Feature Photo: Janna Paulson, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy, 1981
The history of mosaic is more than 4,000 years old. In the beginning, artists pushed terracotta cones point-first into a background for decoration. By the eighth century BC, there were pebble pavements using multi-colored stones to create patterns, although these tended to be unstructured decoration. Later, in the four centuries BC, the Greeks raised the pebble technique to an art form. They did this with precise geometric patterns and detailed scenes of people and animals.
By 200 BC, artists began using manufactured pieces (“tesserae”) specially made for mosaic to give extra detail and range of color to the work. Using small tesserae, sometimes only a few millimeters in size, meant that mosaics could imitate paintings. Many of the mosaics preserved, at Pompeii for example, were the work of Greek artists.
Subsequently, the art form took on new characteristics with the rise of the Byzantine Empire from the 5th century onward. The capital city, Byzantium, was later called Constantinople and is now Istanbul, Turkey. These included Eastern influences in style and the use of special glass tesserae manufactured in northern Italy called smalti. These were made from thick sheets of colored glass. Smalti have a rough surface and contain tiny air bubbles. They can even have reflective silver or gold leaf backing.
Who would have thought that here in Austin, Texas we would find an artist as talented as Celia Berry? She has a BFA from University of Kansas in Textile Design. She caught the mosaic bug while traveling in Spain eighteen years ago. She has studied at the Mosaic School in Ravenna, Italy not only once but twice – six years apart. She uses the same ancient technique and materials as the Byzantine mosaic which are small pieces of glass with subtle shadings, formal patterning and gold accents. Bisazza, an authentic glass tile manufacturer, creates these materials.
You can see her work up close at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, Seton Medical Center Women’s Clinic, Westin Hotel River Walk, Paradise Café and more. Additionally, her private work covers many notable Austin residences.