There’s a special occasion coming up, so what do you do? Buy your dearest friend a set of cut glass goblets to celebrate his wedding? Wrap up a bottle of perfume to give to your mother on her 70th birthday? Select a stuffed toy when your sibling has her first child? How special does that feel? The goblets will end up at the back of a cupboard, the perfume will be saved for other special occasions (but how many will there be?) and I can guarantee the stuffed toy will be added to the great pile of cute animals already arranged on a high shelf in the child’s room.
Mosaics for special occasions
But a mosaic…well, mosaics are ideal for special occasions. They are hard to forget or neglect or even to squirrel away in the back of cupboard. They say that the recipient matters in just about the clearest, plainest, most eloquent language there is. You could hire a plane and write a message in the sky or build a neon sign to flash out your words but the letters will evaporate and the sign will grow rusty and malfunction, whereas as the years roll by a mosaic will quietly carry on saying it’s thing.
The thing about mosaics – maybe the thing about life – is that the way things start out is not often the way they finish. Great seeming ideas morph into other entirely different ideas. Plans alter. Decisions get shelved and new ways forward reveal themselves. So it was with this mosaic which I made for my nephew, Thomas, on the occasion of his marriage to his girlfriend, Lucy. [An aside: that beautiful shawl was made by my mother.]
I wanted to make something which was entirely personal, a bespoke mosaic, which would fit them and only them. To set their lives together in stone, to seal their happiness and their future with glue and grout and wax. The original thought was to make a personal version of the Madaba map in Jordan, which is on my list of top ten favourite mosaics. I would put in streets and houses which had relevance to the couple but knowing that this was an ambitious plan and had the potential to be a disaster, I sat down to make a scaled down version based on a village in Scotland. Continue reading →
There we all were sitting around a day or two before the wedding chatting about this and that. We might have been doing our toes at that particular juncture or pouring out another bottle of wine as we happily anticipated the Scottish-Palestinian wedding on a Greek island. When the subject of presents came up I went to get the wedding mosaic and the company (bless them) made suitably appreciative comments. Then the conversation drifted to other things and the mosaic sat there amongst us, until one friend, leaning back in his chair, said: ‘Two thousand five hundred.’
‘Two thousand five hundred pieces in the mosaic.’
A simple enough comment, but it took me aback. What a lot! I’d never thought of the mosaic making process in terms of numbers. I know making mosaics is slow work and I sit there hour after hour, day after day, often feeling that I haven’t progressed at all, but two thousand five hundred. Golly. Continue reading →
I once had a stroke of inspiration. Once. A dear friend offered to teach my son classical civilisation GCSE out of the pure goodness of her heart and refused to accept money. I knew that I could have put a gun to her head, and she wouldn’t have changed her mind so making her a mosaic as a small token of my immense thanks was my only option. So one day I sat down at my desk and within half an hour the drawing was ready. Things don’t usually work that way for me. I sweat and toil. I scrunch things up, fiddle about, flick through endless books without looking at what I’m seeing, surf the net for ideas, draw things and rub them out, getting increasingly exasperated until, after many trials and too many errors to count, I finally end up with something I can tolerate. But not this time.
It was to be a mosaic inspired by the fresco (top) of Flora, goddess of flowers and spring, from the ancient Roman villa of Ariadne. It’s one of her favourite things and I discovered it through her. I took the flowering plant, its lightness and fragility, which is very similar to a plant in the park where my friend and I walk, and came up with a sketch which I actually liked first time round. It would have been an understated mosaic that made best use (or so I hoped) of the stone’s muted colour range, particularly the whites and light greys, but then my friend announced that she was going to get married.
Well, it seems to me that you really cant get married without a wedding mosaicand unless I was going to make two mosaics, which might have been a little excessive, the fresco/park mosaic wasn’t right for this occasion. A mosaic of a couple snogging in the woods wasn’t quite the thing either, so back to my desk I went with my drawings and rubbings out and book flicking. I wanted something which was for them, which was about marriage and their life together, that was joyful but not excessively coochy-coo-ish. It was a hard one and here it is:
Leaf-hearts on border (see mosaic above from the Byzantine Museum, Thessaloniki): a very common motif in ancient Greek designs. This is Greece, they are Greek, hearts are for love. That was easy.
Pomegranates on border: pomegranates symbolise prosperity and marriage, among other things. They also symbolise death, but that’s fine too. Birth, marriage, death = stages of life.
Birds: I had to get the park in there somewhere and birds are free to fly away.
The plant. It’s one of those life things – the plant grows, life grows, you grow. You get the idea.
The birds are standing on shared, solid ground. Solid. Shared. That’s marriage.
There are few black speckles in the background. They are they because I like them for design purposes but I also like the symbolism of them in a wedding mosaic – those black spots that life, and marriage, inevitably contain.
And here is the wedding mosaicin the making:
But now I have to work out how to say thank you, really, really thank you, for all her help with the GCSE…..
(formerly Athens, Greece)
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Helen Miles Mosaics
I learnt how to make mosaics with Greek masters of the craft in Thessaloniki and Athens who taught using traditional methods with a focus on Byzantine iconography. Later, I become fixated with Roman designs and now my aim is to preserve the simplicity and directness of early mosaics while creating pieces which suit our modern lives.