Red Chair Gallery presents Joanie Callen, Multimedia Mosaic Artist

(Artwork by Joanie Callen)

If you look closely at one of Joanie Callen’s mosaic creations, it is like a kaleidoscope. The undulating shape and shimmering surface first catch the eye and then you are drawn closer into the glowing colors and intricate patterns she creates with glass and beads. Each piece is the result of months of outside-the-box creativity, tremendous patience and painstaking work. Callen’s latest art is showcased at Red Chair Gallery in April.

Each mosaic piece requires mindboggling hours of effort, including cutting glass or clay sheets into hundreds of pieces, designing the patterns in 3D, firing the pieces in a kiln and affixing thousands of beads and glass fragments onto the base. The process is extremely detail oriented, requiring her to make about 80 percent of the tiny pieces herself, and it can take two to four months to complete a piece.

Many of the pieces Callen makes are animal forms, like the owl pictured here, which was commissioned. She also makes stunning mirrors, picture frames and African-inspired masks. Her perky garden stakes have been a best seller during the pandemic. But the supply disruptions it created have affected Callen. It is harder to find some of the imported beads and shells she used in the past. “It has forced me to get more creative with materials,” she explains.

Because she can no longer source some feather and leaf shaped pieces, she now makes them herself out of resin. While this results in more work for her, she is able to imbue her pieces with color and glitter to her taste. She started making these hard-to-get pieces in baking molds but soon learned to make her own molds. She fills them with resin, glitter and dye and then waits 24 hours for them to dry.

Callen was not always an artist. She had a long career as a budget analyst for the state of California in Sacramento. One day she attended an art fair where she fell in love with the work of a mosaic artist who used broken china to decorate fountains, outdoor furniture and other objects. After that, she plunged into the craft by taking a course in ancient Byzantine Era mosaic techniques in Ravenna, Italy. There she learned how to set tesserae (square glass pieces) into a lime mortar bed. Back in California, she took more classes on making mosaics more colorful and including different materials such as beads, chain and mirror glass. Later, she learned how to apply mosaics to 3D pieces, like animal figures, using a base of epoxy resin.

The pandemic has allowed Callen to take a little more time making her unique creations. She often listens to podcasts by fellow artists, where they explain their techniques and ideas for art. This stimulation refreshes her outlook and pushes her to continue her own artistic growth. “I feel lucky to be able to do my art,” she says.

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