Mosaic art is as old as the sand-blown cultures of Mesopotamia. But though regarded by many casual observers as a time-consuming craft, mosaics are experiencing a renaissance – not only in high-end architecture but also in the world of art.
Opening this weekend in Hampden is a new shop called Andamento – a modest space on Chestnut Avenue which will showcase the intricate designs of mosaic artisans.
Andamento is an Italian word meaning ‘movement’ or ‘course.’ It describes the flow of lines in a piece of mosaic art produced by placement of rows of materials chosen by the artist.
“Flowing lines” well describes the work of mosaic artist Gail Rosen, who (along with jewelry designer Gina Tackett), will pair her own original creations with frequent showings by guest mosaic artists at the new gallery space.
“It’s Hampden’s latest art gallery but with a very specific focus on mosaic art and some fine handcrafted jewelry,” explained Rosen. “Mosaic art is ancient, of course, dating back to before the Romans, but now there are many modern schools of mosaic. The materials range widely from the marble and stones that the Romans used, to stained glass, glass beads, broken pottery and dishes, jewelry bits, found objects; all kinds of things.”
Given the varied and exquisite designs we saw on display during a pre-opening interview, we wondered how long Rosen has been designing mosaic art.
“I was a storyteller for many years, telling the story of a holocaust survivor and working with the bereaved. But after years of loving to perform, I just didn’t want to be “on” anymore. Didn’t want to stand up in front of people, didn’t want the attention. I got into mosaics about seven years ago and just found peace. There was a lot of grief in my personal life at that time and maybe I just needed to go ‘in’ for a while. The meditative quality of the process was comforting and calming and even joyful. It was also a way to express some of what I was feeling, without talking about it or trying to explain it.
“I found I was creating more and more – much more than I had wall space at home for. People were interested in my art, so I spoke with friends who have a studio in Rockville. I wasn’t really looking for anything else, but I became aware that stained glass artist Steve Baker here in Hampden was looking to rent the front of his building. I just walked in one day and said, ‘I can do this’. It gives me the opportunity, not only to showcase my own work, but also show the work of other artists. I’m going to have a guest mosaic artist every three months and I’m booked out for a year already. People will get to see a real variety of mosaic styles.”
Does Rosen have any select pieces or a particular process she likes to employ?
“I really like playing with lines which cross space so that your brain has to fill in where the line went. I tend to take pieces and separate them. You’ll have circles that are broken, but your eye will continue them. In one piece with cats, the cat’s body is broken, as is the piece of string that the cat is playing with. In another one, the blue spirals continue and the black background to those pieces continue. But the background to that, silver star bursts, also continue. The result is you have three mosaics going inside the one piece.
“Then sometimes I get onto a theme. One such theme is a chakra series. It features the seven primary chakras in our bodies from crown to root. Each one is a representation of what inspired me. A goddess figure, perhaps. For the throat chakra, I used Bast – the Egyptian cat-headed goddess because cats purr.
“The white-on-white piece is one I really enjoyed doing. It’s great to play with the design and lines and not have the contrast of color. That has a lot of Picassiette, which is broken dishes, but also broken glass and minerals.”
We were fascinated by the mix of materials and found our eyes returning to one or two favorites, so we asked Rosen if she gravitated to any particular objects?
“I really love it all. My eye is drawn to the shiny stuff, for sure, but the difference in the textures and the stories behind the pieces intrigue me. I really like pieces that carry a history. Whenever I go to the beach, I don’t bother looking at the water. I’m always too busy peering down at the sand to see what I can find.”
Rosen told us for the grand opening of Andamento, she and Tackett are inviting people who’d like to participate in the process, to bring any small found objects that might be used in a mosaic.
“We’re hosting the entire weekend to allow flexibility in people’s schedules. We also didn’t want our friends feeling as if they were being jammed into a little space. We want people to come and see that this is a working studio – not just a gallery space.
“I also have Jane Pettit’s work on display here, and her pieces are very whimsical. She uses a lot of found objects and dimensionality. Her stuff is wacky and fun and very creative.”
With two work benches clearly visible, we asked Rosen if she ever sees herself doing classes at Andamento?
“I’m working on that idea with Maryland Mosaics – a local supply store which sells nationally. Kathy Scherr, who owns Maryland Mosaics, is going to be our guest artist from August – October. While she is here, we’ll try to do some small workshops like the ones she does in Owings Mills. We will post information for anyone who may be interested in a class on our Facebook page.”
Our conversation was interrupted by a family who saw the door open and dropped in for a quick look-see. As they were leaving, three more smiling art enthusiasts walked through the door. All marveled at the beautiful work on display and said they would return once the shop was open for business.
“In years past, I sold Judaica, as well as Christmas ornaments and children’s gifts. I never thought I’d go back to retail, but this opportunity appeared. Funny to be starting a new business adventure at 65, but here I am!”
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Andamento is located in artful Hampden at 3406 Chestnut Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland 21211. The Grand Opening Weekend happens on Friday, May 5 from 6 to 9 pm, Saturday, May 6 from noon to 8 pm and Sunday, May 6 from noon to 6 pm. Remember: Friday, May 5 is “First Friday” in Hampden, so plan on coming out and enjoying the entire neighborhood. For more information, visit Andamento.
Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A one-time newsboy for the Evening Sun and professional presence at the Washington Herald, Tony’s poetry, photography, humor, and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!, Destination Maryland, Magic Octopus Magazine, Los Angeles Post-Examiner, Voice of Baltimore, SmartCEO, Alvarez Fiction, and Tales of Blood and Roses. If you notice that his work has been purloined, please let him know. As the Good Book says, “Thou shalt not steal.”