Janice Schmidt started small.
Her first mosaic pieces held votive candles. She made them for Christmas presents. She was a fiber artist in those days, working mostly on sewn pieces and clothes. Then, about 15 years ago, a friend suggested she try her hand at making mosaics. “I just started dabbling,” she said.
It sounded so easy, Schmidt recalled. He friend said all a mosaic maker had to do was take some colorful glass, “snip it, glue it and grout it.”
Nothing, of course, is ever really quite as simple as it first sounds. “Those first attempts were pretty rugged,” the Brookhaven artist admits. “But you’ve got to start somewhere.”
And as she’s grown more adept in making mosaics, Schmidt’s works have grown a bit. Quite a bit.
She now decorates tables, wall-sized mirrors, lamps, chandeliers, even walls. She does bathrooms and kitchens. “I’m doing bigger and bigger things,” the 66-year-old mosaic maker said one recent afternoon as she relaxed in her basement studio.
And, to keep a hand in the world of clothing design, she makes mosaic belt buckles.
“I love embellishing things,” Schmidt said. “It’s a great idea to wear your work. One of the fun things about being an artist is you get to work costumes when you go to a show. Well, I don’t wear a beret or anything…”
What’s the appeal of mosaic? “It’s limitless,” she said. “It is limitless. Anything you can imagine, you can do.”
Her imaginings have paid off. Next month, Schmidt will show her work at the 22nd annual American Craft Council Show in Atlanta, one of the area’s best regarded craft shows. Schmidt also shows and sells her work at local crafts fairs, such as the Inman Park and Brookhaven fairs.
The Crafts Council’s Atlanta show, which claims to be the largest juried fine crafts show in the southeastern U.S., is scheduled for March 11 through March 13 at the Cobb Galleria Centre. Admission is $13 a day or $20 for a three-day pass. A special $5 admission is available after 5 p.m. Friday.
Schmidt makes her mosaics mostly from stained glass now. She does snip it, glue it and grout it, but in such a way that it forms huge flowers, leaves, sunbursts and other images. A mosaic portrait of her husband, Charlie, hangs over the couple’s mantel. Charlie’s workshop now takes up the other side of the basement of their home. He makes his own craft pieces and sometimes works on an old table she plans to remake with mosaic.
Schmidt has studied her craft. She said she twice has traveled to Italy to take courses in mosaic work and to study examples of the ancient craft up close. During those courses, she learned to make mosaics with glass. She also has used marble or semi-precious stones in her mosaics.
Making mosaics, she said, allows her to work with her hands, just as sewing did. “For some reason, getting my fingers in it has always appealed to me.”
Working with glass freed her designs. “You break apart the colors. You put them back together again and you work with it,” she said.
Schmidt’s work started as a hobby. She worked in various offices and did creative projects on the side, she said. Then, about eight or 10 years ago, she said, a good friend of hers, a social worker, developed breast cancer. One day, her friend sat her down for a chat.
“She said, ‘You have talent. Life is short. What are you going to do about it?’” Schmidt recalled. “That really rattled my cage.”
So Schmidt decided to pursue her craft seriously. “It takes a lot of courage,” she said. “When you first start going public with your work, it’s terrifying. It’s like Sally Fields: ‘You like me!’”