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!

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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: 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.

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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.