“Mosaic is an ancient art that lends itself to modern times easily. I had long loved mosaics, but never had a chance to make one because it is not a widely taught medium. Following a period of very poor mental health, a counsellor suggested I return to my roots and take up a creative activity. The very next day, and I promise this is true, I got an email about a mosaic class that was starting in my local area. As I was signed off work, I had time to do it. That was in 2009 – 2010, I can’t quite remember, because my memory is so hazy of that time. But I do remember how much the mosaic making changed me. It brought me peace that I had not experienced before. I wasn’t well enough to return to work, so I lost my job as a school teacher. Fast forward a few years, and my mental health had gone from living on the edge to being reasonable. I began teaching again, which I had never thought possible, but this time teaching groups of vulnerable adults, bringing them the joy that is mosaic. In my classes, I see people with very low self esteem and low expectations, blossom and smile with the success they feel when they realise that ‘this piece fits and I put it there’. I see them keen to try another, and another, and relish the finished section.
Many art and crafts activities can provide mindful activity, but I think mosaic adds something extra. Using little pieces of glass and ceramic, cutting them, putting them very deliberately into particular positions. The mind is constantly weaving back and forth between the detail and the bigger picture. The process requires both close examination and taking a step back to review progress. It demands commitment and decisions, but allows mistakes and corrections. And at the end, it gives a beautiful image that is tactile, visual and imaginative all at the same time.
The Big Mosaic Project, which began in 2018, is running across all areas of Mary Frances Trust. It seeks to encourage positive awareness of what helps clients on their journey to better mental health. The project has four sections, or panels, that fit together to make one whole. The outside edge is framed with the Trust corporate colours, and the internal edges are wavy and filled with blue glass and mirror, representing the water bodies in each area, and also the journey that rivers take, with the panels being carried along on that journey. Each panel is made in one centre, by a group of clients who are involved throughout the design and mosaic process on that panel. In terms of what the clients experience, they draw images of what matters to them on their journey to better mental health. I use these images to create a design that the whole group will work on. Each client then mosaics their parts, and I teach them the skills they need. Cutting glass with nippers isn’t difficult, but it does need a bit of practice to get it right, and good technique is healthy. Sessions often start quite noisy, as people chat. As the creativity gets under way, the chat fades away and all that can be heard is the click of the nippers cutting glass. The end of each session hears chat resuming, as clients compare their progress and share their experiences of the session.
Once the sessions are complete, I take the panel to my home studio (yes, my dining room table, but studio sounds so much more impressive!), where I complete the background and the watery borders, and grout. That is a very messy process, where I cover the entire mosaic with grout, it looks awful and anyone would think it has been ruined. But wiping away the excess, like easing away the darkness of mental suffering, reveals new beauty and a complete piece that is stronger in unity than one could have ever imagined at the start.”
The Big Mosaics project was revealed at our 25th anniversary event on 21 September 2019 at Denbies. The four panels are now exposed for all to see at our head office at 23, The Crescent, Leatherhead (see photo).
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