Pictured above: Bonnie Fitzgerald with Heavenly Waters
Virginia-based Bonnie Fitzgerald has been dedicated to creating and teaching mosaics since the mid 2000s. The concept of ‘wanderlust’ perfectly describes her artistic journey and she writes about it all here.
By Bonnie Fitzgerald
“Someone with wanderlust will stay curious, revel in human connection, cultivate creativity, explore the natural world, and live deeply. Creativity is an essential part of wanderlust.”
This definition of wanderlust so aptly describes how my body of artwork has developed. I have wandered through many art forms, mediums, and themes. With a fondness for clay and, of course, mosaics in all forms, I tell stories of my wanderings, make statements about what I see, and encourage others to wander with wonder.
The only daughter of factory-working parents in the suburbs of Philadelphia, our family did not go to museums. As a girl, I had no idea what fine art was, much less the art of mosaics. I was encouraged to graduate from high school, get a secretarial job, and find a husband. I did get that job and quickly learned that others doing the exact same work at the company were paid more money because they had college under their belt. Between that, enough cold winters in Pennsylvania and the fact that Mr Right had not yet materialized, I decided to go to college… someplace warm. During the very first week at my small, liberal arts school in Florida, I wandered into the clay studio and knew I was home. The professor who taught sculpture also made architectural mosaics and, little did I know at the time, we were using Mexican smalti.
Then came a 20-year detour – a career in the television business took me first to Hollywood and then to Washington, DC. The field taught me countless business skills, storytelling and the technical side of filmmaking. During that time, I did find my husband – Ken – who has encouraged my creative pursuits unconditionally for over 33 years.
In 2004, the internet was new. I still wonder how an online call for volunteers made it to me. The Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA) conference was coming to DC and they needed help. Bonnie bossy-pants left that first meeting and immediately contacted the then-president of SAMA Susan Jeffries. This well-meaning, all-volunteer organization needed on-the-ground leadership if a successful conference were to happen. I became their first paid conference coordinator. Little did I know that opportunity would propel me into the mosaic world in unimaginable ways. Wandering into the art exhibition, alone before it was open to the public, was a spiritual experience. Seeing breathtaking mosaic artworks by Ilana Shafir, Eric Rattan, Emma Biggs, Sonia King and so many other talented artists blew my mind. It was a whole new world.
Serving as a SAMA Executive Board of Trustees member for several years and transitioning from my television career to making my living from other creative pursuits became my way of life. I took lots of workshops and honed my craft. My garage studio saw 50 kids every summer for mosaic art camps, parents started wanting to take workshops. And, eventually, I opened a commercial space offering mosaic classes and fabricating custom mosaic artworks. Maverick Mosaics Art School and Studio hosted more than 30 different visiting artists and over 1,200 students in just four years. My first visiting artist was Ilana Shafir and my last was Gila Rayberg. Groupon allowed us to share the joy of mosaics with over 1,000 “newbies” and, to this day, some of those folks are still making mosaics! But running the business became exhausting and I was losing my sense of wonder. Sometimes we have to shut one door before opening a new one. I closed my commercial studio with mixed emotions knowing I would wander my way into something else.
Not yet done unpacking from the studio move, a new door opened. At a yoga class, a very nice man introduced himself saying, “I’m Rene and I put together international field trips for schools. You are a school?” We had a coffee and he asked me if I would like to go to France. And here we are, ten trips later. Together, we host international art-filled travel trips. My husband and I are “educ-tainment”; we decide where we want to go and what we want to see while Rene handles all of the logistics with an insider’s eye. He too is a wanderer. I have shared unbelievable experiences with art lovers. Teaching a picassiette workshop to my travelers in Chartres, France, I distinctly recall looking up with wonder and thinking, yep, there is a higher being! We took groups to the Vatican Mosaic Studio and we’ve visited the treasures of Ravenna, the factories of Venice, and castles and museums in Spain, Ireland, and Slovenia. The two-year Covid hiatus fueled our imaginations. More trips are on the calendar.
One of my favorite places to host workshops is Hacienda Mosaico in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico. Every winter, I lead a workshop on architectural installations and community projects. I became quite proficient with installations over the years. Teaching mosaics is not usually a lucrative pursuit and I simultaneously pursued commission work and artist residencies as part of my creative existence. I share that knowledge in the five-day workshop, creating and leaving behind an installation. Some of my favorite works live at the Hacienda.
A longtime interest of mine is to educate and promote an appreciation of community and public art to the “next generation.” I developed the Maverick Legacy program, working with public school art teachers and, over a ten-year period, spearheaded a variety of clay and mosaic large-scale “legacy” works in several regional schools. I am currently developing an online learning center called Make it Mosaic Online to further promote legacy programs. My goal is to build sustainability of the art form by recruiting younger artists and helping primary school teachers integrate mosaics into their curriculums, and spearheading community projects. The courses build on the Make it Mosaics YouTube Channel that I developed with artist and friend Kim Wozniak. Our information-packed channel has over 1.5 million views of our 60+ videos.
I’ve had one more notable pinch-me moment, as life-altering as meeting my husband or heeding that call for volunteers. A colleague introduced me to the Smithsonian Institution’s Studio Arts Department and, since 2014, I have been the exclusive instructor of Contemporary Mosaics, which is an honor and a privilege. I am able to present mosaics to a whole new audience. And, thanks to Covid and the Smithsonian’s streaming service, that audience has greatly expanded to many corners of the globe.
Mosaics have introduced me to countless talented artists and some of my most rewarding friendships. Years of mosaic experience qualified me as a bona fide author – of two books! Mosaics have also allowed me to travel the world. I am grateful for all of the work in its various forms and wonder what mosaics will deliver next.
Bonnie Fitzgerald’s mosaic books are available from mosaic suppliers and Amazon.
Introducing Bonnie’s new course…
Technical tips from Bonnie
- When planning an architectural installation I NEVER trust anyone’s measurements. I visit the job site and take my own detailed measurements.
- A proportion wheel is an important tool if you are scaling up a design. Use the wheel to resize an image and maintain proportions. They’re available where architectural drawing and design tools are sold.
- Always be mindful that all of the materials you are using for exterior work are rated for the climate where the artwork will live (tesserae, substrate, and adhesive). Many a material cannot withstand freeze/thaw cycles.