Home / Features / Feature / Mosaic expert Cassie Edmonds uses thousands of tiny glass tiles to make unforgettable pieces of art

Mosaic expert Cassie Edmonds uses thousands of tiny glass tiles to make unforgettable pieces of art

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Writer:  DANNY MOGLE / Photographer: DAVID WHITE / Jan.-Feb. 2017

“The Empress” demands complete and undivided attention.

Regal and serene, she stares confidently straight ahead. Her small ruby red lips and dark eyes are a contrast against snow-white skin. She wears a black and red headdress adorned with beads and jewels. The designs on her colorful ceremonial robe include five-clawed dragons, a symbol of imperial power.

An image of cranes is embossed on her golden medallion. Abstract clouds, waves and rocks — representing the harmony of heaven and earth — are on the sleeves.

CHECK IT OUT

“The Empress” is a three-dimensional mosaic based on a portrait of Xiaokangzhang, an empress in the Chinese Ming Dynasty.

Measuring 30 inches by 40 inches, it is made of thousands of tiny — some extremely tiny — 24-karat gold and platinum glass tiles, stained glass tiles, glass and natural stone beads, Swarovski crystals, vintage jewelry, glass cabochons and metal findings.

The headdress, collar and wide sleeves bulge from the flat surface making it appear as if her majesty is magically emerging from the frame.

“It is stunning, isn’t it,” reflects Sheryl Palmer, a Tyler, Texas, resident who commissioned the mosaic for her home. “When I first saw it, my reaction was one of awe. I think all I could say was, ‘oh my!’”

She displays “The Empress” above the mantle of a fireplace. “Just look at all the details,” she continues. “I am still discovering things (in it). Everybody who sees it is amazed.”

Cassie Edmonds created “The Empress.” She makes mosaic sculptures, wall hangings and, most striking of all, large-scale installations.

The artwork pieces take weeks, sometimes months, to plan and then are pieced together by carefully, slowly and painstakingly putting one small glass tile in place after another.

The labor-intensive process leaves no room for error. Cassie says to think about what happens if pieces to a jigsaw puzzle don’t fit together. Done properly, the results are stunning.

DISCOVERING MOSAICS

While growing up, being an artist was the last thing on Cassie’s mind. She was much more interested in playing tennis. She married at a young age and after her husband died a few years later, she wasn’t sure what to do with her life.

On the suggestion of her father, Don, Cassie enlisted at age 31 in the Army where, after boot camp, she was trained and worked as an air-traffic controller.

“I got my confidence back and my self-assurance back,” she says of her time in the Army.

After military service, Cassie did not pursue a career in air-traffic control. She moved to Tyler and found herself with a lot of spare time. To keep her hands and mind busy, she made jewelry, cross stitched and created hooked rugs. With each hobby, the creative challenge quickly wore off and she grew bored.

One day her mother, Bonny, told her about a mosaic workshop at Tyler Museum of Art. It offered little more than a fun day of gluing broken pieces of china but Cassie loved it. She couldn’t wait to go home and do more.

Six months after attending  the workshop, Cassie saw a fabulous mosaic table top made of stained glass at a gallery in Austin. It opened her eyes to the possibilities of using glass tiles to create fine art.

Cassie’s creativity kicked into overdrive. She began talking to mosaic artists and reading everything she could get her hands on about the history of the art form. She had a lot to learn.

“In the beginning, the challenge was learning the basics techniques, acquiring the proper tools and materials,” she says. “From there, it was a matter of mastering my skills and increasing my awareness of the craft.”

Her first pieces were crude. The tile pieces didn’t fit together very tightly or coherently.  But she wasn’t about to give up.

“I just got better at it,” she says. “People were encouraging me. They were telling me that my stuff is so good.”

Cassie began covering preserved cow skulls and other objects with tiles, crystals, beads and jewels. These were a hit with decorators and collectors who wanted unforgettable accessories. Art galleries began carrying her work.

Encouraged by early successes, Cassie became more daring. When given the chance to do a tile rug installation covering much of the floor of a spacious dining room, Cassie didn’t hesitate to take on the challenge, even though she never had attempted anything on such a massive scale.

“I love a challenge. I knew this was an opportunity,” she says.

Cassie used a grid to lay out an intricate pattern full of bold colors, purchased tens of thousands of high-quality tiles from Italy, assembled large pieces in the workshop of her Tyler loft home and supervised the installation. The result looks like one seamless piece.

Bethesda Health Clinic in Tyler commissioned Cassie to create a mosaic to cover a wall in its lobby.  Cassie used tiles of natural stones, glass, pieces of antique jewelry and pieces of shells to create a large-scale mosaic she named “Touch of Grace.”

A comforting vision of hope and mercy that greets all who enter, the mosaic depicts a beautiful angel with large unfurled wings descending from heaven to gently stir the healing blue waters of the Bethesda pool in ancient Jerusalem.

It is based on a passage from the Gospel of John that also provided the inspiration for the name of the clinic where doctors heal people who otherwise cannot afford health care.

“MAGIC CARPET”

“Magic Carpet,” a commissioned mosaic sculpture of a colorful Moroccan rug draped over a rod, is Cassie’s greatest technical achievement.

The task of giving tiles the quality of flowing fabric and executing a pattern that had to be seen at least partially from both the front and back sides at the same time seemed impossibly complicated.

She took a rug and hung it in different ways over a rod until she finally liked what she saw.

“Having never sculpted before, I had to figure out how to make something strong, rigid and not weigh a ton,” she explains on her Facebook page. “Plus it had to look like draped fabric.”

To create the illusion, she made an undulating base with mounds, valleys and ridges.

“I used steel mesh, chicken wire, shape sheets, epoxy hard coat and plaster wrap. The mosaic pieces consisted of glass tiles, stained glass, 24-karat gold smalti and beads.”

She attached a vintage tasseled fringe to the borders as a final step to make the sculpture even more rug-like.

Chris Leahy, the director of Tyler Museum of Art,  says multi-dimensional presentation is the distinguishing feature of Cassie’s talent. “She employs a variety of materials and surfaces to create a sense of fluidity and texture that bring the subject to life.”

He cites her work for Bethesda Clinic as an example of excellence. “When you look at ‘Touch of Grace,’ the angel is turning to welcome you even as you have interrupted her at her healing work.”

Chris admires and appreciates Cassie’s ability to give her pieces the illusion of movement.

“Cassie does a wonderful job of mixing and blending the types of pieces, called tesserae, that she uses in her work to create a sensation of movement through the reflected light,” he says. “Just look at the eyes of the subject in her spectacular ‘The Empress.’ No matter where you stand, she is looking at you as much as you are viewing her.”

GREATER HEIGHTS

Having recently completed “The Empress,” Cassie now is focusing her talent on pieces for a show at the prestigious Kittrell/Riffkind Art Glass Gallery in Dallas scheduled for February and art that will be on display in the showroom of Dallas interior design firm Cory Pope and Associates.

She hopes to do more large installations and pieces that are displayed in public spaces. She is in talks with another Tyler artist about a collaborative effort.

Cassie says she will never stop finding ways to take mosaic art to greater heights.

“To me, pushing the envelope means looking for ways to create a mosaic that I’ve either never seen done or have seen and haven’t tried.

“Mosaics are my passion. To me, this means that it never feels like work. I truly love working with the glass, manipulating the pieces and the entire process.  After doing this for over 15 years, I still have the same enthusiasm I had from the first piece I attempted.”

 

About Haley Holcomb

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