn't touch down, but a friend caught some of it on video on her iphone, and it was pretty scary.  It made this conference one that none of us will soon forget (except Martin Cheek, who told me that, when alerted that a tornado was imminent, he thought it best to take a shower.  By the time he was finished, it was over.)

Well, I'm told that I've been hogging the computer, so let's just say I was happy to come home and start catching up on all of my normal household duties.

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