(Golden Horse by Joanie Callen)
Stroll past the giant glass windows of Red Chair Gallery this month and you will see a dazzling display of mosaic horse heads, glittering with beads and iridescent glass pieces. This is the work of Joanie Callen, who is a showcase artist in June.
Each mosaic piece requires mindboggling hours of work, 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 and it can take two to four months to complete a piece.
To start, Callen often browses in thrift shops or home décor stores for animal figurines. She found the horse heads at an import store on clearance. When she begins the project, she starts by attaching the eyes. “They become the personality,” she explains. Then she lays colored glass pieces and beads over the piece to design the patterns. “This is all done freehand on a three-dimensional piece.”
She makes about 80 percent of her materials herself. For the Golden Horse’s mane, she painted hundreds of handmade clay feather shapes gold. Each feather was then adorned with a crystal or a glass pearl. For the horse’s neck, she cut iridescent glass sheets into hundreds of oval shapes and then fired them.
Some features are made with commercial beads and shells that she buys in bulk. Eyelashes are made from dagger shaped beads, flat surfaces are covered with tightly spaced strings of small beads and shells are incorporated into manes or feathers. All of this material is attached to the base with epoxy resin, one piece at a time.
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 first encounter with the talented mosaic artist at the art fair, Callen began studying books about mosaic techniques and took a few classes. Her first project was a picture frame decorated with broken china pieces she found at a thrift store. She really plunged into the medium when she traveled to Ravenna, Italy to take a week-long class in Byzantine mosaic techniques. 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.
Retiring to Bend 16 years ago gave Callen the time to develop her artistic style. Besides animal figures, she also creates spectacular mirrors and African-inspired masks. To add a bit of cheer during the COVID-19 pandemic, she started making plant stakes that are adorned with colorful fused glass flowers and butterflies. The pandemic also gave her the time to explore new techniques and materials, which will undoubtedly appear in her future work.