I am honored to have Cape Cod Magazine write a feature article in the "Artist Spotlight" section this month
All the Little Pieces
Mosaic artist Jim Bowen’s skills for creating works of this ancient art require an understanding of how each part makes the universe whole.
Jim Bowen introduced an interesting art analogy to local elementary school students , with whom he is constructing a large mosaic tree that will be presented to the principal, an art teacher himself, as a retirement present. Each student will fashion a leaf for the tree and embellish it with some sort of personal token.
He first asked the students not if they knew what a mosaic was, but what the word community meant to them. Tiny hands darted up. Their answers were what you might expect from first graders—slightly correct in concept, but humorously misconstrued. “A community is made up of all different people,” he explained. “Each are of different colors, shapes, and sizes, and each have different stories and backgrounds. When all of the individuals come together as a whole to share their differences, a community is formed. It’s the same with mosaics.”
Even after fourteen years of practicing this 3,000-year-old art, (the first mosaics were said to be in the form of bullet-shaped clay attached to the columns of a building in ancient Iran), Bowen’s career as a mosaic artist and teacher is just at its beginning.
“I’ve done painting, print-making, pencil, oil and even some pottery, but I have never felt like I found the right medium for me,” says Bowen. After one day in the late nineties, when he started piecing together bits of china onto furniture (a new artistic fad at the time, one that his wife saw at a local workshop), making mosaics became his newfound joy.
“I liked the messiness of it. Here you are, breaking up china and making something beautiful again,” he says. “It’s like a broken person who becomes healed.”
In Haiti, it healed an entire community. After the devastating earthquake in 2010, fellow mosaic artist Laurel True from New Orleans went down to help raise spirits through artwork. Gathering up locals, many who had lost family members and every possession ever owned, True helped the people make beautiful mosaic leaves out of broken household remains like dishes, glassware, and mirrors. Bowen, inspired by her efforts, is planning a trip to Malawi in Africa in the next year or two to lead a mosaic mural project at a school that is being built by a Massachusetts couple.
After taking his first mosaic class at Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill in 1998, Bowen discovered a natural teaching ability that he never knew he had. He went on to teach a class of his own at Castle Hill, then to students at Cape Cod Community College, where he began the mosaic program there and has been instructing a mosaic course off and on for the last decade. Drawn to stained glass, he teaches the students to cut it, grind it, mount it, grout it, and get invested in what they’re making.
Bowen has led the creation of a half dozen large mosaic murals on-and off-Cape, such as the one seen at the newly opened Falmouth Dog Park and under a bridge along the Shining Sea Bikeway, also in Falmouth. During the weekend of the National Mosaic Exhibition at Highfield Hall last August, students helped Bowen, artist Linda Dadek, and illustrator Erica Szuplat (who designed the original image) create the mural. Depicted is the land’s strawberry fields in the background, while dogs and a boy are at play in the park. Back in 2010, the same three artists led a group of volunteers, both experienced and first-time mosaic makers, to put together the bikeway’s mural. Bowen guided the novices in their first go at a large-scale project. Cutting and placing together (one at a time) more than 20,000 tile pieces to make one show-stopping image is not easy work even for an experienced artist. Though the actual design is quite simplistic, each individual piece makes a statement and provides definition to the entirety of the work.
In Bowen’s home studio is a mosaic of Jesus Christ, his eyes of glistening brown glass which look as if they have the power to communicate. “If you can capture emotion with just one tiny piece of glass or tile, it really just fascinates people,” says Bowen, who won “best in show” at the 2009 Falmouth Guild Fall Juried Show for his mosaic of a woman in Peru on her way to the market. This one now hangs in the Artisan Salon which he co-owns with another artist (he has been cutting hair for 35 years).
Following last year’s National Mosaic Exhibition at Highfield Hall, which was co-curated by Bowen and featured workshops led by renowned mosaic artists, he and his wife began their own school called Cape Cod Mosaic Workshops at Highfield Hall, one of only three other mosaic schools in the nation (and the only one in New England). Each workshop is led by a visiting artist or resident artist including Bowen and cater to both novice and advanced students (another National Mosaic Exhibition is planned for 2013).
His two children grown, his salon still thriving, and his teaching a re-emerging trade, there couldn’t be a better time for Bowen to dig his hands into another fun educational project—a children’s book, told through mosaics. Bowen isn’t always a realist with his work; he also enjoys creating abstract mosaics, ones that come together through imagination as the artwork is being assembled. But many of his most proud works are inspired by emotion and expression and often hold deeper meaning—just like the word “community.”
Learn more about Jim Bowen and Cape Cod Mosaic Workshops atwww.capecodmosaicworkshops.com
When Joanne Smith heard that Jay Ryan, the Principal of Rochester Memorial School was to retire she felt that she had to pay tribute in a big way. She had taken a mosaic workshop from Cape Cod Mosaic Workshops the previous Fall and during the class, she decided that he should have a mosaic mural placed in his honor at the elementary school.
Joanne researchd various ideas and came apon of mosic "Tree of Learning" and decided to produce such a project with her talented students.
Jim Bowen of Cape Cod Mosaic Workshops was asked to participate as the "artist in residence" during the month of May and the process began.
Students where given a fun power point presentation by Bowen, explaing a brief history of mosaics. He also showed the many objects that mosaics could be made of- from tiles and glass to jelly beans and even Cheeto's! Students were shown the tools used in this ancient art form and learned how to nip the tiles. His main focus however was community mosaic murals. He explained that like a community is composed of many people of all shapes, sizes and colors, so is a mosaic made of many pieces of all shapes, sizes and colors. Demonstrating community mosaic projects from around the world such as the country of Haiti, he explained that public art projects such as a mosaic mural can use the broken pieces of china and tile from an earthquake and be put together by members of a community to create something beautiful as a means to "heal" the community after a devasting event such as a natural disaster.
Mrs. Smith gave each student s snack sized baggie with a note explaining that the kids should bring a personal object to school in the bag which had some significance to them. Students were asked to write a short note explaining their choice. The object would then be used in a mosaic leaf that each student would create with a parent on the annual Art Night.
Dozens of parents and kids showed up to participate as Bowen and his wife Debbie guided them. The results were over a hundred leaves and a sturdy tree trunk which was permanantly attached to the main entrance wall at the school.
Kudos to Joanne Smith for organizing this vast tribute and to all the chidren for participating. Also, a special thank you to parent assistants Ilana and Michelle who helped Jim put the tree together and thin set it to the wall.
On a personal note, I want to mention how impressed I was with the students. I was able to teach over 600 students during the two days that I worked with them. They listened with apt attention and behaved perfectly. It was so refreshing to see how they responded to Mrs. Smith with politeness and disipline, a testament to her remarkable teaching skills.
PS Here is a link to Michelle's blog that she wrote about his project. please enjoy.
Shining Sea Bike Path Mosic Mural. Created by Cape Cod Mosaic Workshops. Design by Erica Szuplat.
When we decided to teach a workshop on mosaic murals for community public spaces we thought about the possible locations to place the mural. First, we wanted to utilize materials that we already had in stock. Our collection of stained glass remnants has grown over the years, mostly from stained glass artists who have seek me out as a fellow artist who could relieve them of their scrap glass. Why, just the other day as I got into my car at the hair salon where I work part time, I noticed that someone had left a beautiful china plate with a flower design next to my front door. It had broken in half. I know that my Mini Cooper stands out and with the Cape Cod Mosaic Workshops sign on the rear door it's quite obvious who I represent. Anyway, that act of kindness put a smile on my face :)
Moving along...We considered asking schools if they were interested and other pullic spaces like Town Hall, but first on our list was the Falmouth Service Center. I called on my old friend Erica Szuplat of Wisha Studios to create the design. Erica is a talented illustrator and designer who has worked on all of our recent community projects. She jumped at the chance, having been a long time donator and advocate for this local food pantry. Brenda Swain, who is the director met with Erica and Jim and began hashing out a conceptual design. We are going to use up our stained glass collection and place our mural inside the Falmouth Service Center lobby. They are doing a renovation and it will fit into their plans perfectly.
The planning process is fun but challenging. We have to consider the abilities of the students who will be particpationg. Most of them will be newbies. But, we will also have some of our very talented friends participate who have worked on our other murals like Claudia Hinkle whois always there to to the hard details when we ask. So let the fun begin!
Here is a link to the workshop description.