It's Friday afternoon in a free South Los Angeles artists' workshop hosted by the nonprofit Piece by Piece, and Carola Fernandez is showing off her latest mosaic work.
Her amber eyes are glowing.
Broken china. Textured handmade tile. Rocks. From these different materials the unemployed 50-year-old mother of two grown children has created a bucolic portrait of a rooster under a leafy tree for the 2nd Annual "Pieces of Hope Art Show and Sale," Sunday at The Mark in L.A. The show features a range of one-of-a-kind mosaics - picture frames, framed mirrors, wall hangings, decorative pottery, lamps, end tables - ranging from $25 to $2,500.
Sixty percent of the proceeds are paid to the individual artist behind each featured work, while the remainder goes to supporting the ongoing work of the organization that Fernandez credits with having uncovered a talent she didn't know she had.
"In my family, practically everybody is artistic but me, or so I thought," she says in Spanish. "I had no idea I'd be good at this until I came here. Because the class and all of the materials are free I learned not only how to cope with the stress of life, but to create art that I can sell."
That's the idea.
Piece by Piece was launched in 2007 by Encino resident Sophie Alpert, an interior designer and mother of four who spent decades wracking her brain for ways to make a positive difference in the lives of people dealing with being poor in L.A. And then she visited South Africa. There, micro-enterprise agencies were providing beads and other materials free of charge to HIVpositive women. With minimal instruction, these women would create handcrafted art that the agencies could then help them sell for profit. "What they were doing, to me, was smart and simple," Alpert says. "I couldn't get it out of my head."
So, she borrowed the South African model, adapting it to the culture here. Instead of teaching people to make beaded artwork, Alpert would hire professional artists to teach the skills to create mosaics using donated and recycled materials.
Through its partnerships with other organizations - Beyond Shelter, SRO Housing, Carola Fernandez works on taking the grout out of the roses on a circular mirror that she is making. Piece by Piece is a nonprofit that teaches the homeless of Skid Row and South L.A. to create beautiful mosaic artwork. 2 of 5 ArtShare - Piece by Piece now holds three classes weekly. And its founder is looking to grow the model in other communities where there's a need.
"My initial goal was small - I thought, I'd really be happy if I helped people earn some supplemental grocery money ... and it just spiraled into beautiful, talented artists emerging, and the work becoming better ... and pricier," she says. "Suddenly it was making a huge, positive difference in peoples' lives."
The group here is a mix of men, women and children from as far away as Upland. Some, such as downtown L.A. artist Paula LeDuc, have been coming to the workshop since the beginning, while others are new. Retired L.A. Unified School District teacher Robbie Solomon was sponging grout off the fragmented stained glass-covered jar - her Mosaic artworks created by people in a program called Piece by Piece. The program is a nonprofit that teaches the homeless of Skid Row and South L.A. to create beautiful mosaic artwork.
Retired L.A. Unified School District teacher Robbie Solomon was sponging grout off the fragmented stained glass-covered jar - her second project since starting class a month ago. Her first project was a Mother Goose-themed wall hanging for a grandbaby on the way. "I didn't know I was going to like it," says the Baldwin Hills woman.
"My neighbors told me about it, and I really enjoy it because it's something I can do at home too. "It is great," she says.
For Chad Sperandeo, it's revived his career. The 40-year-old Chicago native had been working as an artist in L.A. for nearly two decades before falling on hard times. Shortly after moving into a one-bedroom apartment in Central City East (also known as Skid Row) he met up with Piece by Piece and has since become one of its rising stars.
Last year he represented the organization with his work "Piece by Piece" in the prestigious Beverly Hills Affair in the Gardens Art Show. "It was great PR," says Sperandeo, who has since exhibited his mosaics in other group shows outside of Piece by Piece. "People really like my work and so money is always trickling in here and there from it."
He's not alone. As a group, Piece by Piece artists often benefit from commissioned work. "Because the economy tanked so badly I think people really did feel like it was politically incorrect to throw a lavish party, but at the same time the people that did would call me up and say, `I want to do something to give back to the community,"' Alpert says, observing, "It's funny because there was a market for us. "We do a lot of events now," she says. "We might do little mosaic place cards at a wedding or a meaningful award to give to an organization's honoree."
In addition Alpert is always looking for "angel venues" to showcase her artists' work. A store in the San Fernando Valley recently sold on consignment a mosaic-frame mirror accented by three crystal flowers - a work by Fernandez, who buses it to the Broadway Village II Apartments for recently homeless families to attend class each Friday.
The buyer has since commissioned the artist to make another just like the original. Gently brushing grout off the crystal flowers of the reproduction, Fernandez stopped to consider the breadth of artists working around her. "If you want to stand out, you've got to do something a little different," she says, "because there is so much talent here."
--Sandra Barrera 818-713-3728 firstname.lastname@example.org
2nd Annual Pieces of Hope Art Show and Sale
What: Shop mosaic pieces created by the artists of Piece by Piece and then make your own during a free workshop that's open to the public.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Where: The Mark for Events, 9320 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles.
Information: 818-789-8102 or www. piecebypiece.org