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Technology gives ancient art a big boost

By Lee McCracken
Correspondent

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  • Terri Bennett: Make Valentine’s Day ‘green’
  • Mosaics

    • Use mosaic tile in smaller spaces (kitchen backsplashes, shower floors, shower niches, tub skirts, inlays) for a cost-effective and dramatic impact.

    • Cut the sheets of mesh-mounted tiles into various widths to create “borders,” or “ribbons,” to inlay with larger tiles.

    • Create a dramatic wallpaper effect using mosaics in large spaces or on full walls, such as fireplace surrounds and bathroom walls surrounding a vanity/mirror.



The ancient art of assembling small, colored pieces of stone and glass by hand has been shattered and remade as a manufacturing industry, awash in computer-generated, prefabricated mosaic patterns.

This assortment of off-the-shelf designs gives homeowners and designers the look they want – more easily and economically since the individual tesserae, or tiles, no longer have to be assembled by hand.

Mosaics today can be porcelain, ceramic, recycled glass, metals, natural stone and even precious stones such as mother of pearl and onyx.

“Gone are the days of contacting a contractor and being shown a few tiles for a renovation or the construction of a new home,” said Jeannie Heth, a Charlotte consultant with Daltile/American Olean.

In many cases, images are digitized and then put into square or rectangle tile designs. Ceramic, porcelain and stone tiles can be mesh-mounted in varying sizes, including 4-inch-by-4-inch squares up to 12-inch-by-12-inch squares.

“Elongated subway tiles (4-inch-by-12-inch sections) that create repeat patterns horizontally and vertically are popular, especially in subdued shades of gray, pewter and white. Glass is trendy, too,” said Valarie Holtshausen, the Charlotte showroom manager at Walker Zanger, where the inventory includes exotic mosaic designs from Tunisia and Peru.

With such a variety of products now on the market, prices can vary widely.

“With mosaics, you pay for design/uniqueness, quality of the material and name recognition,” said Carrie Gault, a Charlotte artist who offers handcrafted mosaics at ColorBoxMosaics.com.

Daltile is the largest manufacturer of domestic tile in the country and has two showrooms in Charlotte. Walker Zanger sells designs at a higher price-point. For those who want couture for their home, designs by Ann Sacks are options.

While mosaics by Ann Sacks can range $100-$500 per square foot, simple designs in stone start around $25 per square foot, said DeeDee Gundberg, Product Development portfolio director. Porcelain penny rounds in the Savoy collection can start as low as $12 per square foot.

At any price range, mosaics should be chosen soberly.

“Decorating with tile and using mosaics is permanent – it’s more final than paint or wallpaper,” Gault cautioned. “It isn’t something you’re likely to change in a couple of years.”

Traditional mosaic designs often are made with recycled materials. Ann Sacks is keeping that part of the tradition alive. The company’s Carillo mosaics, and some of the Savoy mosaics, are made entirely with recycled glass.

Automation gives architects the tools they need to create large murals at a fraction of the cost of handcrafted installations.

Jonathan Studioso, an architectural representative with Daltile in Charlotte, points to the projects he helped create, including the Charlotte Bobcats mural in the lobby of Time Warner Cable Arena, as well as the mosaics at the LYNX light rail stations and the Lawyers Road transit station.

“The artist supplied high-resolution art, which we pixilated into a tile mosaic on the computer,” Studioso said about the Lawyers Road project. “The glass mosaic pattern was paper-face mounted on 12-inch-by-12-inch sheets for easy installation.”

Both Daltile and Walker Zanger stock wallpaper-look mosaics with bold, large geometric patterns. “The pattern repeat basically is on a sheet that repeats to the next sheet, creating continuous flow,” said Studioso.

Technology is one factor driving change in mosaic arts. Modern aesthetics have a hand in it, too.

“What we see now is a shift toward linear glass and stone – cleaner lines in modern patterns, neutral palettes, matte and crackle finishes … and more fun and whimsical designs,” said Holtshausen.

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