Category Archive: Why I’m a SAMA Member

Members share why they LOVE being a SAMA member!

Why I’m a SAMA Member :: Luz Mack-Durini

 Another California Dream Becomes Reality!

by Luz Mack-Durini, Los Angeles, CA

I grew up in Costa Rica and started experimenting with mosaics at the end of the nineties; at that time mosaics were not popular or even in the radar of the Costa Rican culture.  It was obvious that the only way to go about mosaics was a self taught approach. I smile remembering those times of experiments and errors, or when I think of how many annoying questions I asked the grout guys or the hours spent in the hardware store analyzing all the glue labels to find the one that would do the proper job.  I can say it was just pure mosaic excitement what carried me over several years of working alone with no information other than my own experience.

In 1999 I received an offer to spend time in the US which became the catalyst of my artistic path: I sold everything and came to California with lots of hopes and dreams.  Fortune has always been on my side and soon enough I found SAMA.  I became a member and attended my first conference in San Francisco during 2004.  I was blown away and overwhelmed by this sudden exposure of gorgeous mosaic art altogether in the same room.  I loved the camaraderie of the attendees and how welcoming everyone was no matter if you were a beginner.  I was really excited to do my first ‘mosaic brown bag exchange’.  I remember standing in front of a huge and striking mosaic from Jennifer Tipton, “Identity”, feeling so full of grateful for having found this organization.  It was a dream come true, that through SAMA, a group of people could find a support venue to share, exchange, and become educated in the art of mosaics.

Luz Mack-Durini

Luz Mack-Durini

SAMA has been of great importance for my mosaic career. It has connected me with amazing human beings that are not only talented but so giving.  Artists that have helped grow my mosaic craft into a professional level  All this through valuable information exchange, resources, news, hands-on education and support for both the artist and the medium.

SAMA’s help doesn’t stop there. Throughout the years I observed the growth of mosaic art in public places.  I decided it would be a great asset to learn about exterior sculptural fabrication, focused specifically for mosaics.  I knew that was a necessary step but I didn’t know how to achieve it.  I turned once again to SAMA and found the Robin Brett Scholarship.  This is an award that fosters creative development to emerging or established mosaicists that are serious about expanding their knowledge in mosaic art.  In 2009, I applied and was given the scholarship and the opportunity to expand once more my professional skills.  It all came in perfect timing as in 2011 an opportunity arose to work on a large-scale project with a budget of $85,000 to create a three-dimensional piece of art through the non-profit arts organization Piece by Piece.

Piece by Piece provides free workshops for very low income and formerly homeless participants, providing them with opportunities to learn a skill, gain self-confidence and earn supplemental income. I have been an instructor there for five years and the fabrication of this sculpture was an amazing experience, made possible through the Piece by Piece Artistic Director, the team of teachers, participant artists, volunteers and technical experts.  In 2013, our Villas at Gower Public Art Project was installed.

Luz Mack-Durini

Luz Mack-Durini

Villas at Gower Public Art Project

Villas at Gower Public Art Project

Villas at Gower Public Art Project

Villas at Gower Public Art Project

I no longer feel alone in the mosaic world.   It has been nearly a decade since my first encounter with SAMA took place. Looking back I remember how wonderful a process it has been and how much I have grown because of the presence and support of my dear mosaic family.  I thank SAMA for giving me an opportunity to greatly enhance my mosaic education, for providing me with tools to achieve this growth and to be there supporting so many members from beginners to professionals that strive for excellence.

Red BorealisTriptych by Luz Mack-Durini

Red BorealisTriptych by Luz Mack-Durini

Luz Mack-Durini is a Southern California artist raised in the small and picturesque country of Costa Rica.  Working with mosaics for over a decade, she has traveled to study with several renowned mosaic masters from around the world.  She has won several awards for her mosaic art and has been granted several scholarships including; The Studio of the Corning Museum of Glass in New York, The Touchstone Center for Crafts in Pennsylvania, The Deavy Art Studio in Long Beach and the Robin Brett Scholarship, given by the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA), a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring and promoting excellence in fine mosaic art.

Luz works with a variety of materials, including glass, stone, metal leaf and re-purposed hand-made clay objects, incorporating different techniques to achieve unique effects in her work.

Currently, Luz divides her time creating mosaics, continuing her education in the Arts and working as an instructor with Piece by Piece, a Los Angeles non-profit organization that offers mosaic art workshops to inner-city communities.



Permanent link to this article:

Why I’m a SAMA Member :: Brandi Fletcher

From Nursing with Passion,  to Nursing a Passion from Within

By Brandi Fletcher, Ojai, CA  MosaicsByBrandiFletcher

I am a brand new member to SAMA. I have wanted to join for years, but never did, until now.

Brandi FletcherI grew up in Southern California with a love and appreciation of music, animals, good food and the freedom to create. A true 70’s kid, my childhood home was decorated with vibrant sponge-painted walls, fun-shaped vinyl  furniture, patchwork carpets and colorful crafts that were designed and made by my mother, who had no fear when it came to creating a cool environment. This made an impression on me and it was evident from an early age that I was artistically inclined and was encouraged by my family to explore my own creativity freely.

Although I excelled in Art during my school years, my education later took me in a different direction. I became a psychiatric nurse and realized that working with schizophrenics was a calling I needed to explore. I soon found caretaking came easily and my role as a nurse rewarding. I used my strength as a natural born instructor to guide and encourage the mentally ill. I implemented art classes and creative groups for the patients, on a regular basis, which helped them process feelings and improve social skills.

Throughout my adult years, I have experimented with drawing, oil and acrylic painting, jewelry making, throwing clay and glazing ceramics, clay relief carving, even singing and playing in a band for 15 years. My creativity was always begging for more of my attention. In 2004, I had an intuitive calling to do a mosaic on the front porch of my home. I had no idea HOW to do it, I just knew that I HAD to do it. I asked a few handymen what I needed and they steered me in the right direction. It took me a month, and looking back, I did EVERYTHING wrong, but I was hooked immediately and knew that I had to create mosaics. With my husband and friends encouraging me, I was soon making mosaic pieces that people were buying and I was eventually comissioned to do larger pieces. I went on to do mosaic tables, fireplaces, floors, back splashes and wall hangings. Finally,  After 20 years of nursing, I decided that it was time to change direction, and have recently dedicated 100 percent of my time to my mosaic art.

Ace of Life by Brandi Fletcher

Ace of Life by Brandi Fletcher, 28 x 28 in.2013, Glass, gold leaf, silver leaf, ball chain, neutral grout
rough gold leaf edges.

Being completely self-taught has allowed me to develop my own style guided by intuition and passion. I create my mosaic pieces using glass, ceramic, marble, gemstones, pebbles and found items. When doing commissions, I work closely with my clients, taking their ideas and visions and transforming them into a beautiful, one-of-a-kind piece of art.

I enjoy the outdoors and have spent a lot of time exploring the Grand Canyon and travelling around the Southwest. I currently live in the Ojai Valley in Southern California where I continue to play in a band with my supportive and patient husband, Danny. We have two cats in the yard, Johnny and June.

I LOVE doing mosaics and I LOVE looking at what other people do with mosaics. I am very excited about the future and I am doing everything I can to network and  build relationships, as I grow as a mosaic artist. I feel like I still have a lot to learn and every project is a challenge, but I am excited and willing to learn MORE. Joining SAMA was a huge moment for me. I’m hoping that down the road, I can become even more involved and attend the events that SAMA offers, even submit my work to exhibitions.  I am proud to be a member of SAMA. I feel like NOW  I can stand a little taller as an artist. Thank you SAMA!

Brandi Fletcher



Permanent link to this article:

Why I’m a SAMA Member :: Carol Choucair Oueijan

Community Discovered

by Carol Choucair Oueijan, Hacienda Heights, CA

Cerulean Rendezvous by Carole Choucair Oueijan, 2007

Cerulean Rendezvous by Carole Choucair Oueijan, 2007

Twenty-three years ago, I came to California to start a new life with my husband, Milad. It was hard in the beginning to find others who had the same interests that we did so we could enjoy communicating with people.

At first, I thought that maybe I was the only artist who worked with mosaic as a fine art medium. I couldn’t find any gallery or museum that exhibited fine contemporary mosaic works. Using the internet, I began searching, and I found the organization called The Society of American Mosaic Artists. I was so happy and wanted to know more.

It was 2003 and SAMA did not have as many members as it does today, but it had the same spirit and friendly relationship with its artists. It is great to see the growth that SAMA is achieving and feel proud every year renewing my membership because that means keeping a connection with wonderful friends and with a great community!

Through SAMA, I was able to meet so many artists that inspire me, artists that have the same curiosity that I do, and people who are always looking for new doors to prove that mosaic is indeed a fine medium in visual art that needs to be recognized. I remember, in the beginning, visiting museums and sometimes asking if they have mosaic works in their exhibits. The answer always hit me: “Sorry, we don’t have craft in this museum…” Well, thanks to SAMA, and many amazing mosaic artists, we are now in a much better place, both recognized and cherished by many museums and galleries.

I am a visual artist, I love to paint with watercolor, oil and mixed mediums, but mosaic was the best medium with which I ever experimented. It always has something new for me to discover as I continue creating new shapes, reflections, colors and textures. It is a non-stop journey!

Making mosaic art is not only a joy for me, but catching the attention of art lovers attracted to mosaic work gives me the drive to create more art with this medium.

Carole Choucair Oueijan, “Orchis Coriophora” M1, 2012, smalti, 24 karat gold smalti, millefiori, iridescent tile, Vitrium glass tile, crystallino, and mother of pearl

Carole Choucair Oueijan, “Orchis Coriophora” M1, 2012, smalti, 24 karat gold smalti, millefiori, iridescent tile, Vitrium glass tile, crystallino, and mother of pearl

Every year SAMA has its Annual Conference and Mosaic Art International (MAI). Last April I had the chance to attend the 12th conference, in Tacoma, Washington, and it was incredibly joyful!  From the MAI in the Museum of Glass, to the fantastic presentations and activities at the conference, the beautiful artistic Murano Hotel, and all the amazing sites, exhibitions, and tours it offered to us, it was a great trip.

I want to encourage every artist to attend these events and to volunteer as much as you can. It will nourish your mind and give you a boost all year, inspiring you with fun, and pushing you to create wonderful art!

Thank you SAMA!

Carole Choucair Oueijan


Carole Choucair Oueijan is a fine artist whose work in mosaics, watercolor, oil painting and mixed media, have won international honors.
Her art training includes completion of Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from the Institut National Des Beaux Arts, Lebanon, a Diploma in Interior Design and a specialization in the Byzantine Mosaic Technique in Greece. Her artwork is exhibited across the US, Lebanon, Italy, Greece and Canada. She was also nominated to do several permanent mosaic public art installations in the city of Santa Cruz, CA, at their historical boardwalk, and in Temecula City Hall building, Temecula, CA.
Juror’s Choice Award Winner of MAI 2008 for her mosaic “Orchis Morio Libani” M1.

WATCH the short film on Carole’s latest installation work, “Turning Pages” 2014.


"Coriophora Veil - M1, Art & Biodiversity Wild Lebanese Orchids" by Carole Choucair Oueijan

“Coriophora Veil – M1, Art & Biodiversity Wild Lebanese Orchids” by Carole Choucair Oueijan

Permanent link to this article:

Why I’m a SAMA Member :: Cody Abbott

Mosaics Came to Me Sideways

Cody Abbott

Cody Abbott, Photographer: Jeff Johnson, Chicago, IL

by Cody Abbott , Chicago, Illinois

I want to share with you my personal journey in mosaics and how SAMA has been a large part of that journey for me. I don’t make my living through my art (I am however, insanely jealous of those who do!). I have no website and no awards to mention. I am not a classically trained artist. In fact, I was the kid who couldn’t stay in the lines in the coloring book and insisted on making the clouds green and the trees purple. Consequently, at the suggestion of my elementary art teachers, I tucked away any artistic inclinations and focused my interest in the social sciences. And what does a person do with a degree in Political Science? Spend the next 25-plus years in the business world, of course.

And so, mosaics came to me sideways. Like a car crashing into another from the side, just like in the movies. It came totally unexpected and took my breath away.

Ten years ago my best friend Chris Forillo decided to enroll in a 6-week class taught by some crazy, green-haired woman who had set up shop on Ashland Avenue. Chris regaled me with stories of both the antics of the instructor as well as the progress of his project which, to this day stands as his crowning mosaic achievement!

Eventually I had the chance to meet this wild woman, later known to me as Karen Ami. It didn’t happen overnight, but finally both Karen & Chris persuaded me to take the introductory course. In three words: I was hooked! My first project was a lop-sided snowflake. But I had found an enthusiasm inside myself that I hadn’t known in years.

By 2006 Chris was now Operations Manager for SAMA and wouldn’t you know it, the SAMA conference was right in Chicago! While I had yet to become a dues-paying member, I did support the cause by helping to direct members to the awaiting buses which would take them to the inaugural evening of the “Breaking the Wave” exhibition. Inside the gallery I was amazed at what mosaics could be, and what they meant to other people. As the interloper that night I mixed with the crowd, admired the work and eavesdropped on several interesting conversations!
Meanwhile, I would dive head-first into my newly found passion. My first two projects were no larger than 10”x10”. With a great deal of naivety and ambition, my third effort was a coffee table which was done in the style of a work by Frank Lloyd Wright. It has been non-stop ever since. Well, non-stop until…November 20th, 2008 I suffered a massive heart attack. I was 45 years old.

Cody Abbott, I Was a Willow Last Night in My Dreams

Cody Abbott, “I Was a Willow Last Night in My Dreams”, 8×10 in. smalti

Here’s the Cliff notes version of the event: I was on a treadmill at the gym. It was full-blown cardiac arrest. Fortunately a doctor was working out next to me and started CPR and the gym had a defibrillator. To cap off my good fortune, I was only a few minutes from one of Chicago’s finest hospitals. Now if you want all the gory details, you can just ask Chris because he was right there to witness it all!

Well, I imagine that being brought back from the brink of death has a profound impact on most people, and it certainly did for me. I was adrift emotionally. My professional work brought me no joy or pleasure. I needed to reevaluate what was important to me in this life and the only thing that helped me focus was my mosaics. As I recovered that winter I was looking forward to the SAMA conference scheduled for March in San Diego. Unfortunately that was not to be. Three days before my flight was to depart I had a second “cardiac event”. While it was short of an actual heart attack, it kept me sidelined and in the hospital in Chicago.

I was so upset with the doctors and my body for keeping me away from the SAMA conference that year. It was then that I truly realized how important SAMA is to me and my love of mosaics.The SAMA conference is an annual capstone for me. It is not only a personal celebration of my love for mosaics but also because I have the opportunity to be with so many special people.

I haven’t missed a SAMA conference since.

Cody Abbott, Sunset Tulips

Cody Abbott, “Sunset Tulips”, 37 x 25 in., Stained Glass and Vitreous Glass Tile

You see, it’s really is about the people… the people with whom I share a common love of mosaics. You are kind, warm-hearted, funny, generous, and creative people. By being in your presence, I am made a better person, and I am inspired as an artist. I have not just sat around a work table with many of you. I have sat around family dinner tables, around campfires, and even sat Shiva with you. You have supported me in ways that many of you will never know. And for that I say a heart-filled thank you.

With mosaics I have found peace and tranquility in an otherwise turbulent world. Every time I sit down to work on my latest creation, I drift into a place that only another artist can truly appreciate. It gives me unlimited focus. I’m able to meditate on what is important to me and all the stress and strains of the day wash away.
This is my wish for every SAMA member, that each of you can experience the same joy as I have from this wonderful art form and it’s very special community.

Permanent link to this article:

Why I’m a SAMA Member :: Joan Schwartz

 A New Path and New Connections

by Joan Schwartz, Huntington Woods, Michigan, 

Gender Gap_Joan Schwartz

In the past few years, I realized that working in mosaics has become a seriously important role in my life. It’s not just the end product but the process itself. It is my mental vacation, a journey in which I get lost in an array of colors, patterns and materials… a viable antidote to stress. It is truly a drug to which I now know I am addicted. When I can’t get down to my studio, I feel out of sync, irritable, and just plain unhappy!

My first profession was a pediatric nurse, though art has always been a major part of my life.  Self-taught, I worked in many different media early in my artistic career.  I participated in local shows, winning some awards and even selling my work. I discovered that these past years were merely a precursor to finding the world of mosaics, my real creative passion.


Hearing about SAMA from an instructor and friends who work in mosaics, I did a little research and, as they say, “it was a no brainer”. I joined. I attended my first conference in San Diego and have been fortunate to be present at every one since. Doing so has allowed me the opportunity to take workshops with many of the top mosaic instructors around the world and network with the most amazing, like minded, talented, mosaic artists. SAMA has given me the chance to travel to new places, but most importantly, to improve my skills and cultivate binding friendships that will last forever.

Of course we must talk about shopping. Being the hoarder I am, the Vendor Marketplace is a toy store for mosaic junkies like myself. You can always find me in line the first day it’s due to open. Anyone who knows me well, knows my motto, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with it yet, but I HAVE to have it” (and usually in triplicate). It is so great to be able to view all the products and try out the tools first hand. Buying on the internet is wonderful but also limiting. The demonstrations the vendors offer give us valuable knowledge which is much easier to digest than reading instructions.

Through the workshops, presentations, and organized critiques that SAMA offers, I’ve been able to view other artists’ work and hear how they found their “voice”. This broadening exposure to their styles and techniques has greatly aided me in finding my path and in expressing myself in such a way as to make my art memorable, which has been a particular challenge for me.

"Black Kimono" by Joan Schwartz

“Black Kimono” by Joan Schwartz

Another major area in which SAMA has helped me is in gaining confidence. In fact, it has only been recently that I have come to feel comfortable calling myself an artist who works in mosaics. The positive responses I’ve received from other artists whose opinions and work I highly respect have assisted me in learning to trust my instincts and the direction in which my work is headed. I’ve discovered that asking for feedback can help improve the quality of one’s creations. I’ve also learned that consistency makes an artist’s work readily identifiable and that sometimes we need to get out of our own way to reach these goals. So with that being said, in 2012 with a slightly elevated “confidence level”, I applied to MAI, and not only did I get in, but my KIMONO mosaic sold! I am still to this day in total shock and honored to have been among such prestigious company.

Each year I have returned to the conference knowing I will meet more new talented people and reconnect with those from past years. More than any other group of artists with whom I’ve worked, these new friends are kindred spirits – we feel like we’ve known each other for years, joined by this link to our craft. Everyone is eager to share any new techniques, short cuts, or special products they have obtained since our last meeting. The brown bag exchange is a great way to take home more fond memories of a new friendship and a little bit of someone else’s “special stash”.

For me, SAMA has been one of the most valuable “tools” in my mosaic studio. Like my glass cutters or nippers, it is an equally important resource I can draw on to help me create a style unique to me and develop a cohesive body of work, recognizable to others. I think of it as a snowball – each conference I attend adds yet another layer to an ever-growing and evolving process that is an integral part of my artistic journey.


Permanent link to this article:

Older posts «