Pictured above: Gold Rush
Rhona Duffy talks to Pam Givens about her journey to mosaics, her inspirations and how she set up not one, but two, artist membership organizations.
BY RHONA DUFFY
What led you to mosaics?
I was born in Denver and grew up in Southern California. My entrepreneurial parents were both artists and my brother is a published artist and art educator. So I was around art and artists from day one. My parents were involved in the mosaic art movement of the ‘60s and early ‘70s and they opened a retail store called “Mosaic Alcove” in Southern California. In my teen years, I was around mosaics as my parents built their business. My dad created some wonderful designs, and they took commissions. My mom made mosaic kits to sell, ran the store, held classes, and wrote a weekly art column for the local newspaper. I was often in charge of cleaning up, stocking the shelves, and working on the backgrounds of the commission pieces. I liked the art, the wonderful materials, colors, designs and techniques. Once they sold the store and moved on to their next adventure, I did too.
I graduated from high school, started college, dropped out and had a variety of jobs. I married when I was in my late 20s and I had two terrific boys (now terrific adults). During their childhood, I went back to university to study psychology and then sat for my boards and license (because I knew a time would come when I would need to take care of the boys and me). I divorced and moved to Northern California where I met my husband Max. I established a private practice and worked in several rural schools for about 25 years. That was both a wonderful and challenging time of my life. When my boys went out on their own, I was looking for something to do in my spare time and I remembered how much I had enjoyed mosaic art. I found books about mosaics, by Martin Cheek, Sonia King, Bonnie Fitzgerald, Elaine Goodman and many more, and I started the quest to figure out how I could learn more about this ancient art form, and what it would take for me to learn how to create beautiful art out of ancient and contemporary material.
Above left: Whispering & Screaming. Right: Lightening
Early on, I found a wonderful “once in a lifetime opportunity”. Max told me, “if it’s once in a lifetime, you better take it”. So I took it. A three-week study abroad trip with Martin Cheek; one week in Venice and two in Greece. It was a very big adventure for me. My heart, my senses and my mind were open to so many new and wonderful sights and experiences that I could barely take in. It was all so new to me; traveling in Europe for the first time on my own, being with a group of artists, some professional, some fairly new to mosaics as I was, and visiting new inspiring places every day. Looking back now, I can see that I was pretty overwhelmed during that trip, with all my senses on overload, and while I often wish I could have that experience now, I realize that all those images, people and the intensity of emotions, are what has directed me to this place in my life. That started my desire for more instruction. I attended Orsoni’s Master in Mosaic course, spent two weeks with Luciana Notturni, studied with Lynn Moor, took a couple of classes through the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA) and took classes with Giulio Menossi.
What are some of the highlights of your journey?
In 2008, I started an international website exclusively for mosaic artists called Contemporary Mosaic Art (CMA). It grew quickly with artists from across the globe. One of the artists who joined right away was Giulio Menossi. In the summer of 2008, Max and I had the privilege of spending five weeks in Venice, Italy, and during that time we visited Udine, Italy, to meet Giulio and his family. He expressed his desire to open up his studio and techniques to others and to offer some classes in Udine, and he hoped I could help him make that happen. I love projects: so, projects, working with an amazing mosaic artist, mosaic, and being in Italy, it all fell into place. When I asked CMA members if they were interested in attending a class with Giulio, I had no trouble finding participants. He held his first class in 2009, in his studio in Udine. In 2012, I enjoyed being part of the team to curate the first mosaic art exhibition in Clauiano, Italy, featuring invited artists from the Contemporary Mosaic Art Website. That was the first time many mosaic artists had international exposure. The rest is history. Another major highlight for me was working with John (Solly) Sollinger on the CMA summits we offered in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Held in Ashland Oregon, eager participants came from all over the world to enjoy these excellent gatherings.
Who and what inspires you in your mosaic art?
Ancient mosaics, other artists’ work, colors, shapes, designs, and materials inspire and challenge me. Max is a ceramic artist and we often visit galleries, ancient and contemporary museums, and I’m inspired by those shapes, designs and techniques. I love reliefs and I find much inspiration in architecture.
What type of materials do you enjoy working with?
Marble, smalti, stone, slate, rocks and found pebbles. I enjoy using beautiful material on destressed substrates. In a recent course I took in Venice, at the Artefact Mosaic Studio, I enjoyed experimenting with a variety of materials besides marble and smalti and I learned a new technique. I will continue with this technique and hopefully spend a bit more time in that studio with Alessandra and Romuald.
What advice would you give to people starting their mosaic or glass art journeys?
I would tell them, if asked, to learn the basics so they’ll know when they’re breaking the traditional rules. I think this helps artists find their own unique style. I’d also encourage them to join CMA2. I’d be tempted to encourage them to study with the wonderful instructors I’ve enjoyed, but that isn’t the path for everyone. However, I would encourage them to take live courses and not just use YouTube or books for instruction.
Can you tell us a little bit more about CMA – and subsequently Ceramic and Mosaic Art 2 (CMA2) – the membership organisations that you founded and the benefits to members?
During the fall of 2020, several mosaic artists friends – John Sollinger, Patty Chapman and Bonnie Fitzgerald – suggested I should start up CMA again. I think people were looking for a safe place to gather again since we were all feeling pretty isolated because of Covid-19. So Ceramic and Mosaic Art 2 (CMA2) happened in November 2020. It’s solely run by volunteers, including me. The volunteers put together terrific events for members and, since there isn’t a charge for membership, these events are a very rich benefit. Members enjoy monthly speakers, chat times with specific topics, presentations from members who work on community art, exhibitions (members, themed and juried), live online workshops by member instructors, solo exhibition opportunities and much more. It’s free of advertising, political debates or promotions, and the discussions and gallery are easy to use. Members can have discussions about art, post their art in a growing gallery, talk to each other and explore all options for their art. It’s a wonderful community.
What’s keeping you busy at the moment and what plans do you have next?
I occasionally create websites for artists, which I love to do. I’ve had the pleasure of creating websites for mosaic arts, fabric artists, painters and ceramic artists. I enjoy working with each one and becoming familiar with their art. In the spring, we’ll be busy landscaping our backyard and, in the fall, we’ll spend a month in Venice, Italy, soaking up the art, ceramics in Faenza and mosaics. I also love to read, and I spend quite a lot of time on the CMA2 website and in my studio. Oh, and we have a very demanding cat, Luna.