Piece by Piece Visiting Artist Series – A Chance to Learn from Professional Artists

Many schools and universities have visiting artist programs for good reason: It provides the opportunity for students to hear from established and emerging individuals in their specific vocation. At Piece by Piece, the visiting artist program becomes especially meaningful to our participants, who have little to no contact with artists in the professional world. By sharing their experiences and special techniques, visiting artists to Piece by Piece help our artists gain self-confidence and the embrace the power of knowledge.

Our first visiting artist, Lillian Sizemore, helped to shape the nature of the program. An educator and artist, Lillian was attune to the needs of our eager but unsure participant artists. Her first workshops brought not only highly-valued technical skill learning, but also open doors for the more broad view of art in general. One of her first workshops was on the sacred mandalas. She led the class in exploring the art of mandalas, and then helped each individual develop their own piece. These first workshops helped define this most valuable program within Piece by Piece’s certificate program.

The visiting artist workshops have been supported by grants from the National Endowment of the Arts since 2009. Last year, we received a $30,000 to continue this program. We have been able to bring some of the best and most experienced artists to work with our artists on both individual and group projects. In fact, it was through one of our visiting artists, Sherri Warner Hunter, that we achieved one of our biggest goals of completing our first public art project, the Villas at Gower Leaves.

With the help of San Deigo-based artist Kim Emerson, we created three large spheres, which were on display at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. Matt Doolin, of Topanga Art Tile worked has been a visiting artist several times, including assisting our artists in creating handmade tiles for our “Entangled Bank” mural at Irvine Valley College.

Other artists, such as Mireille Swinnen, work closely with participants on specific techniques. Most recently, she led the group in creating a mosaic table using the reverse method and a small mural using a special thinset technique.



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Dawn Mendelson

Dawn Mendelson has provided leadership in the development of Piece by Piece since 2007. She has over time built an arts curriculum for participants that fosters learning in design, drawing, creativity and collage mosaic technique. As Piece by Piece Artistic Director, she steers the vision for workshops held at a variety of locations. Dawn specializes in pique assiette, a style of mosaic which uses recycled materials. She has been featured on HGTV and Dawn was twice selected as Educator with the Mayor's Gang Reduction Program. Her passion is working with people, especially those who are new to art, and enjoying their moments of self-discovery.

Universal Studios "Discover A Star" mural created by Piece by Piece artists

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Dawn Mendelson

Dawn Mendelson has provided leadership in the development of Piece by Piece since 2007. She has over time built an arts curriculum for participants that fosters learning in design, drawing, creativity and collage mosaic technique. As Piece by Piece Artistic Director, she steers the vision for workshops held at a variety of locations. Dawn specializes in pique assiette, a style of mosaic which uses recycled materials. She has been featured on HGTV and Dawn was twice selected as Educator with the Mayor's Gang Reduction Program. Her passion is working with people, especially those who are new to art, and enjoying their moments of self-discovery.

Meet the Artist: Jaime M

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Jaime is talented in many ways, finding venues to express his creativity since he was very young. Artistic curiosity runs in his family:  "I have eleven siblings and a few of them are artistic. My father is seventy years old and he loves to learn new trades; right now he is learning how to solder. My father is very creative and he makes repoussé and likes to make art with recycled elements."

After an injury at work, Jaime struggled to keep afloat both physically and mentally. At his first Piece by Piece workshop, Jaime says, he was excited to find a place where he could try something new and earn some much-needed income. He attended every workshop, and when he didn't have funds to pay for bus fare, he would walk for hours to participate, arriving early to help set up and staying late to clean up.

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"Untitled" abstract by Jaime

Within six months, he had sold fourteen of his mosaic pieces. More importantly, Jaime says, he gained self-confidence and a will to live. Being out of work and injured, he was isolated and depressed. Going to Piece by Piece, he says, gave him purpose and a sense of community.

As his skills improved, Jaime became qualified through our certificate program to participate in commission work, and even to work on a large-scale public art project with a team of artists. This, he says, is the biggest reward of all. To see his artistic contribution become part of a larger collaborative effort, which will be shared and enjoyed by hundreds of people, is inspiring and something to be proud of.

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Jaime, center, with fellow Piece by Piece artisans Jose and Deborah, receiving recognition for their participation in the Villas at Gower public art project.

Today, Jaime is awaiting the date for a surgery that may help alleviate the pain from his back injury. He continues to participate in Piece by Piece workshops, using the money he earns through selling his work to contribute to his brother's household, and purchase more materials and bus fare. He also spends a portion of whatever he makes through Piece by Piece on supplies he donates to the workshops, be it paintbrushes from the dollar store, or scraps of wood he finds at the hardware store.

Below Jaime talks about his experience with Piece by Piece and mosaic art.

Have you done another type of art? I love cooking and in the past I wanted to become a chef. Cooking classes were expensive so I couldn't attend chef school, but I still do it and enjoy it. I've also been doing crochet for twenty years and I am self-taught.

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Do you have a favorite artist who influences your work? All the artists influence me lots because each art is very different from the other even though, in the end, the finished piece is a mosaic. Sherri Warner Hunter has been a huge influence in my work. She taught a concrete class at Piece by Piece and since then, I've been very focused using the concrete technique with mosaics.

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How long have you been taking workshops with Piece by Piece? The first week of September, I will have three years.

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What do you like about Piece by Piece? The people that support us are very patient, understanding, capable, have great criteria, mastery, sensibility and they really encourage us. They don’t discriminate and they treat everyone equally. Thank you for the opportunity of being with everyone at Piece by Piece, and to our founder Sophie Alpert.

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Concrete birdbath base created entirely from scratch by Jaime.

What is your favorite piece you've made? My favorite artwork to make is birdbaths because I can make them the way I imagined from beginning to end. They are my creation and that gives me life.

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Sculptured concrete by Jaime

What is something you would like to learn more about? I would like to learn to make faces, fountains, abstract art, but most importantly, anything they teach me at Piece by Piece. I accept the classes happily. I would like to learn to create what I see and feel.

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Jaime (R) with fellow Piece by Piece artists Jose and Hilda at unveiling of Universal Discover a Star mural.

What is the most important thing you have learned in the classes? The most important thing I have learned has been how to develop my talent, to respect the different opinions, to have tenacity, to challenge myself, and to practice a lot so to look for perfecting my art.

Jaime enjoys letting others know about Piece by Piece. He says: "I share my work by gifting pieces to people, talking to them about the wonderfulness of learning this recycled art. Piece by Piece is an organization that helps develop the art and inspiration that we have hidden within us, with the help of people that are so well trained, have lots of practice in mosaics, and are knowledgeable and patient. The teachers are a really amazing team. Thank you for all you have given me!" 

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Dawn Mendelson

Dawn Mendelson has provided leadership in the development of Piece by Piece since 2007. She has over time built an arts curriculum for participants that fosters learning in design, drawing, creativity and collage mosaic technique. As Piece by Piece Artistic Director, she steers the vision for workshops held at a variety of locations. Dawn specializes in pique assiette, a style of mosaic which uses recycled materials. She has been featured on HGTV and Dawn was twice selected as Educator with the Mayor's Gang Reduction Program. Her passion is working with people, especially those who are new to art, and enjoying their moments of self-discovery.

"Entangled Bank" - Mural Created for Irvine Valley College's New Life Science Building

Piece by Piece participant artists, instructors and volunteers recently completed a five-foot by fifteen foot, five panel mural for Irvine Valley College's new Life Sciences Building. The given theme was "chaos to order."

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Piece by Piece artists work on transferring design to the five 3 ft x 5 ft panels.

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Program Director Dawn Mendelson with Piece by Piece artists reviewing materials.

Throughout the process, we had guest artists share their talents. Visiting Artist Matt Doolin, who works with handmade tile and mosaic, worked with our artists to create sculpted shapes and creatures for the "primordial soup".

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Visiting artist Matt Doolin working with Piece by Piece artists to create clay creatures.

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Primordial soup

We received some excellent donations of recycled materials for this project, including rejected pieces from Xiem Clay Center and a local ceramic artist, as well as broken stained glass from various sources.

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We used glaze-testing tubes, both round and square, as elements in the mural.

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In the last panel, which had elements representing mankind,we used tools and other metal parts including springs, a saw blade, gears and keys.

 Throughout the fabrication of this project, our artists worked together to refine the original design conceived by Dawn Mendelson. Each participating artist contributed his or her individual vision and talent. We used all types of materials, requiring us to learn new skills to shape them. In addition to the good old-fashioned hammer and standard nippers, we made use of the excellent new Revolution XT saw received as a very kind donation from Gemini Saw.

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Instructor Leigh Adams worked with Piece by Piece artist Juan, cutting a section of a ceramic bowl for the mural.

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Piece by Piece artists Juan and Jose work on panel 2.

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Assistant instructor Bea Jones with Piece by Piece artists Guadalupe and Deborah.

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We are grateful for our fantastic volunteers who also contributed to this mural. Shown: (top) Piece by Piece artist Guadalupe with volunteer Julie Williams. (bottom) Volunteer Gale Sorenson with Assistant Instructor Bea Jones. Not shown: volunteer Mireille Swinnen.

When the mural was complete, it made the journey down to Irvine for installation.

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Lead instructor Luz Mack Durini on installation day.

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In March, Piece by Piece was invited to attend the dedication ceremony and ribbon cutting of the new building. Our artists received Certificates of Completion and enjoyed the moment.

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Thank you to the office of the President at Irvine Valley College and the School of Life Sciences and Technology faculty for their kind support!

1 Comment

Dawn Mendelson

Dawn Mendelson has provided leadership in the development of Piece by Piece since 2007. She has over time built an arts curriculum for participants that fosters learning in design, drawing, creativity and collage mosaic technique. As Piece by Piece Artistic Director, she steers the vision for workshops held at a variety of locations. Dawn specializes in pique assiette, a style of mosaic which uses recycled materials. She has been featured on HGTV and Dawn was twice selected as Educator with the Mayor's Gang Reduction Program. Her passion is working with people, especially those who are new to art, and enjoying their moments of self-discovery.

Meet the Artist: Donald Taylor

Piece by Piece artist Donald Taylor has been coming to our workshops for seven years. He comes every week with his family. All three of them have worked on projects and enjoy being a part of the Piece by Piece family.

Donald

When asked about himself, Donald says: "I'm a father, grandfather and great-grandfather. I'm married to Linda and attend Ward AME church weekly. I worked at Toyota Motors for 34 years. I sing in the choir and the male-only choir at the church. I bowl every Monday, so I do keep myself busy.

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Donald in Piece by Piece mosaic heart workshop.

This is the first time Donald has tried any type of art. We asked him a few questions about his experiences with Piece by Piece and mosaic:

What do you like about the program Piece by Piece?

The teachers are great. I have learned how to use glass. We have learned how to cut it, use the grinder on it. I like being with the people. We have become a family...we know what each one likes."

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Donald with one of his first pieces.

What materials do you like to use?

Mostly glass, that's what I use.

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Donald's favorite mosaic so far.

What is your favorite mosaic you have made?

One was a cat, and the one I am working on now, a mosaic of Martin Luther King, Jr..

What would you like to learn more about?

I'll need help with some of the work on the Martin Luther King, Jr. piece.

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Donald and Linda Taylor enjoying workshop time with fellow artist Wacola and Piece by Piece assistant instructor Bea Jones.

What is the most important thing you have learned in the workshops?

For me, it would be cutting glass since I do so much of it. I also cut glass very small. However, on this MLK piece, I've had to learn to use the grinder, too.

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Donald and Linda Taylor at City Hall. Piece by Piece received a Certificate of Commendation from former Councilwoman Jan Perry's office in 2013.

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Donald with granddaughter Brandi at our most recent field trip to the Craft and Folk Art Museum. Brandi attends Piece by Piece workshops when she's not in school.

How has Piece by Piece helped you?

First off, it has given me and my wife somewhere to go and share doing artwork together. We share this time learning and sometimes Brandi is with us, but most of the time we are together. We always stop to get something to eat, then come to class. We get there early to help set up. This is something we like to do. Being a part of the whole part of Piece by Piece means a lot to us. From set up to the learning to making the projects, to the wonderful teachers--all are friends. That makes us want to get up each Friday and come to class.

1 Comment

Dawn Mendelson

Dawn Mendelson has provided leadership in the development of Piece by Piece since 2007. She has over time built an arts curriculum for participants that fosters learning in design, drawing, creativity and collage mosaic technique. As Piece by Piece Artistic Director, she steers the vision for workshops held at a variety of locations. Dawn specializes in pique assiette, a style of mosaic which uses recycled materials. She has been featured on HGTV and Dawn was twice selected as Educator with the Mayor's Gang Reduction Program. Her passion is working with people, especially those who are new to art, and enjoying their moments of self-discovery.

Featured Piece by Piece Artist: Hugo S.

Hugo Love

Hugo has been a participant artist with Piece by Piece for four years. Throughout the years, he has developed his skills and found his voice through geometric design. He has an eye for preciseness and enjoys working out complex designs. When he first came to our workshops, he had no design or art experience.

Hugo was born and grew up in Guatemala City, which is located in Central America. He worked and studied there, graduating as an accountant. He attended the University of San Carlos from Guatemala for 2 years, and came to the United States in 1990. Hugo has excelled in English classes at two local learning centers and has found employment as a cook assistant and a cashier. He considers himself a helpful and joyful person, and we agree.

Piece by Piece Instructor Leigh Adams says of Hugo: "Hugo is continually improving his skills and actively seeks new information to incorporate into his work. His sense of color and design is delightful and his sense of humor creates ongoing smiles in the classroom."

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Hugo attends workshops regularly, and has contributed to the Villas at Gower public art project as well as several other large commissions.

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"What I like about the program is how the teachers teach us the techniques and methods to work the different projects of mosaic; furthermore, the skills and experience that each teacher has. What I like about the program is what I learn in each project of mosaic. The program has helped me emotionally and economically."

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"I like to work with different materials, and I like free style but I prefer geometric style."

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"My favorite mosaic I have made was my geometric vase, and I have other favorite mosaics as well."

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Hugo's goals are to learn more about techniques and methods to make his projects better.

"The most important things I have learned is how to use the mosaic tools; moreover, I have learned the different kinds of cut on the glass; the color of the grout I use in each project; how to mix paint colors; and what andamento to use in each project."

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Dawn Mendelson

Dawn Mendelson has provided leadership in the development of Piece by Piece since 2007. She has over time built an arts curriculum for participants that fosters learning in design, drawing, creativity and collage mosaic technique. As Piece by Piece Artistic Director, she steers the vision for workshops held at a variety of locations. Dawn specializes in pique assiette, a style of mosaic which uses recycled materials. She has been featured on HGTV and Dawn was twice selected as Educator with the Mayor's Gang Reduction Program. Her passion is working with people, especially those who are new to art, and enjoying their moments of self-discovery.

Commissions: Unique Artwork and Team Building

As our Piece by Piece artists become more skilled in the art of mosaic, they seek projects that challenge. They are inspired by the quality of their work and the realization that mosaic can enhance an environment or commemorate an event. Their ever-increasing skills have led to many commissions. From smaller, more personal, works involving precious china, to larger pieces that make a statement about a specific location, these projects give great pleasure and beauty to those who commission them. They also allow our artists to shine both individually and as a team.

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Centerpieces created for Universal Studios event.

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Piece by Piece artists working on large commission.

Private Commissions

Mosaic has a very personal component that can incorporate history through the pieces, be it china, special glass or re-purposed ceramics. One of our commissions was to create a set of tables using shards of blue and white china found on a beach in New York. The clients commissioned two Piece by Piece artists to create these tables that are now a part of their home and tell a special story of the history of a hotel in Long Island.

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One of two tables created using found china shards.

Our artists have also created several special mirror commissions to match the decor of clients' homes or offices.

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Mirrors created for private clients by Piece by Piece artists.

Large-Scale Projects

On a larger scale, we have worked as a team to create several big projects. Below is a photo of a three-panel mural for U.S. Container Corporation, which now hangs in their conference room.

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This abstract mural has recycled ceramic and glass and is 15 feet by 3 feet.

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Just recently, our artist team also completed a series of five geometric circles for a private residence in the Hollywood Hills (seen below).

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Recycled ceramics and glass were used to create these geometric circles, which range in size from 2-foot diameter to 6-foot diameter. Each artist worked on individual sections using different andamenti, demonstrating their unique styles.

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The circles were created on mesh and installed by a professional contractor.

Group Commissions

Commissions for events are another way for our artists to express their individual talents in collective projects. From wedding favors to centerpieces to corporate gifts, Piece by Piece has distinguished itself with our artists' far-reaching creativity.

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A series of small garden pot wedding favors created by team of Piece by Piece artists. 

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Centerpiece vases created for a non-profit organization's fund raising event.

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Wine stoppers created as gifts for a local company.

There are many ways our artists can add to either the decor of a home or a special event. In doing so, they not only earn funds and elevate their technical skills, but they enrich their lives through giving back. Commissions elicit a sense of belonging and purpose. Working together as a team to create something is even more enriching. Our goals through these types of projects are to build confidence, encourage entrepreneurship, and contribute something meaningful to our community.

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Dawn Mendelson

Dawn Mendelson has provided leadership in the development of Piece by Piece since 2007. She has over time built an arts curriculum for participants that fosters learning in design, drawing, creativity and collage mosaic technique. As Piece by Piece Artistic Director, she steers the vision for workshops held at a variety of locations. Dawn specializes in pique assiette, a style of mosaic which uses recycled materials. She has been featured on HGTV and Dawn was twice selected as Educator with the Mayor's Gang Reduction Program. Her passion is working with people, especially those who are new to art, and enjoying their moments of self-discovery.

Featured Piece by Piece artist: Guadalupe G.

Although Guadalupe joined our program only little over one year ago, she has quickly become an enthusiastic participant in every workshop, and is working as a qualified artist on one of our large commission projects. Since her first days at Piece by Piece, Guadalupe has joined in, lending a hand wherever necessary and challenging herself with every mosaic piece she creates. She always greets everyone with a warm smile. Guadalupe graduated as a medical assistant in 2004, and calls herself a very active person. She has also faced some major health issues: she was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, and feels fortunate to now be in remission. Her bright and courageous spirit is a great benefit to the Piece by Piece family.

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Have you done another type of artwork? I took some painting classes, but not for long. I enjoyed it.

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Guadalupe in Visiting Artist Jolino Beserra's mosaic lamp workshop.

How long have you been taking workshops with Piece by Piece? I have taken workshops with Piece by Piece since June 2012, when Juan Carlos, my case manager, told me about the program, and I have liked it a lot.

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 Guadalupe with Visiting Artist Charles Dickson at the Watts Towers

What do you like about the program? I like it because I have learned new things, and they treat me like family and I enjoy the classes a lot.

What materials do you like to use? I have enjoyed all the material that I have used until now,  but I find glass the most fun because of the varied colors and textures.

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Hummingbird

What is your favorite mosaic you have made? Sunflowers and the hummingbird. I have enjoyed all of them, but those are the best so far. I liked them a lot. I don't think they're the greatest, but I hope to improve with each passing day.

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Guadalupe's first small commission.

What would you like to learn more about? I would like to improve each thing that I learn to do every day and that I do different things and I learn something new…I like that.

What is the most important thing you have learned in the workshops? I have tried to put into practice what I have learned, such as andamento for example, and using the colors and textures of the materials.

2 Comments

Dawn Mendelson

Dawn Mendelson has provided leadership in the development of Piece by Piece since 2007. She has over time built an arts curriculum for participants that fosters learning in design, drawing, creativity and collage mosaic technique. As Piece by Piece Artistic Director, she steers the vision for workshops held at a variety of locations. Dawn specializes in pique assiette, a style of mosaic which uses recycled materials. She has been featured on HGTV and Dawn was twice selected as Educator with the Mayor's Gang Reduction Program. Her passion is working with people, especially those who are new to art, and enjoying their moments of self-discovery.

Meet Our Instructors: Luz Mack Durini

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When Luz Mack Durini first learned of Piece by Piece, she had no idea she would find herself teaching mosaic art, working with an incredible group of inner-city artists, and leading large public art projects. Luz started working with Piece by Piece almost six years ago, and she has become an integral part of the organization's instructor team. Her technical prowess in all things mosaic combined with her keen sense of detail keep all of our artists and instructors alike striving to raise the bar in their personal and community work.

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Red Borealis by Luz Mack Durini

Luz started out working in stained glass. From the beginnings of a small votive to refined mirrors to exquisite fine art, Luz has always pushed the envelope in this medium. Her education is extensive and she is always taking workshops to improve her work and expand her vision.

This drive for excellence is an inspiration to many of our participant artists. At every workshop, artist are always asking her advice on grout color, adhesives, or design. She is tough, they all know, but she is honest and she truly cares about helping our artists become the best they can be.

Luz class

Recently, Piece by Piece was awarded a public art project through the Los Angeles Redevelopment Agency and A Community of Friends. Luz and Dawn Mendelson collaborated on unique design for Villas at Gower, a permanent supportive housing development for homeless, at-risk of homelessness or families dealing with mental illness. The entire Piece by Piece team including founder Sophie Alpert, our instructors and participant artists all worked for almost two years to complete this amazing project. It was a wonderful accomplishment that has led to many other large opportunities.

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Dawn Mendelson and Luz Mack Durini with leaf from Villas at Gower public art project.

We asked Luz a few questions about her relationship with mosaic and with Piece by Piece:

How did you come to mosaic art?

 I bought a mosaic candle holder that I lit during the night.  It gave me such joy to look at the shapes, the colors and the reflections bouncing on the wall! Soon enough, I found myself trying to make a mosaic...that was more than 15 years ago and I haven't stop since then.

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Oro Blanco by Luz Mack Durini

What do you like about it?

Mosaic is an amazingly flexible and approachable media that I can do at my own pace. It does not require a big or a special fitted space, it can be done with the simplest of tools and it can be made with practically every single material available that is new, recycled or repurposed. Mosaics can be functional, non-functional, flat, tridimensional, kinetic, can be used for dry or wet applications, can be created for indoor and outdoor spaces,  private or public locations. Mosaics offer unlimited possibilities that inspire me, give me  comfort, fuel my passion and keep me connected.

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by Luz Mack Durini

What is your inspiration? 

Materials, textures, shapes, colors, music, architecture, beauty, nature, art.

Do you have a favorite artist who influences your work?

I am moved by a lot of artists and artistic expressions.  I feel all the interactions in life influence my work.

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What do you like about

Piece by Piece

?

It's an amazing organization that through art gives the opportunity for growth to all who are involved.  It provides a nourishing environment to develop confidence, creativity, and teamwork; it promotes connections and creates friendships. The instructors are people that I respect, love and consider my family.

What do you see in the future for

Piece by Piece

?

I see Piece by Piece continuing its growth, embracing more participants and representing a strong art mosaic force in Los Angeles.

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Dawn Mendelson

Dawn Mendelson has provided leadership in the development of Piece by Piece since 2007. She has over time built an arts curriculum for participants that fosters learning in design, drawing, creativity and collage mosaic technique. As Piece by Piece Artistic Director, she steers the vision for workshops held at a variety of locations. Dawn specializes in pique assiette, a style of mosaic which uses recycled materials. She has been featured on HGTV and Dawn was twice selected as Educator with the Mayor's Gang Reduction Program. Her passion is working with people, especially those who are new to art, and enjoying their moments of self-discovery.

Open Workshops Offer More Than Mosaic

In addition to our directed studies and visiting artist workshops, Piece by Piece has a weekly Open Workshop. These classes are designed to provide a venue for both new and experienced participants to come together to learn, find inspiration, share ideas, and get one-on-one time with instructors.  On any given week, there are 25 to 30 artists in attendance.

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Instructor Luz Mack Durini works with a young artist (L). Instructor Ivan DeAvy advises artist (R).

Everyone works at a difference pace and at different levels. Here, participants can grout their pieces and finish them by polishing, painting and adding hanging hardware.

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Participant artists Juan and Guadalupe grout their pieces.

Every workshop is filled with high energy and enthusiasm as participant artists work on their projects and show their finished pieces. Sharing techniques and ideas, artists are in a nurturing environment that fosters camaraderie.

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Young artist Brandi shares her finished piece, and artists Donald, Linda and Wacola work on projects.

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Instructor Bea Jones shares some of her work.

We also have some very young talent:

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Our workshops could not function without our amazing volunteers, who help with everything from preparing materials to advising artists on their artwork to set-up and clean-up tasks.

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 The wonderful Belinda gives a bright smile to everyone she sees. Her energy is inspiring!

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Volunteer Gale advises artist Jose M. on materials. Her kindness and supportive nature is welcoming.

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Volunteer Chris (on right) helps sort donated glass with participant artist Ninive. We are grateful for her time and generosity.

The workshops are also an opportunity for participants to give back and volunteer their time. Recently, we received a large donation from Lighthouse Stained Glass in Los Angeles. Everyone jumped in to wash and sort the materials.

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Instructor Leigh Adams sorting donation.

Piece by Piece is a micro-enterprise, and once participants have completed a series of classes, we offer them the opportunity to sell their work. But, it is also a community, full of support for all things mosaic and more. We share our stories, talk about our families, our triumphs and our tragedies, at these workshops. It is where we learn from each other, listen to ideas and collaborate. It is a time for everyone to come together, and the reason we have come to call ourselves the Piece by Piece family.

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Dawn Mendelson

Dawn Mendelson has provided leadership in the development of Piece by Piece since 2007. She has over time built an arts curriculum for participants that fosters learning in design, drawing, creativity and collage mosaic technique. As Piece by Piece Artistic Director, she steers the vision for workshops held at a variety of locations. Dawn specializes in pique assiette, a style of mosaic which uses recycled materials. She has been featured on HGTV and Dawn was twice selected as Educator with the Mayor's Gang Reduction Program. Her passion is working with people, especially those who are new to art, and enjoying their moments of self-discovery.

Villas at Gower Public Art Project, Part Two: Installation and Celebration

Installation The daunting task of installing Piece by Piece's first public art project fell into the very capable hands of L.A. ProPoint, a company that has done some incredible and large installations at the Hollywood Bowl, Universal Studios and the National World War II Museum.

The attachment points for each leaf and the vine were installed by the construction crew a year before the installation, as they needed to be embedded in the construct of the building. Once the building and the artwork were completed, L.A. ProPoint arrived to attach the artwork. Because the pieces were large and so high up (the highest pieces were at five stories), they brought in a mobile crane. The installation team rode in the basket and carried each piece of the artwork individually.

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The crane was positioned outside the building, and installers were lowered into the courtyard.

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The vine was attached first.

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The leaves went next.

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All pieces were carefully matched to the attachment points.

Each leaf and vine had a series of extended bolts, which fit into the plates in the building. We were pleased and impressed with L.A. ProPoint's team of installers and their expertise.

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Trio of leaves
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Celebration

With the installation at last complete, there was a call to celebrate!  At the unveiling of the project, Piece by Piece artists were recognized for their hard work, dedication and talents.

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(photo by Jose Morales)

Founder Sophie Alpert (R) with Artist Instructors Luz Mack Durini and Dawn Mendelson presented the Piece by Piece artists with a certificate of achievement and an award.

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Above: Piece by Piece artists and instructors. Below: Piece by Piece artists Jose, Jaime and Deborah with their awards.

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And, of course, there was a delicious cake!

Congratulations to everyone involved!

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Dawn Mendelson

Dawn Mendelson has provided leadership in the development of Piece by Piece since 2007. She has over time built an arts curriculum for participants that fosters learning in design, drawing, creativity and collage mosaic technique. As Piece by Piece Artistic Director, she steers the vision for workshops held at a variety of locations. Dawn specializes in pique assiette, a style of mosaic which uses recycled materials. She has been featured on HGTV and Dawn was twice selected as Educator with the Mayor's Gang Reduction Program. Her passion is working with people, especially those who are new to art, and enjoying their moments of self-discovery.

Villas at Gower Public Art Project

When Piece by Piece was founded by Sophie Alpert, the goal was to provide a much-needed source of supplemental income to recently homeless and very low income residents of inner city Los Angeles. It quickly became much more. Under the tutelage of a team of professional artists, participants’ skills in the medium far exceeded expectations. Many individuals arrived already teeming with untapped creativity. Others, with little or no artistic experience, came full of enthusiasm and learned quickly. The result: an incredible group of talented new artists, eager to engage not only in the creation of their own artistic expressions, but to participate in projects that contribute to the greater community.

As these participant artists experienced the empowerment of selling their artwork, they also developed a strong alliance with each other. They shared knowledge and found themselves looking past the immediate and into what was possible through the strength of teamwork. Several smaller group projects made it evident these Piece by Piece artists were ready for something big. When the opportunity presented itself to apply for a public art project, Sophie Alpert took it.

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Founder Sophie Alpert (center) with Piece by Piece instructor artists Dawn Mendelson (L) and Luz Mack Durini (R)

The public art process, as some may know, is no easy task. There are many requirements to meet, technical aspects to master, and paperwork to process. It took almost a year before we even started the actual mosaic. Part way through, the California Redevelopment Agency--the project's main funding source-- shut down, and the project was at risk of not being completed. It took the effort and enthusiasm of  everyone involved to push the project forward. Throughout the process, Piece by Piece worked closely with the construction crew, the architects, fabrication artists, and those who would be involved in the final installation of the artwork. The building, Villas at Gower, would be new permanent supportive housing for homeless, at-risk of homelessness or families dealing with mental illness.

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Drawing of Villas at Gower leaves

Piece by Piece instructor artists Luz Mack Durini and Dawn Mendelson collaborated on the original design concept. Inspired by the garden and its abundant sense of wonder and beauty in nature, they developed a series of ten leaves, each its own oasis of inspiration. Every leaf features a flower symbolizing a human quality we aspire to in our everyday lives. The rose, for example, symbolizes love; the chrysanthemum, optimism; the magnolia, dignity.

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Piece by Piece instructor team (L to R): Luz Mack Durini, Dawn Mendelson, Bea Jones, Leigh Adams

Throughout the process, the team of artist instructors worked together to fine-tune the design. Piece by Piece instructor Leigh Adams added both her experience in the garden as artist in residence at the L.A. Arboretum and her technical prowess in cutting skills. Bea Jones was a steady force, working on every aspect of the project.

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Piece by Piece artists, instructors and volunteers on grout day.

But it was the Piece by Piece participant artists who gave their best work, their dedication, and their enthusiasm to make the project move forward. They worked together twice a week as a team and inspired not only each other, but the whole Piece by Piece family.

The Construction

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Three of the leaves have a branch attached directly. There are two larger vines hosting the other leaves.

The fabrication of this project was the result of a huge team of artists, volunteers and technical experts. The realistic vine was created by Lucas Look Designs, a company that creates scenery for Hollywood and Disney. It was sculpted from an epoxy base and rivals the trees in our own backyard in beauty.

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Piece by Piece participating artists cut high-density foam and covered it in two layers of mesh and concrete.

To begin the process of fabricating the leaves themselves, Piece by Piece enlisted the technical and artistic experience of renowned sculptor Sherri Warner Hunter. Her unique foam construction technique was the basis for the leaves. High density foam was shaped, reinforced with a skeleton, and covered in a series of layers of concrete and fiberglass mesh.

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Artist Sherri Warner Hunter works with Piece by Piece artists on the fabrication of the leaf forms.

Beyond the technical, Sherri worked with our artists to see in 3D and understand shape and form. Her down-to-earth manner and her way of communicating with our artists helped them not only to master the foam, but to transfer this vision to their own work.

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 After the fabrication of the forms, the design was transferred to the leaves.

The Fabrication

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The unique clay flowers were handmade by our participants, under the guidance of artist Matt Doolin of Topanga Art Tile. Matt taught our artists the subtlety of coaxing the clay into the delicate petals of our flowers. They were sculpted from high-fire clay and formed to the contours of the leaves.

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Artist Matt Doolin worked with Piece by Piece artists to form the clay flowers.

The mosaic background was fabricated entirely by our team of participant artists, instructors, and volunteers. Over 15,000 pieces were hand cut and placed.

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Piece by Piece artists working on mosaic.

The grouting process was completed in two days.

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The Results

When the leaves were completed, there was a great sense of accomplishment by all. Our artists demonstrated true teamwork, showing anything can be achieved if we work together. This public art project became more than making some extra money. It became a sense of pride, a feeling of belonging, a drive to succeed.

The vine can be seen as unfurling our hopes and dreams. The roots are constructed from teamwork, individual creativity, and the desire to give back to the community. The leaves are a testimony to the human spirit. With new skills and renewed vision, our Piece by Piece artists have created something unique for the residents of Villas at Gower. It something to be proud of. And that is what we do with every piece of art at Piece by Piece: foster the love for what we do, embrace optimism, and build dignity.

Stay tuned for Part Two: the Installation.

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Dawn Mendelson

Dawn Mendelson has provided leadership in the development of Piece by Piece since 2007. She has over time built an arts curriculum for participants that fosters learning in design, drawing, creativity and collage mosaic technique. As Piece by Piece Artistic Director, she steers the vision for workshops held at a variety of locations. Dawn specializes in pique assiette, a style of mosaic which uses recycled materials. She has been featured on HGTV and Dawn was twice selected as Educator with the Mayor's Gang Reduction Program. Her passion is working with people, especially those who are new to art, and enjoying their moments of self-discovery.

Meet Our Instructors: Leigh Adams

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When you visit a Piece by Piece open workshop, you will often see a group of participants surrounding a purple-haired woman. Leigh Adams, an instructor with Piece by Piece for five years, is known for her kindness and candid but supportive coaching--on mosaic and life skills in general. Her background of teaching for 30 years, both in the classroom and in different venues, gives her a depth of experience to pull from. She has taught internationally in China, East Africa, Mexico and Central America, working with a variety of populations.

Her experience doesn’t stop at teaching--she is also a renowned artist, specializing in glass. She is the Artist in Residence at the L.A. Arboretum, and most recently curated their most successful exhibit ever: Forces of Nature. Several of our instructors and one of our participant artists were accepted into this show. Her own work can be found in various galleries, public sites and private residences.

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Chinese Mosaic by Leigh Adams

At Piece by Piece, Leigh teaches beginning workshops, cutting techniques, finishing techniques, and supports our larger commissions with her talents in cutting, clay forming and other specialties. She has a wonderful way of encouraging creativity, helping our participant artists to free themselves from inhibitions, and explore and develop their talents. She is also bilingual, and her fluent Spanish relaxes many of our ESL artists, who can express themselves more articulately through their own language.

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Leigh talking with participant artist at a workshop

We asked Leigh a few questions about her relationship with Piece by Piece, and art in general:

You have a wide range of experience in art. What are some of the other mediums you’ve worked with? I put myself through school by sewing stage clothes for rock stars, making pillows, recovering furniture and decorating houses. Then came many years of giant soft sculpture monsters, embroidery, quilting, crocheting, basketry, gourd art and toy design. All accompanied by garden design, hot, warm and cold glass work, jewelry design and doing art with children.

How did you come to mosaic art? My love of mosaic comes from coveting the Fiestaware dishes of a favorite aunt. I took enormous pleasure in getting a bowl or plate in the colors that I love. When I had my own plates and my own children shattered them, I couldn’t bear to throw the beloved dishes away. I learned to imbed them in concrete and create colorful patterns.

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Rainbow Dream Snake as seen from above, at L.A. Arboretum, by Leigh Adams

What do you like about it? What I like most about mosaic is its versatility, its infinite variety and its beautiful recycled colors!

What is your inspiration? My own art is a part of a long running dialogue with nature and the universe. I was inspired by the broken dishes generated by my own children and the joy of turning something shattered into something positive and beautiful. It is a paradigm shift worth pursuing for everyone!

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Leigh's mosaic throne in the garden

Do you have a favorite artist who influences your work? I am most inspired by the colors of nature and the beauty of folk art by indigenous peoples.

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Instructors Luz Mack Durini and Leigh Adams at recent workshop

‘What do you like about Piece by Piece? What I like most about Piece by Piece are the people! The teachers, the participants, the volunteers…all are incredible human beings. I love that we get to see people grow and develop in their art and style while we are immersed in the joy and color of mosaic.

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What do you see in the future for Piece by Piece? I see us doing larger and larger projects and developing more artists and supporting them in creating their own careers.

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Dawn Mendelson

Dawn Mendelson has provided leadership in the development of Piece by Piece since 2007. She has over time built an arts curriculum for participants that fosters learning in design, drawing, creativity and collage mosaic technique. As Piece by Piece Artistic Director, she steers the vision for workshops held at a variety of locations. Dawn specializes in pique assiette, a style of mosaic which uses recycled materials. She has been featured on HGTV and Dawn was twice selected as Educator with the Mayor's Gang Reduction Program. Her passion is working with people, especially those who are new to art, and enjoying their moments of self-discovery.

Featured Piece by Piece Artist: Jose M

Jose M has been participating in the Piece by Piece program for almost five years. Before then, he had never tried mosaic art. His thirst for knowledge and his dedication to learning has shown through the development of his work. Jose has worked his way through our program and now participates in small and large commissions, including the Gower Public Art project and the Universal Discover A Star mural. In December 2012, Jose’s piece “Arbol de Vida” was accepted into an exhibit at the Los Angeles Arboretum. He took a chunk of a wood stump and created the artwork seen in the photo below. He cut the shapes, did the complete design and mosaic.

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Jose with his Arbol de Vida, which was accepted into the L.A. Arboretum's Forces of Nature exhibition.

Share something with us about your background. I was born in Tlaxcala, Mexico in January of 1968. I arrived in California in 1990. I live in Koreatown with my family. I have three children and five grandchildren. I love to share and be with my family, like to go out for a walk, a bite to eat or just hang out with them.

Have you done another type of art? I participate along with people of my community in the creation of three-dimensional figures made with different types of vegetables.

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Jose's Homage to Picasso

Do you have a favorite artist who influences your work? There are several artists whose art inspires my mosaics. To mention a few: Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso, Giulio Menossi.

How long have you been taking workshops with Piece by Piece? I came to Piece by Piece about 5 years ago. I was invited by a person that had been participating in the workshops. I was very impressed by the work the organization does helping people that don’t have the financial possibilities to pay for classes, but that want a better quality of life.

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Jose working with other Piece by Piece artists on a recent commission.

What do you like about the program? I like the program because I can learn, create and sell my own pieces; and that the program is open for others to come and take the workshops for free. It has helped me to develop my abilities and skills, focusing my efforts in the creation of pieces of art using different techniques, materials, textures and colors. It also gives me a chance to work by myself, and as a team.

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Jose found a plain vase at a thrift store, cleaned it up, and used a classic style mosaic pattern to give it a new life.

There are many choices for mosaic pieces, what materials do you like to use?I like to read about different art forms and discover new ways of doing my own art with recycled materials.

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What is your favorite piece you’ve made? The first piece I made was an Aztec Calendar. My favorite pieces are several like the Van Gogh sunflowers, a table with an eagle that I made and many more.

What is something you would like to learn more about? I am fascinated by mosaics and I would love to learn more about micro mosaics and how to create faces. This year, I want to make some three dimensional pieces. Also, I want to create a mural where I can capture my roots, culture and Mexican customs.

What is the most important thing you feel you have learned in the workshops?Piece by Piece has taught me leadership. I have put together a group in my community where I serve as a volunteer teaching what I have learned to people that need it in my neighborhood. I want to say thank you to everyone that is part of Piece by Piece and that make this program run for people in need in the Los Angeles community.

1 Comment

Dawn Mendelson

Dawn Mendelson has provided leadership in the development of Piece by Piece since 2007. She has over time built an arts curriculum for participants that fosters learning in design, drawing, creativity and collage mosaic technique. As Piece by Piece Artistic Director, she steers the vision for workshops held at a variety of locations. Dawn specializes in pique assiette, a style of mosaic which uses recycled materials. She has been featured on HGTV and Dawn was twice selected as Educator with the Mayor's Gang Reduction Program. Her passion is working with people, especially those who are new to art, and enjoying their moments of self-discovery.

Welcome!

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Welcome to the Piece by Piece blog. Through this venue, we hope to bring you the stories of our participating artists and their work; introduce you to our amazing instructors; and share the progress of our projects.

A little history: Piece by Piece was founded by Sophie Alpert, who was inspired by a trip to South Africa, where she witnessed several successful micro-enterprise agencies that empowered participants by teaching them a marketable skill and helping them sell their work. Because mosaic is a tactile art and highly accessible to a wide range of experience and age, she thought to focus on this medium, with an emphasis on recycled materials. In 2007, we launched our first workshop. What began as a program to help underserved residents of Los Angeles earn some much needed supplemental income, became so much more as we developed and discovered many talented artists who had no outlet to express themselves or participate in a nurturing community.

About our program: Our workshops are more than classes. They are supportive environments where people can explore their creativity and learn a skill that develops not only their technical abilities, but enhances their sense of community and teamwork. This expressive freedom can provide relief to those overwhelmed by the challenges of life. Individuals can participate in the program by selling their art, working on commissions, and participating in larger projects such as public art, through a series of skills development workshops.

Expanding our horizons: Piece by Piece’s success has allowed us to grow tremendously since our beginnings six years ago. In 2012, recognizing the need to build our organizational capacity, Piece by Piece entered into a partnership with Skid Row Housing Trust. This partnership leverages the infrastructure and resources of the long-established Trust. Through this partnership, Piece by Piece will move into its first permanent home in Summer 2013. The program’s workshops and artistic staff will establish a gallery, workshop and administrative offices at the Trust’s Star Apartments in Downtown Los Angeles.

Our workshops: We have three workshops a week: an open workshop where artists can work on individual projects; directed studies, where we learn specific skills important to mosaic art; and a Visiting Artist program, which has been funded for three years by a Challenge America grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, and brings artists from around the country to teach with our participants.

We welcome your positive input and support of our artists through this new venue. If you would like to volunteer, donate or purchase artwork, please contact us through the link to the right.

Thank you! Dawn Mendelson Program Director

1 Comment

Dawn Mendelson

Dawn Mendelson has provided leadership in the development of Piece by Piece since 2007. She has over time built an arts curriculum for participants that fosters learning in design, drawing, creativity and collage mosaic technique. As Piece by Piece Artistic Director, she steers the vision for workshops held at a variety of locations. Dawn specializes in pique assiette, a style of mosaic which uses recycled materials. She has been featured on HGTV and Dawn was twice selected as Educator with the Mayor's Gang Reduction Program. Her passion is working with people, especially those who are new to art, and enjoying their moments of self-discovery.