Finding peace and purpose in art

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Pictured above: Beach art by Anne Marie Price

Through mosaic, Anne Marie Price finds peace, purpose and a way to express her truth. Rhona Duffy talks to Anne Marie about her journey and asks her about what drives and challenges her creations. 

By Rhona Duffy

Anne Marie Price’s first taste of mosaic came while at high school in Wisconsin, USA, where she grew up. “Our teacher told us we could create anything we wanted,” she says. “I chose to make a mosaic on an old window. It’s so interesting to me now that, out of everything I could have chosen to have done, I chose a stained-glass-on-glass mosaic! No one else in the class did anything like that. I have always loved stained glass as well as collecting rocks and other little pieces of things. And I loved the idea that you could take a bunch of little things and put them together to create a picture. I don’t think that there’s any direction that I could have gone but this one.”

For several years, Anne Marie dabbled in mosaic while she raised her two children as a single mom. “When I got my first computer, that’s when my interest in mosaic got stronger, as I was able to see what was going on all around the world and connect with other mosaic artists in internet chat groups,” she continues. “I made friends then who are still my friends now. For the first time in my life, I was able to connect with others who shared my passion. The mosaic community is just incredible – empathetic and helpful. I witnessed the wonderful love and support that poured out for fellow artist Robin Brett when she became ill and sadly passed away.” 

Above: Onshore Annie by Anne Marie Price.

In 2011, Anne Marie moved her family to Southern California and began focusing full-time on her career as an artist. It was a positive move and she got involved with mosaic projects around the world and was invited to take part in nationwide exhibitions. 

Then came a pivotal moment for Anne Marie – she was awarded the 2014 Robin Brett Scholarship from the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA), a scholarship programme that was named in honour of Robin’s dedication to the mosaic art community and her belief that the future of the medium was through expanded educational opportunities for artists. Winning this scholarship was so important to Anne Marie that she sees her career as “pre-scholarship” and “post-scholarship”.

“I was one of those people who was always discouraged from being an artist. People in my life told me I wouldn’t be able to make a living from art and that it was just a hobby. So when I received that scholarship from my peers, it was the first time that I was able to say to myself: ‘Wow, I am an artist – and others have seen that in me too.’ I’ve never looked back since then.”

Above clockwise from left: Sea Turtle by Anne Marie Price. Confluence by Anne Marie Price. Mosaic surfboard created by Anne Marie Price for the “Art in Embassies” programme in Muscat, Oman.

Up to that point, Anne Marie had been self-taught and had learned by studying others’ art. But now she was able to take some classes with established mosaic artists. “Because I’m a good budgeter, I was able to take three classes with the scholarship money. The amount of knowledge that Sonia King has about ancient mosaics is simply incredible – it was such a treat to meet her, take a class with her, and soak in all her wisdom. 

“Another class I took was with Kim Larson about exterior mosaic installations. One of the things she taught me was how to create spontaneously because, if you’re out on a job, a client might want to change things up or add something new. It was a practice in creativity. It’s been a useful lesson to me at many times in my life about not overthinking, and just getting on with creating.”

Remembering this helps Anne Marie in moments when she gets stuck creatively. “I’ll just take a blank piece of paper and start sketching. Or with mosaic, I’ll take a piece, glue it down and see where it goes from there. I don’t think anyone should ever stop learning and we should always keep practising our creativity.”

Above: John Lennon by Anne Marie Price

Another positive outcome of Anne Marie’s scholarship experience was that she developed the confidence to begin to teach mosaics to others too. “That too was monumental for me,” she continues. “Because I was on the other side of it now – I wasn’t just learning, I was teaching too. The beautiful thing about teaching is that you’re still learning because you’re now seeing mosaic art through the eyes of others too. It’s infectious to be around my students! All I want to do after teaching a class is to go home and create something myself.” Anne Marie now regularly teaches classes in Southern California and she has two courses on Mosaic Arts Online – ‘Mosaic a Surfboard’ and ‘Mosaic on Stone’.

Fascinated by genealogy, Anne Marie says she’s in a constant search about where she comes from and who she is. “You figure out things about who you are from your ancestors,” she says. “I’m exploring my family tree at the moment and I find it fascinating to try to connect the dots in that way. So far, I’ve been able to get back to 1475 in Switzerland.” 

With Irish heritage, visiting Ireland has long been on her wish list and she jumped at the opportunity to do a residency at Olive Stack’s Gallery in Listowel in Ireland, in 2019. “Dawn Mendelson, an awesome mosaic artist friend, and I went together. I encourage everyone to get out of America – or wherever they live – and to travel and see the world! Being in a different place like that, there’s just a different flow and vibe, and I really enjoyed it. I needed to do that so much. I was raised on the Irish side of my family so there were many familiar things. I grew up in dairyland country in the US, and I was in a dairyland part of Ireland, so I understood why my ancestors moved to Wisconsin – because it felt the same.”

Anne Marie’s intrigue in people and human behaviour is a big source of inspiration in her art. “That’s why I created icons like John Lennon and Frida Kahlo because I’m fascinated by how these individuals found a way to connect with so many people. Even after they’re gone, they still connect with people.” 

Above l-r: Pelican by Anne Marie Price. Anne Marie Price in her studio (photo by Sandy Wood). Her art has been featured on a vodka bottle.

She is also known for her temporary mosaic beach art, which she regularly creates on the beaches of Southern California. “I love to hang out on the beach while my boyfriend surfs. Years ago, while beachcombing, my learnings from Kim Larson’s class came back to me – what could I come up with while I was spending time here on the beach? There were all these broken shells, little tesserae waiting to be assembled. And I started to notice plastic on the beach too, which I and others would normally just walk by. So I thought that if I assembled it into art, then people might stop and realise just how much plastic was getting into our oceans. They did. People were amazed – they were like, ‘that’s horrible, but that’s beautiful’. It was good they saw it because it shows how things can become normalised even though they’re not normal.”

For the first time in her life, Anne Marie is having issues with tennis elbow, so she’s been resting her arm and painting with acrylics or making small mosaics on rocks. “I’ve always been very conscious of working with good form. Artist friends cautioned me about that many times, to make sure you take care of yourself so that you can continue to do what you love. But here I am. Not being able to properly create mosaics for the first time in 19 years has been alarming, but I know that if I don’t rest it, then it won’t get better.”

Above: Lotus Mosaic on Stone by Anne Marie Price.

She has also recently turned 50. “I didn’t expect to be so reflective on my life when I reached this age,” she says. Asked what advice she’d give others starting their mosaic art careers, Anne Marie says, “I think if I could tell my younger self anything, it would be to relax – if you’re frantically worried about things, it makes things tortuous. I’d also say to research, figure things out and plan, but with the knowledge that you may end up down a slightly different path than you’d intended and that will be ok.”

Originally, Anne Marie wanted to work on big mosaic installations, and it took her time researching and doing that type of work to realise that it wasn’t the right path for her. “The way my mind works means that I like to work intensely on small pieces and move on or else I start to lose the reason I started it,” she says. “There will be lots of people giving you advice on what you should do and how to do it – while it’s wonderful to get that insight, you don’t have to do it exactly like that. But what you can do is use that information to help make your own decisions and create your own unique path. And make sure you enjoy and celebrate that path.”

Technical Tips

Anne Marie shares some tips on grouting, planning and tools for stained glass mosaics: 

  1. When using grout, learn to appreciate all the parts of the process. I often hear people stomp their feet about the grouting process and, while I agree it can be mundane and nerve-wracking at times, it is an intricate part of the whole and, to me, grout lines and the grouting process are as important as the tesserae in a completed mosaic done in this style. Learn to go slow and calculated in a way. Think of it as the icing on the cake. You don’t just slap icing on a cake… you go slow and make it look nice. It’s the same with grout. Change the way you think about it and I promise you will enjoy it more and do better at it.”
  2. If you want to be really precise, consider drawing out your grout lines. I sometimes do this, but they’re never “written in stone”. If I need to, I change it up and don’t follow it exactly. 
  3. Be prepared to bend and change your mind as you go through the process of mosaic. As you put down tesserae, sometimes it’s easier to really see if something is working or not while you’re in the process. I sometimes joke that my sketch is merely an idea of what I want to do. 
  4. Practice if you want to improve your cutting skills. It applies to any new skill – you have to practice to get better. My main tools for working with stained glass are my glass scorer, wheeled nippers and a little metal spatula that I used to move tesserae around or clean up adhesive as I go. I also have an electric glass grinder on hand for bigger projects, to help with shaping my glass on particular pieces. I’ve occasionally used a glass grinder with Smalti or ceramics but it’s not a “need” with those kinds of tesserae in my book. 

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