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Mosaics: art for all ages

Kids and adults from thousands of years ago up through today have admired the hands-on artistry of mosaics.

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Have you ever thought about being an artist? Did you know that you don't have to be able to draw or paint to create amazing art? It's true! And Cappi Phillips learned this lesson early.

When she was in the fifth or sixth grade, Ms. Phillips thought you did have to be able to draw or paint to be an artist. She felt frustrated because she wasn't very good at either activity.

But she had a ball when her art teacher had the class cut up construction paper and use the pieces to make a picture called a mosaic. Ms. Phillips doesn't remember what she made, but she clearly remembers the fun she had arranging the bits of paper into something whole and artistic.

That's what mosaics are all about: making a complete object or picture out of lots of smaller pieces of material.

Today the mosaics Ms. Phillips makes in her home studio in Bloomington, Ind., are more complex and sophisticated. So are the tools she uses.

Still, many of her works embody a whimsical and often wacky humor that appeals to kids – and grown-ups who are kids at heart! With her husband, Bud, who helps out in the studio, Ms. Phillips sells handcrafted mosaic animals at art and craft shows around the Midwest.

The mosaic is an art form dating back thousands of years. A mosaic is made by fitting pieces of various materials together into a pattern or picture. Just about any material can be used. Historically, mosaic artists have used pebbles, shells, and small pieces of marble, glass, or tile.

Ms. Phillips uses some of these and a variety of modern objects – including toys – in her mosaic animals. Some of her most popular pieces are turtles. Have you ever noticed that the bony plates of a real turtle's shell make a kind of mosaic?

Ms. Phillips's mosaic animals are purely decorative, but she also makes functional mosaic pieces such as tables, plant stands, clocks, vases, birdbaths, and even mailboxes.

Mosaics are multicultural in origin. They are important elements of Greek, Roman, Christian, Islamic, Latin, Russian, and Near Eastern cultures.

One of the earliest known examples of a mosaic is about 4,500 years old. "The Royal Standard of Ur" (on display in London's British Museum) was found in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). The artwork is made with shells, red limestone, and lapis lazuli (a bluish gemstone) glued onto a wooden box. It depicts a battle scene on one side and a peaceful banquet scene on the other.

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