Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Laurel True, World-Traveling Mosaic Artist, Tells Her Story

Ive been an artist my entire life. I was born in 1968 in Ann Arbor, Michigan; my ancestry is French and Irish. I grew up near Chicago. I was a very creative kid and felt very out of place in my suburban hometown. At an early age I began educating myself about other cultures and places. I enrolled in fashion school in New York, visited Europe on a school trip and fundraised for and participated in community service projects in West Africa as a teenager.

I went to University and studied African art and textiles and fashion design. I did not want to go to art school for some reason, preferring to learn through experimentation and apprenticeships.

Paradise, Laurel True 2010,San Francisco, Photo: Russ Osterweil

I found my way to working with mosaics 25 years ago though a magical door in Philadelphia. On the other side of that cosmic door was artist Isaiah Zagar, who became my beloved mentor and taught me everything he knew”… and I never turned back.

When I worked with Isaiah, we worked on very large projects, on scaffolding, on the street and in public places. One of the many things I learned from Isaiah was a no-fear approach to mosaic making. We covered a lot of space in short periods of time and I took that efficiency and speed into my own practice ... along with the use of lots of mirror.

I continued to create architectural projects over the next two decades, starting my own company, True Mosaics Studio. Through my studio I created architectural mosaics for public, commercial and residential spaces. I also made smaller-scale work I showed in solo and group exhibits. I started teaching mosaic techniques in 1993 in Madison, Wisconsin and have been teaching and lecturing ever since, which I love. I am so proud of my students and mentees and feel so great when I see what they create in the world.

Black Necked Swan, Laurel True 2014, Urban Mosaic Intervention, Chile

Travel has always been in my blood, and any chance I could go, I went. I figured out how to combine travel, teaching and making art, and that makes up a significant part of my life. I have facilitated projects all over the US, in East and West Africa, Europe, Latin America and Haiti. I was based in the Bay Area for 15 years, where I created a large body of public work.

In 2004 I was at a crossroads, trying to decide if I should move to New Orleans, a city I had fallen in love with and where I was already teaching and visiting often, or opening a mosaic school in Oakland. My teaching practice had grown so much that I was outgrowing my studio, and bringing in other instructors to offer workshops on the weekends when I wasn't teaching. 

In January of 2005 I co-founded the Institute of Mosaic Art (IMA) with one of my best friends and fellow renegades and we made the move from my studio to a giant, blighted building down the street, which we tricked out with tons of paint and mosaics with the help of many, many amazing people. It was like a giant community project.

IMA officially opened its doors in June of 2005 with three classrooms, two exhibition spaces, a retail store, library and urban sculpture garden and this became a giant, important part of my life for the next 5 years.  It was a massive amount of work but it provided a much-needed space for the growing mosaic community and was the first-of-its-kind mosaic education and resource center in the US. 

Mosaic art was gaining popularity and IMA was an important hub for many artists and enthusiasts as well as a springboard for community development in the Jingletown neighborhood where we were located.

We had students and visitors coming from all parts of the globe. We opened on less than a shoestring, but we had tons of creative capital and we used it. I had my production studio in the building and continued to create commissioned projects with the help of production assistants and apprentices.

My business partner and I passed the baton for IMA in 2010, and it was, and continues to be, in good hands with new ownership. IMA now lives in Berkeley, CA and they still offer an amazing array of workshops, classes, resources and exhibits. I love being a Visiting Instructor there.

Tropical Flowers Mural, Laurel True / True Mosaics Studio  2011, Mirebalais Hospital, Haiti

I had been sharing time between Oakland and New Orleans during the IMA years and after the changing of the guard in 2010 I moved my base of operations to New Orleans, where I live and maintain a studio today.

The year 2010 was also the year of the devastating earthquake in Haiti.
A few months after the earthquake I was connected to a non-profit youth arts organization in Jacmel, Haiti through a colleague. In June of 2010 I walked through another important life portal and found myself deeply involved in community development through art in Haiti, which continues today. I traveled with a friend and former student to the seaside town of Jacmel, which is a cultural and artistic hub in Haiti.

We worked with Art Creation Foundation For Children, a wonderful organization offering social services and art education to youth in desperately poor situations. During my first of what was to be many trips, we created a Tree of Life mosaic mural as a memorial to the lives lost in the earthquake.

I worked with youth teaching basic mosaic-making processes and then began to help develop their skills in mosaic mural making and professional development training in the arts. These kids have grown into young adults now and as I work alongside them on certain projects, I am filled with an indescribable sense of love and pride. They are simply amazing. They have grown into talented mosaic artists and the city of Jacmel is now covered with more than 30 of their music murals and benches.

Tree of Life and Jacmel Memorial Mosaic Wall, Laurel True with Art Creation Foundation For Children 2010 Assistance by Erin Rogers, Jacmel, Haiti

On the way home from that very first trip to Haiti, my friend and I were bumped up to first class by a flight attendant who knew about the work we had been doing.

Through a stroke of luck - or fate - we sat next to a man who introduced us to Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of the public health organization Partners In Health, who was also on our flight. Dr. Farmer invited me to work with PIH in a new hospital they were building in the central valley of Haiti in the town of Mirebalais. Over the next two years I designed and created, with the help of a team of Haitian men I trained and visiting artists from the States, a series of mosaic murals and seating areas for Mirebalais Hospital.

I loved working with Partners In Health, on the construction site and with my amazing team, who I came to love very much.

In 2012 I designed and facilitated the creation of a series of mosaic enhancements and murals that covered the interior of the pediatric ward of the hospital. I worked with school children in Haiti and in the US, basing many of the designs on their drawings, and recruited the help of over 100 of my former students at IMA and colleagues across the country to create elements for the project and assist with the fundraising. I am still involved with PIH and am so proud to have been a part of that project. 


Students in front of Jacmel Memorial Mosaic Wall, Laurel True with Art Creation Foundation For Children 2011, Jacmel, Haiti

I have worked with several other organizations in Haiti, teaching, training and creating mosaic murals with communities. Mosaic has proliferated in Haiti and has garnered international attention. Im really happy about that. The Huffington Post ran a story about the work of my students from Art Creation Foundation For Children in Jacmel. We were on Nickelodeon News and have been lauded by the Haitian Ministry of Tourism. That is art making a difference. Its amazing.

I am now the director of the Mosaic Program and Creative Director at Art Creation Foundation For Children. I work mainly on our young entrepreneurs program with older youth, but the organization supports 100 kids from the age of 4-24 with meals, school fees, uniforms, health care and art training. We are constantly struggling to raise funds for these ongoing programs.

In conclusion, I feel essentially drawn to do what I do. My life and work are inextricably linked, woven together with threads that come from a very deep place of cosmic connection.

I feel very comfortable traveling, teaching, and working with communities to create art. I feel like I am doing what I was born to do. I love to be witness to the well-being that can arise in the midst of great hardship and adversity through the practice of creative expression and making.

Lotus Bench, Laurel True 2015, New Orleans

The world needs art. It is essential, and it is for everyone. People can feel so disconnected from art and creative expression. Both have become marginalized or seen as exclusive in many cultures art being reserved for private audiences or creative expression being only for selected individuals.

I feel called to help people un-learn this.

I want to help create accessible public art that people can naturally connect with, something that adds something to their experience, moment or life.

I believe in equity and social justice. I believe that well-being and environmental beautification are social justice issues. Witnessing the positive ripple effect of socially engaged art is life affirming and heartening on so many levels.

Let the beauty we love be what we do

To see more of Laurel's work, please visit her websites at:

or connect with her on the following social media sites:

This is Week 44 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Laurels story today!

Note: If you would like to make a donation to support the incredible work Laurel is doing in Haiti, please visit www.acffcjacmelhaiti.com

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