Ellen Dinerman: My Piece by Piece Story

By Ellen Dinerman, Mosaic Artists and Piece by Piece Instructor

In February 2020 I visited Piece by Piece for the first time at, what was then, their studio space located at the STAR Apartments. Artistic Director, Dawn Mendelson showed me around and we talked about teaching a class on micro-mosaic scheduled for May 2020. As we all know now, February 2020 was an ominous moment in time; only a couple of weeks later the country and world would shut down. During that time I had taught art and other subjects at a small elementary school in Pasadena, where I had worked for 26 years. Imagine teaching 5 and 6 and 7 year olds on zoom during the pandemic! Keeping a sense of humor was critical! Unfortunately, in June 2020 the school closed permanently. 

During my time at the school I had gotten interested in mosaics and really enjoyed it. As their teacher, I supported the children’s artistic journey as they created designs and built mosaics using actual tile and thinset. They created 4 mosaic murals and one freestanding sculpture. In my own art-making practice I was incorporating mosaic into jewelry designs.

Mosaic made with Ellen's elementary school students.

Mosaic made by Ellen's elementary students

While I was learning how to teach young students over zoom,  Piece by Piece was also shifting to online learning. Dawn reached out to me to see if I wanted to teach at Piece by Piece.  I was happy to use my fresh zoom skills and my love of mosaics to assist with the online classes.  

As this whole teaching mosaic arts during a pandemic was new to us, we planned as we went. I began learning about the organization and the folks themselves. Over time we fell into a rhythm and it was exciting to see what the artists  created at home. 

Flash ahead to just over two years later,  I was extremely happy to visit Piece by Piece in their new, fabulous  permanent home and studio at Broadway Village. There was so much activity getting the new space ready, many people were helping with unpacking, setting up, and getting things in place. In the midst of the chaos that is moving, Dawn looked at me with a smile and said, “Let’s do a soft open…in 2 days!”  I’m not exactly sure how, but we did just that! 

I had students taking my classes for over two years, but I was just now meeting June, James, Kim, Vickie, John and Carol in person for the first time, and it was a thrill! We knew each other from zoom very well in some ways, but had never met in person! It really felt like meeting old friends. 

In another twist of fate, I had met  Piece by Piece’s lead Social Enterprise Manager, Luz Mack, six or seven years ago while participating in a show in Altadena. She connected me to mosaic artist Mireille Swinnon, whom I went on to study with.  Now Luz and I were also working together! 

Ellen Dinerman

Mosaic Artists and Instructor, Ellen Dinerman

In so many ways Piece by Piece has been a bright spot for me during the pandemic. I feel honored to be involved with this organization! For those of you who have been in my classes thank you for making them special. For those who haven’t taken my class, I encourage you to come give it a try if you meet the attendance requirements. If you don’t meet those guidelines, you are still welcome to come take a tour, volunteer or shop our artists’ work. 

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