“Save the pieces!!”

My first mosaic table

…my mother would call out to my brother and I whenever we were making a lot of noise, which was most of the time.

Every night after supper we did the dishes together, me with my hands submersed in warm soapy water nearly up to my armpits, he working a drenched dish towel over pale green Melmac plates, while we discussed things I can no longer recall.  Thankfully those plates were indestructible, since they often crashed to the floor.  But that wasn’t the point.  If anything were to be broken we knew to save the pieces, though we had no idea what for.

It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered quite accidentally, a use for these potential casualties of the kitchen.  While visiting one of those little studios that sells unglazed ceramic pieces which you can paint and then are glazed for you, I noticed a large box of broken pottery.  Evidently, accidents occur inside the kiln from time to time resulting in many broken items, so instead of throwing them away the studio saved the broken pieces and found a way to make a profit from a loss by running a “How to do Mosaics” class.  I signed up and got my first taste of this ancient art.  I was hooked.

Very little skill is involved in the beginning.  In fact safety is a more pressing concern, with broken tile or ceramic, glass dust from shattered glaze, and chemicals in the bonding and grouting material posing some health risks.  But with care and attention, an appropriate workspace,  and a lot of patience, anyone can do it.  Small projects like a flowerpot or trivet may be finished in a weekend, while larger projects like a table or large mirror can take several months to complete.

In these times, when it’s more costly to fix something than buy a new one, the idea of taking something broken and creating from it something beautiful, something useful, something wanted, was and still is incredibly alluring to me.  At the same time, there is the notion of creating order from chaos, taking a random collection of items, and organizing them into something that makes sense.  It is both of these qualities that make creating mosaics such a creatively therapeutic pastime.

So whenever someone tells me of a cherished teacup or dinner plate that has been broken, I ask them to save the pieces for me… for surely something beautiful can be made from them.

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