Category Archive: Mosaic Travel

posts about mosaic art travel adventures

Members in the News :: Lynn Takata

Marquam Mosaic Project brings hundreds together in service of public art

 Excerpted from original article published on

A 100′ long glass and ceramic relief mosaic of native flora & fauna was created by over 400 participants from 2 to 93 for the Marquam Nature Park, just 5 minutes from downtown Portland, Oregon. Lynn Takata is nationally known for her participatory mosaics. Funded in part by the Regional Arts & Culture Council and the Bill Connor Memorial Fund with Friends of Marquam Nature Park.

Permanent link to this article:

Groutline Online :: Chicago Artists exhibit in Chartres, France through January 19, 2014

U.S. Artists Interpret “Ardore”

By Sue Coombs, La Grange Park, Illinois

This full story was previewed in the Fall 2013 issue of Groutline.  (pdf of complete article)

In the charming city of Chartres, France, 50 miles southwest of Paris, you can find the eleventh-century Chartres Cathedral, rising an impressive 377 feet above the center of town. This landmark is an example of French Gothic architecture, complete with a large interior labyrinth. It doesn’t matter where you happen to be in Chartres; the majestic cathedral is always visible.

This medieval city is rich with history, so it seems fitting to have a venue dedicated exclusively to the exhibition of a time-honored art form. Since 2003, La Chapelle Saint Eman has been reserved for showcasing international mosaic art. The current exhibition, Ardore, features the work of three American-based artists: Karen Ami, Matteo Randi, and Sue Giannotti from the Chicago Mosaic School.

Ardore means a feeling of intensity—an eagerness for love, life, and connection. Fittingly, this exhibition depicts each artist’s poetic interpretation of the passionate theme through tesserae, line, and color.


La Gallery Saint Eman Gallery, "Adore"

La Gallery Saint Eman Gallery, “Ardore”
photographer: Karen Ami

The renowned artist Verdiano Marzi acted as a mentor to the three artists, bringing their work to the attention of curators and exhibition organizers in France and Italy in 2012. Karen, Matteo, and Sue were invited to show at the Prix Picassiette Festival in Chartres, where Matteo received an award.

The positive response to their work began the planning stages for the current collaborative exhibition. “Ardore exemplifies many years of our dedicated practice, exploration, and discovery of the possibilities within mosaic art,” said Karen Ami. “It is a privilege to learn from masters, students, and each other. We are grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of this art form as it moves forward.”

In preparing work for the exhibition, each artist honored traditional classical mosaic techniques within the context of contemporary expression. La Chapelle Saint Eman seems an appropriate venue to echo this historical reference.

Karen, Matteo, and Sue accomplished an expression of individual mosaic voices co-mingled with a common tradition and passion. As educators, their dedication to the art form is evidenced by the varied mosaic development courses offered at the Chicago Mosaic School.


Ardore opened on October 5 and will run through January 19, 2014 at La Chapelle Saint Eman, Chartres, France.


About the Artists

Unspoken by Karen Ami 2013

Karen Ami,
“Unspoken”, 2013,
Smalti, ceramic, stone, copper on carved polystyrene and wood
25cm x 25cm x 14cm
photographer: Karen Ami

Karen Ami founded the Chicago Mosaic School in 2005. She earned her MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago and her BFA at Tufts/Boston Museum School. After setting aside her practice to start the mosaic school, she served as president of the Society of American Mosaic Artists for three years. Karen returned to her mosaic work and now incorporates her study of mosaics with her passion for drawing, ceramics, and sculpture. Her mosaic work expresses a sensuality of form and figure in a visceral style, using themes of love, connection, loss, and rebirth. Karen successfully captures the spontaneity of drawing through the use of tesserae and handmade ceramic elements.


Respiro by Matteo Randi

Matteo Randi, “Respiro”, 2013, Smalti, marble, stone, gold, 36cm x 32cm
photographer: Matteo Randi

Born in Ravenna, Italy, Matteo Randi began his formal training in mosaic art at the age of 11. He continued his training at the Instituto d’Arte Gino Severini, then at the National School for the Conservation of Mosaics, both in Ravenna. Currently Matteo is educational director of the Chicago Mosaic School—a title befitting his extensive expertise in classical mosaic techniques and tools. In his own work, Matteo combines a traditional mosaic language with contemporary exploration, and the effect is masterful. Standing before his work, one is lured to investigate the mosaic surface in which finely articulated tesserae are arranged in musical rhythm. As the viewer lingers upon the surface, he or she always discovers something not seen before. Surprisingly, Matteo still uses the same hammer he received at the age of nine.


Sensa Limiti by Sue Giannotti

Sue Giannotti, “Senza Limiti”, 2013, Marble, metal, slate, smalti, gold, 41 cm x 31 cm
photographer: Sue Giannotti

Sue Giannotti, based in St. Louis, has been a well-respected faculty member at The Chicago Mosaic School since 2005. A graduate of Washington University, Sue divides her time between creating mosaics and teaching workshops. She offers instruction in mosaic technique, design and contemporary exploration. Sue’s teaching style is academic and thought provoking; it challenges the student to make mosaics that express intent and authenticity. Her students come away with a deeper understanding of techniques to enhance their mosaic work. Sue’s own mosaic work possesses a quiet intensity that hints at a deeper meaning lurking beneath the surface. Incorporating metalwork and sporting a muted palette, her works create a landscape for longing and meditation. Sue’s work parallels the concept of using less to say much more.


The Chicago Mosaic School is home to the Chicago Gallery of Contemporary Mosaics, featuring artist studios and a mosaic library, and two retail stores: Tiny Pieces, Mosaic Tools and Supplies and Chicago Rock and Mineral, Natural Materials for Mosaics.  For more information, visit


Permanent link to this article:

Groutline Online: Clauiano 2013 – An Intimate Conversation with Stephan Wolters & Danit Shmueli

The Mosaic Runner:  1,276 kilometers between the heart and mind

By Stefan Wolters, Ulbeek-Wellen, Belgium
Photography: Rosemarie Castro

I stand naked before the bathroom mirror. Vanity has always been a companion.  I put on my socks, clothing men tend to forget to remove once in the bedroom, when all the other vestments are on the floor.  Passion.  I notice how easily a man’s mind is distracted (the 7 second rule hits me, too) and I put on the stretch trousers, my second skin. The chest belt to measure my heart beat is made wet on the body contact side and its cold causes my pale skin to shiver.  The black t-shirt goes elegantly over my head and wraps my shoulders into a sportive-looking dude.  My polar watch will be my companion in thoughts and running route the next 76 minutes.

The door of the oval room closes behind me and leads me into the fresh morning. The green grass, still wet, leads me to the iron horse. The roaring sound of the 3 liter engine sings to this man’s motor-driven heart while his thoughts travel to Clauiano. What if I just drive to Clauiano right now, instead of driving to the castle forest where I do my regular run of 15 kilometers?  Hmnn… temptation… silence… a strong temptation.  My hand selects the turning wheel of the GPS to measure the distance between where I am now and where this great event will take place this evening.  All my travels have always been people oriented and linked to mosaics.  Shared mosaic passion triples. One thousand-two hundred-and-seventy-six kilometers between my sport challenge and the mosaic destination… No evening suit on board… no camera… no food nor drinks to make this long drive of about 11 hours.

Whenever I do my jogging, the creative section of my brain is always teased to solve problems… to invent new things… to create sketches of new creations… exhibition items… ventures… collaborations… connections between objects and people… events that have recently taken place and that offer me new opportunities.  The list is long.  My life too short.

This is exactly how this connected story telling took shape.  I needed someone present in Clauiano. I had several contacts in place.  A new contact, Danit Shmueli, even made a connection just before the event.  Life is a puzzle and often we get presented a lot of pieces, though we rarely capture the overview or manage to put the handed pieces in place.

galleryview: Danit Shmueli, "Morticia" 76 cm x 49 cm, Petach Tikvah, Israel.

galleryview: Danit Shmueli, “Morticia” 76 cm x 49 cm, Petach Tikvah, Israel.

A window on the chat with Danit Shmueli :

Stefan, I will tell you something about myself and my thoughts and feelings that particular evening.

I have been making mosaics for the last six years. Mosaics bring a lot of joy and satisfaction into my life. When I started, I had no thoughts about participating in an exhibition, but the passion for mosaics hit me and I fell in love with it. This passion became more and more important to me.

You got passionate about it – great !

I attended 4 different mosaic workshops in Israel, each of them on a different subject. One day I was talking with Sibel Hananel, who is a good friend of mine, and I said to her that I had the desire to go to Ravenna.

Good idea – Ravenna – we have a common friend.

Jingle Jangle (the Dragon in Love) Giulio Menossi. Gallery View - Claudino 2013 Exhibition

Jingle Jangle (the Dragon in Love) Giulio Menossi. Gallery View – Claudino 2013 Exhibition

Sibel just got back from a visit in Italy, and got acquainted to Mr. Menossi. She recommended his workshop, as it was a very personal oriented mosaic tuition. I attended the workshop in June 2012. I spent 2 wonderful weeks doing a portraiture workshop in Udine, enjoying every moment. Though the beginning was a big struggle for me as I never used the hammer and hardy, nor smalti. I do like challenges, so I was persuaded to go on and at the end of the course, I managed to finish the head of the portrait. Once I came home and finished my work, yet in total contrast to the head, I used stained glass, in a very simple way, just placing the square tiles around the smalti head, giving the head a proper background. You’ve seen the result, giving it a contemporary look.

Being satisfied is a virtue and so is taking up challenges, too!

I decided to send in my application to Clauiano, and I was accepted!!! Since Clauiano is my first participation in an exhibition, I decided to accompany my art work. Of course, I was very keen to go back to meet my wonderful friends in Udine. On top of that it would be an excellent opportunity to meet all these artists. To represent my country in Udine as you can see me standing near our national flag proudly.

I experienced an amazing hosting by the family of Giulio. They accepted me with a lot of appreciation for the effort of me travelling to Italy, again, to join them and others at the occasion of this mosaic exposure event.

Wonderful people indeed, all of them.

I met Giulio and his family twice and can second what you are mentioning.

At the beginning of the opening was a large crowd of local people, artists that arrived from all over the world, we were 15 artists, from Holland, Swiss, Serbia, Italy, Germany, Israel, France. Many different languages, many colours.

No need to say that everyone was excited to be there. People gave their best speeches, the mayor spoke, the manager of the gallery spoke, sponsors had the opportunity to speak about their motivation to participate.

The people returned over and over to look again at the artworks. The local Italian air was  filled with a lot of pride of the artists that managed to participate, that managed to arrive in time, as it demanded a great effort to come to Udine, to stop their daily activities and to make this journey. Clauiano isn’t easy to reach from abroad, but all of us were happy to make the effort.

The organizing people of Clauiano, Maida and Matteo, and all others are lovely people. They gave us so much honour by organizing this special reception. They spared no efforts to make this wonderful evening successful.

All together it was a great, exceptional experience putting this small city on the map with great people and at the honour of this great mosaic exposure event.

I can totally imagine the image you’re creating, by what you’re telling me.

So I believe that now I will start to work on the next work for another exhibition, I have some ideas.

It is an absolutely great experience! Great things often demand effort – thanks for sharing your feelings and thoughts about this most special event. I do hope it made your mosaic experience and journey even more profound.

It’s most important to have new plans! New challenges! New meeting opportunities!

I am most happy you had the chance to exhibit in such a refined, yet not easy to reach, setting. Every travel experience is a splendid memory to give you energy to make new steps on many levels and I want to thank you for sharing that experience with me – shared joy doubles.

The origin of the Clauiano exhibition :

Our history was born form the passion for mosaics, patriotism and a simple idea.

Enthralled by nature awakening in springtime… during this extraordinary season last year , 2012, a fascinating idea blossomed like a flower and led to an ambitious project in Clauiano, a small ancient medieval village in Friuli Venezia- Giula (Italy).

Giulio Menossi, Matteo Pizzutti, and Marcello Nobile together with the precious collaboration of Pamela Givens and her CMA , Contemporary Mosaic Art , and the participation of some young local people created an extraordinary event.

Clauiano Art Exhibition Gallery

Clauiano, a small rural settlement and interesting part of the Friuli plain, listed as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, dating back to the medieval period with clear references to Roman times, would host an exhibition of mosaics of the highest standard.  In 2012, it would be the first International Exhibition of contemporary mosaics in Friuli Venezia – Giulia, involving 38 internationally renowned artists, coming from 13 different countries.

As Maestro Giulio Menossi wrote,  “A show made of research, suggestion and contaminations, of dreams and passion… an encounter of people, artists, shapes, ideas, colors, technique, and creativity.

An exhibition not only made by mosaics, it would be a place where the heart beats …

All mosaic Works of Clauiano 2013 can be seen on Facebook!
Images courtesy Rosemarie Castro

Exhibiting artists 2013:

Andjelka Radojevic, Andryea Natkin, Angela Zimek, Antoaneta Stoimenova, Antonella Gallenda, Arlene Piarulli, Atsuko K. Laskaris, Aude Fourrier, Banu Cevikel Bilginer, Britta Kuth, Conny Van Der Wende, Dana Teturova, Daniele Traversari, Danit Shmueli, Demetrio Piccoli, Dugald Maclnnes, Emanuela Bottana, Giulio Menossi, Greet Weitenberg, Julie Richey, Kate Kerrigan, Line Dauvergne, Liza Wheeler, Lynn Adamo, Manfred Hoehn, Marcelino Manhula, Margo Anton, Margy Cottingham, Marianne Minuzzi, Massimo Moreale, Rosemarie Castro, and Silvia Lencinella.

Additional information about Clauiano:

Source :

 is a hamlet in the municipality of Trivignano Udinese in the province of Udine and its name derives from the owner of an estate presumably named Claudius or Clavilius.

Evidence of the existence of the town dates back to 1013 in the content of a parchment preserved at the Archbishop’s See of Udine, where the Patriarch of Aquileia, Poppone, designates the Chapter to which he confers a large territory comprising many villas, among which that of Cleuian.

After the Turkish invasion, in 1477 Clauiano, one of Italy’s most beautiful towns, passes to the Serenissima until the fall of the Venetian Republic at the end of the eighteenth century. During this long period the town planning is renovated, the houses are built along the streets next to one another, thus forming a closed curtain.

In Clauiano it is the piéris and the clàps that speak: the stones and pebbles are the decorations of the portals as well as the typical environments of rural life in Friuli, such as the fogolâr (fireplace) and the foledôr (barn).

There are two religious buildings: St. Mark’s Church and St. George’s Church, the first of fourteenth-century origin, whereas the latter dates back to the 18th century but its origin may be older.

In the town centre of Clauiano the oldest buildings date back to the 15th century and they developed mainly around St. George’s Church.

There are many villas and palaces of great historical and artistic value: among them the fifteenth-century Casa Gardellini, which is considered the oldest in the town, and Villa Ariis, which is a typical Venetian-Friulian old country complex, made up of the house, the cottages and a large vegetable garden fenced by a battlemented wall with two stone columns, stand out.

Casa Palladino stands next to these buildings: it is situated inside a typical 18th-century Friulian courtyard characterised by the typical fireplace with a Venetian-style hood and chimney, the sundial on the main façade, the stone column, the fireplaces with which the rooms were heated and where silkworms were bred.

Villa Manin, too, is worthy of mention: an elegant eighteenth-century dwelling that belonged to one of the most important families of the Serenissima Republic of Venice, known for the magnificent Villa Manin of Passariano.

It is possible to taste excellent honey produced with traditional methods, spelt and organic products from the ancient Moras Mill.

Every year, on the occasion of the Autumnal Equinox, Clauiano stages the event “Immaginare il tempo” (Imagining time), during which this wonderful medieval town opens its stone and wood entrance halls and courtyards to visitors to provide them with the enchanting atmosphere of past times.

Permanent link to this article:

Mosaic Travel :: Mosaics in Vietnam

Mosaics in North and Central Vietnam

by Richard Davis, Clinton, WA

This article is extended from the Fall 2012 issue of Groutline – SAMA’s e-Journal available for members.

The two-mile long mosaic mural in Hanoi, Vietnam that has recently entered the Guinness World Records as the world’s longest mosaic mural would seem to indicate that Vietnam has a long history of mosaic art. During a recent trip there I found this not the case.

Hue’s Imperial City

Hue Citadel

Hue Citadel

The oldest mosaics I found in Vietnam were in the Imperial City in Hue. These were constructed over many years beginning in 1805. Since the Imperial City has suffered greatly from the ravages of war, weather, and repairs, it’s difficult to know the ages of the mosaics to be currently found in the Royal Theatre, Bien Tho Palace Gate, and other structures. On these buildings, as elsewhere in Vietnam, mosaic images are made with any of the following: plaster and/or cement, paint, ceramic tile, porcelain pottery, and bottle glass. Mosaics generally take the form of bas-relief or three-dimensional objects.

Mosaic of Emperor Khai Dihn

Khai Dinh Tomb

Khai Dinh Tomb

Probably the most famous “old” mosaic in Vietnam is the tomb of the Emperor Khai Dinh (reigned 1916-1925) located in the countryside outside of Hue. The tomb was built from 1920-1931 and was so elaborate that taxes in Vietnam had to be increased by 30 percent to pay for it. I estimated the three main chambers of the mausoleum to be each 20 feet tall, and at least 350 square feet each in size. The mosaics stretch from floor to ceiling on every wall and on the tomb dais itself. Background walls are dyed either a creamy yellow or a peachy skin pink. A layer of clear glass cut in trapezoidal shapes and placed vertically in a herringbone style pattern covered the painted walls. Images on these walls are either flat, partially bas-relief by reason of their projecting materials, or are truly bas-relief by virtue of built-up forms of plaster and/or cement. Finer details, such as leaves or tassels, are usually made with green or brown cut bottle glass. In addition, judicious use of the patterns on the broken porcelain pottery along with paint and the dyed plaster and/or cement helps to emphasize shapes. As best I could determine, mosaic materials appear to have come from France, China, and Japan.

An Bang’s City of the Dead

An Bang Christain  tomb

An Bang Christain tomb

Khai Dinh’s tomb architecture and mosaics appear to have influenced the construction of a cemetery of a nearby fishing village, An Bang, located about 30 miles south of Khai Dinh’s tomb on the coast. From my research it appears that this village has the most ornate private and expensively constructed tombs in all of Vietnam, with one tomb rumored to have cost $750,000!

An Bang and its cemetery are unofficially referred to as the “City of the Tombs” or “City of Ghosts.” Stretching for more than a mile along the road, the cemetery contains at least 500 freestanding family mausoleums, most of which are covered in mosaics. According to locals with whom I spoke in Hue, the money to build, decorate, and maintain these tombs has come from former Vietnamese “boat people” who have returned or sent money back to their home country since détente in 1989. Their desires were simple: to rebuild their family tombs to honor their ancestors. So-called “boat people” began leaving after the capture of Saigon by the North Vietnamese in 1975. Thousands more attempted harrowing sea escapes for years afterwards.

The mosaic-filled graveyard at An Bang demonstrates just how important the veneration of one’s ancestors is in Vietnamese culture, no matter which religion is practiced by the family.

Because I arrived in An Bang late in the day in January, I was able to spend only about 30 minutes here before sunset ended my visit. Consult the websites at the end of this story for better images and more information about this fantastic place. (Please don’t confuse this small village of “An Bang” with the similarly named “An Bang Beach” near Hoi An, which is also in Central Vietnam.)

Hanoi’s Commemorative Mosaic

Hanoi Mural Van Gogh international contribution

Hanoi Mural Van Gogh international contribution

The longest mosaic in the world at over two miles long is in Hanoi. Work on it began sometime in 2006 or 2007 in commemoration of 1,000 years of Hanoi history. It was created over a period of three years with the help of many artists and volunteers. Although the height of the wall varies, the average is about nine feet. There is no apparent overall style or theme, yet the mosaics appear unified because most are constructed with locally made ceramic tiles, with the exception of portions made by foreign artists.

Depending on the section one is viewing, themes do emerge. Many of the mosaic sections celebrate local crafts and important moments in Hanoi’s history. Mosaics in the northernmost end tend to reflect a more international outlook on the world. This section contains contributions of many non-nationals. One such area is made to replicate Van Gogh’s painting style. Along this traffic-filled corridor, human figures, plants, and animals of many varieties are to be found, as are architectural forms of many types.

Hanoi Mural  large pottery pieces in mosaic

Hanoi Mural: large pottery pieces in mosaic

Generally, the mosaic wall sections are mostly flat, with occasional embellishments of larger, thicker pieces of fired pottery. Paint and dyed substrate were not used for emphasis.

Hanoi’s mosaic mural stretches along a very busy and chaotic four-lane road. It’s very difficult to photograph because there is no vantage point for photography that doesn’t in some way place one in danger of being run over, skewered by a bamboo pole carrying goods to market, or bashed by a cage of pigs or ducks! Many of the photos one can find of the mural are shot at extreme angles because this is as far from the mosaic as one can safely get!

The installation conditions of the mosaic must have been difficult in the extreme, especially since artists would not have had the ability to back up to check image resolution and perspective. For work made in the indirect method, which may well have been the way much of the mural was made, this would not have been a particularly vexing issue.

To see the mosaic well, one can walk its length on a narrow, five-foot wide sidewalk. Alternately the viewer can slowly drive or be driven along the length. This activity is hazardous in itself since one’s car must dodge endless bicycles, motorcycles, cars, and trucks all weaving in and out around your vehicle. Overall, the effect of viewing the entire length of the project is similar to seeing a slide show without a dissolve between images—one discreet image following the next. To read more about the Hanoi Mural, visit and read the various entries under the “Category” menu.

Nguyen Hong Tan, Mosaic Artist

Nguyen Hong Tan:  Vietnamese painting copy

Nguyen Hong Tan: Vietnamese painting copy

I was fortunate to visit one of the potteries (Cong Ty Tnhh Gom Chi) responsible for making some of the millions of tiles used in Hanoi’s commemorative mosaic. Located in Hanoi’s suburbs, the pottery is run by three sons of the original founder and employs up to 100 people making everything from teapots to tiles. One of the sons, Nguyen Hong Tan, is a mosaic artist in his own right. He explained to me that there is very little appreciation for mosaics in Vietnam as an appropriate material for fine art rather than just as a decorative surface technique allied to architecture. Nguyen began his career by studying art and developed his own mosaic work as a sideline to his parents’ pottery business.

With his permission I took photographs of the mosaic “copies” he has made of famous Western and Vietnamese paintings that decorate the entrance to the pottery. (It’s not unusual for Vietnamese artists to copy Western artworks in any medium.) His clients are generally wealthy Hanoi residents who are building or remodeling homes. Nguyen appears to deal almost exclusively with site-specific installations, of which he is both the designer and chief installer. I was shown photographs of some of these projects but was not able to visit the installations in person.

Outside Outsider Art

A typical middle-class Vietnamese home is usually several stories tall and narrow, often no more than one room wide. The street-level floor and courtyard are frequently home to a business of some kind. This level often contains indoor and outdoor cooking and washing areas and more often than not, large trees or other plants in pots. Motorcycles and cars are pulled into the patio area just inside the door or gate.

near Phat Diem Cathedral Made by mineral explorer, Great Wall Of China

near Phat Diem Cathedral Made by mineral explorer, Great Wall Of China

Quite by accident, I discovered and interviewed (with the help of an able translator) two individuals who had created their own mosaic installations in their courtyards. One home featured a mosaic of stones and pebbles collected by the owner during a career of mineral exploration in the mountains. This artwork features an image of the Great Wall of China among other elements. He told me he created the mosaic to remind him of his past experiences in the mountains, as he now lives in the flat Mekong River Delta.

Bui Ngoc Mo

Bui Ngoc Mo

The other mosaic owner I interviewed, Bui Ngoc Mo, is an artist of a completely different order. He had spent many years creating a courtyard installation. Filled with creatures set in mystical landscapes, his creation reminded me of the “outsider” art of Ferdinand Cheval’s Les Palais Idéal in Hauterives, France. Hgoc Mo seemed genuinely pleased to have his work admired by someone other than his family. He uses cement, plastic figures, ceramic figures, dishes, shells, stones, and found objects to create his installations. The main “highway” outside his home is dirt, so the installation is covered in a fine layer of brick-red dust.

Below are links to a more detailed history of An Bang with excellent photos and the webpage link to the Hanoi Mosaic Mural.

If you are looking for a mosaic-filled vacation with good food and friendly people, consider Vietnam the next time.


Image Gallery

click on any image to begin slideshow

all images ©2012 Richard S. Davis

Permanent link to this article:

Mosaic Travel :: Mosaics in India: Lakshmi Vilas Palace

Mosaics in India: Lakshmi Vilas Palace

by Richard Davis, Clinton, WA

This article is extended from the Summer 2012 issue of Groutline – SAMA’s e-Journal available for members.

When one links mosaics and India one name comes to mind—Nek Chand Saini’s Rock Garden in Chandigarh.  Using the Internet and reference books I tried to find mosaic sites in the state of Gujarat before traveling there in January 2010 with no luck. However, in my travels I’ve learned that mosaics are to be found if you look hard enough and Gujarat was no exception.

The mosaics I found should be divided into 4 groups, ranging in age from 1880’s to the present day. The first part was religious, consisting of mosaics on temples and some religious-themed murals scattered throughout both cities and rural areas. According to our guide, a wonderfully knowledgeable fellow, local tile setters usually create these religious-themed mosaics. The imagery varies from plain geometric design in muted colors with a small religious symbol on a spire to temples completely covered in tile. Gujarat is one of India’s leading tile manufacturing centers. It may be that tiled shrines are seen more frequently in Gujarat because the locally made product is donated to temple construction projects in an effort to receive the goodwill of the gods.

One particularly fine temple’s every surface was covered in intricate tile patterns indicating to me that the tile setter was a master of his craft. Large quantities of tiles had been meticulously cut to form shapes of animals and religious symbols. I wasn’t able to determine if the tile setter was also the artist who had chosen and designed the installation. It’s possible that a priest or holy man guided the selection of images and their placement. Nearby, we saw a wall mosaic illustrating the popular pilgrimage up to the hill temples of Palitana.

beginning temple stairs Palitana

beginning temple stairs Palitana

The second group of mosaics I came upon are those in residential floors. One notable example was a small palace which is now the heritage hotel “Vijay Vilas” built for prince Vijay Singhi between 1904 -1906 in Palitina. The 1000 sq. ft. living and dining room floor was made in the pique assiette method during this period. The china used came both from Holland (some of the current owner’s Dutch guests have identified some of the china shards) and England. Bone china was freely available during this period due to a significant cultural marketing error— importers brought china made with beef bone ash to India, a country in which many hold cows sacred! In addition to the china, a few cast glass medallions (with embedded metal prongs for security) were used for emphasis. The mosaic has an organic border that encloses a geometric pattern. Although showing some signs of wear, this floor is holding up remarkably well with only some small poorly done local repairs. The owner has stopped repairs until he can find a more qualified artist to finish them.

Vijay Vilas Palitana

Vijay Vilas Palitana

I found a third type of mosaic at Lakshmi Vilas Palace in Baroda aka Vadodara in the sections of the building commissioned by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III between 1878-1890 following a design by Major Charles Mant and Robert Fellowes Chisholm. About 4 times the size of Buckingham Palace, this enormous edifice employed twelve Italian artist craftsmen for eighteen months from the Venice and Murano Glass & Mosaic Company, a famous mosaic company in operation from 1866-1909, and owned by the English artist Edward Burne-Jones during the period of the palace’s construction. This information was provided by Mango Hinguaro, the curator of a museum in the palace grounds.  Unfortunately, Hinguaro didn’t know who had made the designs for the mosaics. My BAMM friend, John O’Brien, kindly read for me an 1896 interview with Robert Chisholm that I found in London in the library of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He reported that a Mr. Hasjee, a local draftsman, probably designed the mosaics, which the Italian mosaicists then interpreted. Made of smalti, the tiles were imported from Italy along with Carrara marble, and other semi-precious stones.  One spectacular outdoor mosaic, approximately 16 feet by 10 feet made of smalti, features beautifully detailed full-length portraits of men and women wearing traditional costumes in a setting similar to a celebration or festival with Christian overtones in the form of an angel. Of special interest are the necklaces worn by female figures made from custom glass cane or filati.  The turbans worn by the men are very skillfully modeled.

Lakshmi Vilas Palace

Lakshmi Vilas Palace

One of the palace’s entrances is adorned with a number of life-size female figures draped in traditional dress set in a gold smalti background. Some of the gold smalti has fallen out and been repaired with inexpensive modern gold glazed ceramic tile. Inside the Palace, a room currently used to display weapons has an intricately cut geometric stone floor.  The pièce de résistance is the magnificent Durbar Hall. This reception room, larger than a football field, has a spectacular mosaic floor mostly of stone with some smalti and mother of pearl. Every window, of which most are stained or leaded glass in sculptural niches, is decorated with smalti in floral patterns. Only a small section of this palace is open to the public, the remainder of it is still used as a residence. Therefore, I’m unable to say how many more mosaics are to be found there or in other palaces constructed during this same period in India. At press time, Indian newspapers report this palace will be turned into a Heritage Hotel, leaving the ability to visit these mosaics unknown.

The fourth type was a completely modern mosaic in Ahmedabad.  I came across an enormous computer designed vitreous glass mosaic showing episodes from Gandhi’s life. This mosaic covered all the walls of an underpass under the railway line; it was 100’s of feet long. Unfortunately, despite being installed just a few years ago, it was already starting to deteriorate. Gujarat is Gandhi’s home state.

underpass Calico museum Ahmedabad

underpass Calico museum Ahmedabad

For those interested in art nouveau or art deco tile work, head to the major temples in India where you can find a few from the first half of the 20th century.

I can truthfully say that Gujarat, one of India’s most economically developed and prosperous states, is a good destination for the mosaic seeker with plenty of other art and crafts to fill in any days in between mosaic destinations.

Note: English spellings of Indian names are spelled differently depending on the source of the information, since the English name is likely transliterated from Hindi or another Indian subcontinent language. For example, if you Google Lakshmi Vilas Palace, it will be also called Lukshmi Vilas Palace or Laxmi Vilas Palace and will be located in Baroda rather than the more contemporarily used name of Vadodara. Don’t be confused by another palace (now a hotel) with a similar name in Udaipur, Rajasthan.  Similarly the Vijay Vilas Palace heritage hotel in Palitana is actually located in a suburb called Adpur and should not be confused with Vijas Vilas Palace in Mandvi, Gujarat.

Click on any image below to start the slide show. All images courtesy Richard Davis.


SAMA Members will enjoy another article from Richard about the mosaics he discovered in Vietnam in this Fall’s issue of GROUTLINE, SAMA’s e-Journal.  Join or renew for access to SAMA’s full collection of issues (all 12 years!) in the Member Center today!

Permanent link to this article:

Older posts «