Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Roslyn Zinner, Mosaic Artist, Tells Her Story

We were on the way to the airport in the Caribbean island of St. Lucia when I yelled,  "Stop the car! I've got to sketch this banana tree!"  Shocking to me, but ordinary to people who have seen bananas before they get to a grocery store, was that they were growing upwards, not downwards, from their stems. That banana tree became a small part of my first mosaic art piece.  

Until that time I had worked extensively making wheel-thrown stoneware vessels and dabbled in quilting, stained glass, collage, cabinetry, and fiber, but I had never done any glass mosaics until my St Lucian inspiration. I spent the next twelve months creating a  6’ x 5’ table filled with scenes of the island, including that otherwise ordinary banana tree. Over the course of that endeavor, I fell in love with the ancient and modern fine art of glass mosaic. I became joined with mosaic art and there will never be a divorce!

About to Jump
You might be curious about how my mosaics are made. Once I have sketched the outline of the piece on the desired size plywood, I make decisions about color, type glass or tile, size, flow, etc. I often make a trip to the stained glass store where I buy opaque sheets for cutting into tiny pieces. There I gravitate toward glass that has movement or swirls of color within.  If I’m doing a portrait, I start with the eyes, then the mouth, then the nose and cheeks, neck, etc. The background is always done last.  
Frequently I see something that doesn’t look right, and I redo that section, possibly even 6 or 7 times until I am happy. After the entire surface is filled, and a few days drying time, I grout the piece, smooshing the grout over all of it and wiping until all the glass can again be seen and the lines are filled. For “2 Kayaks” I used gravel of varying sizes for the rocky shoreline and stained glass in flat diamond shapes for the water’s reflections.

Two Kayaks

I believe this particular medium resonated with me so immediately because it reflects my many years as a masters level social worker, psychotherapist, and divorce mediator. In that professional life, I help people pick up their broken pieces and put them back together to create a new, more satisfying whole. Social workers and mosaic artists share this ability.
Though the process can be labor-intensive and painstaking, I relish the dazzling array of choices that mosaics can offer. Whether it is with stained glass, smalti, ceramic tile or found objects, the small pieces, or tesserae, will vary by color, type, reflectiveness, texture, flow, size, and shape. I can work two-or-three-dimensionally and then alter the piece further with grout lines of varying color. The options are mind-boggling, like a puzzle where you get to create AND fit together the pieces.

Here’s a three-dimensional mosaic portraying me working on a mosaic!

When I was devoting most of my work to mediation, helping divorcing couples work out their parenting plans, I often worried about the people who weren’t in the room, their children. I knew that parental conflict took a toll on them. I processed these emotions with a series of works portraying the feelings of those children. Identity, seen here, is a piece in which I take great pride.


For my next series, I turned to a more serene question: how do people experience the beauty and mystery of the ocean and the shore?

Private Moment

Young Girl Wading
Becoming the “Grammy” of 2 adorable little boys led me to create pieces showing the wonder that children experience about stuff we hardly notice, like puddles.
Recently during a difficult period in my life, I started to look around for hope in order to stay motivated and positive. I read biographies of people like Nelson Mandela and Harriet Tubman and was moved by people who take risks and work hard to make the world a better place. From there I began my "Heroes" series, which has included portraits of Mandela, Tubman, Rachel Maddow, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, among others.

Nelson Mandela

My portrait of Justice Ginsberg was included in 2015’s Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which was just re-published as a Young Reader’s Edition in December 2017.  

Ruth Bader Ginsberg

Capturing the essence of a person in mosaic is by far the biggest art challenge I’ve encountered, but also possibly the most satisfying. I already knew intellectually that identifying people by “race” is an arbitrary and oppressive way of thinking about people, but portraiture has deepened that understanding. For instance, “black” skin types are made with tiles of tans and oranges, yellows, pinks, reds, and browns, while “white” skin types consist of pinks, tans and oranges, browns, yellows and reds. Here’s an example of what I mean.

Rachel Maddow

I’m currently working on a series of reflections, both literal and metaphoric. I’m kept busy with pet portrait commissions, helping troubled couples put their pieces back together, planning a daughter’s wedding, and trying to get back to the Caribbean for some more first-hand inspiration.

This is Week 50 of Artists Tell Their Stories. Thank you for reading and sharing Roz's story today. To connect with Roz and see more of her work, please visit the following link:

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