Small glass on glass landscape mosaic by John.
At a Piece by Piece workshop, you might hear artisan John quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet. He knows most of it by heart. His sense of humor and entertaining stories keep everyone smiling. Although he expresses himself well through the vivid images of his experiences with apparent ease, he has only recently embraced sharing his story with others. In fact, in January, he publicly spoke about his experiences at the University of Southern California's Empowerment Congress Summit.
John has been attending Piece by Piece workshops since July 2015, and recently graduated to a Level 1 artisan. He has completed several mosaics--including a functioning sun dial mosaic, and continues to work on his original design ideas. With each interview, we ask a series of questions to get to know a new artist's thoughts about themselves, mosaic art and Piece by Piece. The following piece was written by John himself, and we felt he tells his own story quite well.
Work in Progress by John from a group project of a Spirit Animal Totem.
A Peaceful Piece for Piece by Piece
Trapped within the trenches of what I came to realize was a deep state of depression, I had allowed my once vigorous body to so deteriorate that it almost completely shut down due to osteoarthritis, diabetes and hypertension. Rather than attacking my heart or striking my brain, the combination of ailments had caused my legs to suddenly suffer the loss of all sensation. I called 911.
Following a 42-day long stay in the hospital, I started physical therapy at the Star Apartment Building. After having been bedridden for nearly a year as a result of two total hip replacements and an extensive back surgery, I decided to drag myself out of bed to try to take advantage of some of the many community activities available at the Star.
I ventured out, barely plodding along, to see if acupuncture treatments would be effective in helping to rehabilitate my recently repaired right middle finger. This had been my forth surgery in just over two years, I was a wreck.
It worked! I regained the flexibility in my finger and lost the pain. I also attended well-taught diabetes and hypertension workshops offered by the Star Clinic to address my chronic health concerns. I cannot overstate my gratitude with respect to the miracles of modern medicine. As of the date of this writing I continue to recover nicely from the neurological and orthopedic procedures.
On July 8, 2015, during a physical therapy session that included a few laps around the second-floor exercise track, I stopped and talked to Luz [Piece by Piece instructor] and Jose [Piece by Piece teaching assistant] who were inspecting a large piece of beautiful mosaic art. After a delightfully funny, interesting conversation in Spanish, I asked how one could learn to create such fine things. Luz pointed to Leigh and said, “Ask her.”
Offering a very warm and friendly greeting, the colorful Leigh [Piece by Piece instructor] handed me a blank sheet of sketch pad paper and a yellow #2 pencil with a red eraser top and told me to, “Draw something.”
With a clear vision in my mind of a Macaw I had seen in the Floresta da Tijuca rainforest above Rio de Janiero, Brazil, I began sketching. Not liking my first pencil stroke, I started to erase it. Leigh grabbed the pencil from my hand and replaced it with an eraser-less one.
I resumed, and to my amazement it actually looked like that bird. That day I learned that if I can recall it from memory, I can recreate it in art. “Somebody can draw,” exclaimed Leigh!
I next met Bea [Piece by Piece assistant instructor], who happened to be celebrating her birthday that day. She and Leigh were conducting a community mosaic class and asked me to become a member. I did. They invited me to join them for a sandwich lunch with Julie [Piece by Piece instructor] who informed me that there was a beginning mosaic class every Wednesday. I showed up, met the instructors Betty and Tracey and have been a piece of Piece by Piece ever since.
My favorite piece was my first, a simple landscape inspired by a trip to the Great Pyramids of Giza. It felt like a gift, a gift of previously undiscovered talent. It was easy, it was natural, it was… right. I heard no words of criticism, suffered no judgement, experienced no pressure, I had no fear of getting it wrong.
John's first mosaic piece.
My next mosaic portrayal was personal. My name, my identification, my school colors; were symbolic representations of the excellent education I had been exposed to on my way to earning a Bachelor of Arts Degree, in Drama.
John's second piece, the initial J, from Betty Rosen's Beginning Mosaic Workshop
I recently had the pleasure of completing my artist’s certification examination with Program Director Dawn Mendelson. I reminded her that, on the day we met, I had thanked her and Luz for being the “Dawn and the Light” that had broken my dull old depression into vibrant and beautiful tesserae.
“Piece by Piece” I’ve grown more confident, more personable, more trusting and more willing to associate with like-minded people.
The association with Piece by Piece has revived my sense of creativity. It has given me a sense of optimism, a sense of joy, a freedom, a sense of achievement and a reason for being. I have been enlightened to the point where I’m willing to identify, improve, and hopefully eliminate any debilitating character defects that continue to affect my life.
What I like about Piece by Piece is the attraction of endless variety, the high degree of abstraction, the invitation to boundless imagination, but most of all, the incredible beauty of the Piece by Piece people.
John worked on a community project for Taylor Yard. Youth from the area created drawings of pollinators and Piece by Piece artists interpreted them into mosaic. Here is John's rendition of a young artist's bee.
I have no doubt that I will be a mosaic artist for the rest of my life. I am determined to learn more about stained glass and three-dimensional mosaic based pieces. I would love to own a big bag full of diamonds, rubies, pearls, emeralds and a myriad of colorful precious jewels to use as tesserae. Failing that, I’ll be happy to settle for the shiny glass and classic ceramics I am becoming so familiar with in the workshops.
The inspiration for my best piece so far, an Equatorial Sundial of Stained Glass Presented on a Solar Calendar, can be directly attributed to all of that education, the travels, the places I’ve lived, the sights I’ve seen, sounds I’ve heard, and people I’ve known, in short, the memories that are the story of my life.
Equatorial Sundial of Stained Glass Presented on a Solar Calendar by John (sundial insert information not shown)
I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited many of the great museums in the world: the Louvre in Paris and the Royal Palace Versailles in France; the Rijksmuseum, Ann Frank House, Rembrandt House and the Van Gogh Museums in Amsterdam; the Cairo Museums and the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, the Valley of Kings, Luxor, Thebes, Alexandria and Giza in Egypt; sacred Tai-Shan Mountain, the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Beijing Opera; the Smithsonian, the Met, the Guggenheim.
The Getty, the Natural History, Afro-American History, Space Exploration Museums and Rose Garden at Exposition Park, the L.A. County Museum of Art and Museum of Contemporary Art, the La Brea Tar Pits, the Arcadia Arboretum and Griffith Observatory are all within or nearby my hometown of Los Angeles, Hearst Castle lies within a two hour drive north, Disneyland, an hour’s drive south. Over the years, I’ve seen them all.
John speaking at Empowerment Congress Summit.
I’ve viewed the Aztec Ruins in Mexico; run the 26 miles from Marathon to Athens, seen the Parthenon on Acropolis; the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey; the royal blue and gold Palace of King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden. I’ve witnessed the Northern Lights, the Southern Cross, and the Midnight Sun.
I’ve lived in the mountains where the sun rises, and at the beach where it sets. As a child, I raised cows and the crops to feed them in ferocious desert heat, always making sure that the livestock had plenty of water. The long annual trips to my grandfather’s farm in Thermal, CA where I spent all of my summers irrigating a seemingly endless assortment of crops barefooted in the sand, spawned my wanderlust.
If I were to die tomorrow, I will have lived a great life.
My only regret would be that the same personal neglect that led to my physical maladies has put me in the unenviable position of having embarrassingly little tangible evidence to leave as a legacy for the rich life experience with which I have been so generously blessed.
I once heard the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. say that, “The tiny light from a single match will challenge a roomful of darkness.”
Thanks to what has become available to me through Piece by Piece that little match of mine has burst into flames. I have a renewed desire to explore, to do more, to see more… to be more. This is what drives me, it’s what gets me up in the morning these days. I’ve found a talent that gives me a reason for being. My fear is dead, my depression vanquished, my hope has been restored.
Broken pieces of glass, like memories in one’s mind are intrinsically worthless. They become valuable only when recombined into something useful. I am gleefully reassembling the shattered fragments of my yesterday’s good life, transforming them into new and beautiful, real and touchable treasures.
Was I subconsciously drawn to all of these fabulous places for a reason? Was I allowed to do so many wonderful things in order to develop a useful pool of knowledge and to give rise to a deep wellspring of creativity in the event that someday, somehow I would come to appreciate that I was predetermined to convey my splendid life’s journey via the ancient medium of mosaic art?
I certainly hope so; it’s really been great so far.
Thank you Piece by Piece. Peace.
Hear John speak about his experiences here.