Putting the Pieces Together, or How I Spent My Vacation

A stay-at-home mom with two little girls, my mother nevertheless somehow managed to be quite creative. I can only conclude that we were very well behaved. I know that I was. My little sister, not so much. (“Hey, shut up there. I’m telling the story!”) Mom did bargello needlework, macramé and mosaics. I still have a bargello pillow that she made, several macramé belts, and three mosaics.

Island Made Art, Port Aransas, TexasIsland Made Art, Port Aransas, TexasOne of the mosaics hangs on a wall in my Port Aransas home but when I went to place the two mosaic tables that Mom had made, I found that over the years and in the course of many relocations they had fallen into disrepair. Tiles had fallen off and were missing and in the case of the larger table the backing board had buckled and rotted. What to do? I couldn’t simply throw them out and I didn’t really have the time or talent to repair them. So they languished away in my garage.

Enter Janet Dineen, mosaic artist at Island Made Art. I showed Janet the smaller of the two tables and she said, “I can fix that.” And she did. I was so glad that I asked. Had I tried to fix it myself, I would have screwed it up from the get-go. Turns out that the type of tile Mom had used was vitreous, not ceramic like bathroom tile. Vitreous mosaic tiles are made in molds from glass paste. They have a smooth top but the bottom is ridged so they’ll stick better. Who knew? (Janet did.) I would have driven myself crazy doing the mosaic equivalent of driving a square peg into a round hole, wondering why it didn’t look right.

Island Made Art, Port Aransas, TexasNot only did Janet fix the table, she made it better. Mom had edged the table with a brass strip which had always been too short and so did not quite make a complete circumference. Janet removed the strip and created a tile border instead, which really complimented the work.

Encouraged by the results, I brought Janet the larger table. (It’s 5 feet long and one-and-a-half feet wide.) She looked at the damage and blanched. “I wish I could, but I can’t. That would be a really BIG project,” she said. It would take far too much time away from her own work and she would have to charge accordingly. “But you can do it. I’ll show you how and you can use the space here at Island Made Art.” Island Made Art is a working studio where Janet and other artists create and sell mosaics, watercolors, sculptures, acrylics, metal work and island-themed décor. I had some vacation days coming up which coincided nicely with what was likely to be a slow time at the studio. Over the Christmas break, I usually do tackle a DIY or craft project. One year I distressed a table and chairs, another year I etched glass panes for my kitchen upper cabinet doors. So I decided my 2012 project would be repairing Mom’s table.

Our strategy was to:

  • cut a piece of fiber-cement backing board to the size of table. The new board would then go on top of another piece of plywood.
  • trace the original design using tracing paper
  • using carbon paper, transfer the design to the fresh backing board
  • peel the tiles away from the old backing and with wood glue, cement them onto the new backing board

Using an old metal pancake turner, the tiles did pry off the old backing easily enough. The problem turned out to be that they didn’t stay stuck together. In short, it became clear quickly that I would not be able to peel off and glue down the tiles in sections. The tiles would have to be moved one by one. By one. Individually.

To complicate matters, each little scrap of tile still had some old cement on it. To place the tiles as closely together as Mom had had them, I would have to clean each and every bit. No wonder professional mosaic restorers get paid well. They earn it!

As I worked, piece by little itty bitty piece, I became increasingly amazed at what Mom had accomplished. How in the world did she manage to do this, with two little girls to look after?

Island Made Art, Port Aransas, TexasI didn’t finish, but I haven’t given up. At the end of my vacation I took the components home and made some working space in my garage. My 2012 vacation project will consume many a 2013 weekend.

And I won’t end up with an exact recreation, but rather something more like an homage, an interpretation of Mom’s original.

Stay tuned for progress reports. Meanwhile, for more information about the finished works of art at Island Made Art, contact Janet Dineen at 512-619-5259. Or visit the studio at Island Made Art, 722 Tarpon Street, Suite F. I’ll see you there.

5 Responses to Putting the Pieces Together, or How I Spent My Vacation

  1. Pingback: Mosaic restoration

  2. john howell says:

    It is always amazing what our parents could accomplish that we seem pressed to do. Nice description. I liked the use of the adjective/noun combo “pancake turner.” This was a term used in my home when everyone else was saying “spatula.” Brought back memories. -John

    • Dee says:

      When I started working on the mosaic, I was simply stunned at what Mom had accomplished. Whenever did she have the time?
      IMHO a spatula is a flexible tool used to scrape down the sides of bowls and pots, whereas the pancake turner is a stiffer implement for flipping flapjacks, grilled cheese sandwiches and the like. Maybe I ought to watch more of the Food Network and see what the pros have to say.

  3. Barbara Sanchez says:

    Hey- what do you mean shut up!?!?!?!? didn’t I knock your door off the hinges too? And break your bedroom window? What a pain I was.

    I think the work looks fabulous! Thanks for caring so much. and yeah, when did she have the time??? I guess we were well behaved, or she locked us up somewhere!

    • Dee says:

      Oh, and don’t forget, stabbed me in the head with a pencil. I still have the lead point to prove it. No worries. Makes a great conversation starter and wasn’t that a great foreshadowing of all the writing to come? Lucky me, I always have something to write with.

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