The American cultural
debate over earmarking federal funds for public art has been fought
from the art studio to city hall to political rallies. Opponents of
public art projects call them eyesores, moral corruptions or a misuse
of tax dollars. But a few artists are changing the hearts of even the
Few could argue
against the public art mosaics of Beryl Solla. She’s taking broken
tiles and mending communities.
that public art should reflect the needs and interests of the people
in the community,” says Solla. “When possible, I involve
community members in my art by incorporating their history or by inviting
them to make tiles with me.”
JoAnn Loctav, coauthor
of The Art of Mosaic Design, describes Solla’s work truer
to form. “For Solla, mosaic is a metaphor: broken tile that mends
In the centuries-old
technique of mosaic art, Solla pieces together fragments of glass, ceramic,
stone and clay to create intricate patterns within a unified whole.
Solla has used the technique to pull together the pieces of communities.
In Coral Springs,
Fla., at the Booher Addiction and Recovery Center for Women, Solla created
Home of the Brave, and named it for the individual bravery of its inhabitants.
were at their lowest,” Solla says, “They were former prostitutes
and women with severe drug and alcohol addictions — women who
had lost their children.”
Through a state
grant program, the Broward County Art and Design Committee commissioned
Solla to do a piece for the center’s main entrance. Solla could
have easily re-searched a 12-step program on the Internet or read an
Alcoholics Anonymous brochure, but she chose to meet the misery of addiction
face to face. “This center is a lifeboat for these women,”
says Solla. “The cooks work hard; the counselors work so hard
for these women. And they, in turn, work hard to recover and get their
everyone from cook to counselor to addict and decided on a mural of
symbolism — a piece featuring colorful hearts and hands in broken
tiles set against a black and white background. “Some of the women
helped make tiles and some chose to write affirmations on tiles shaped
like their hands,” says Solla, remembering vivid details of each
addict’s story. Some could only write their childrens’ names.
But each of these affirmations meant so very much to these women.
Now, their affirmations
permanently color the center’s entrance, where newly recovering
addicts begin a journey out of the dark hole of addiction. Solla’s
work so inspired the center’s staff, that they invited her back
to do a second project, including a small fountain patio and entranceway.
in the ability of art to communicate in real ways, not just aesthetically,”
says Solla. “That’s why I have community members help make
tiles, discuss content or install the mosaics. I love teaching and involving
my students in these community projects. I tell my students, ‘why
wait for some gallery director to never call; get out in the community
and put your energy to good use.’”
Solla began her
fourth year teaching three-dimensional drawing and general education
art classes at JMU this fall. She gave up an 18-year tenured faculty
position at Barry University in Miami, when she and her husband decided
that they wanted to raise their children in place more community oriented.
the whole country,” she says, “and found the best climate,
quality of life and sense of community in this part of Virginia.”
of community was instilled by an undergraduate art professor at Florida
International University. “I named my first son after him,”
she says. “He taught me about the artist’s responsibility
to community, and it is so true. Even before I began public art, my
individual expressions were socially conscious.”
In one of the
roughest, racially divided communities in Richmond, Solla helped local
police reach out to the public. “We invited the police chief and
several officers and community leaders to come together and work on
this mosaic,” says Solla. “Our concept involved a line of
human shapes holding hands, but it was hard to get some of our participants
to even hold hands for a photograph.”
The mosaic, commissioned
for the police station, is 15 feet tall and features a yellow police
badge over a black and white background. “The police wanted to
instill a sense of mutual trust in the community,” says Solla.
“So, the silhouettes of policemen and community members are each
a little black and a little white. By the end of our project, some of
the participants became friends.”
Broken tiles transforming
There is no association,
gallery or museum in the United States dedicated to mosaic art. Beryl
Solla doesn’t need one. Her art lives in the hearts of each community
member she has touched.
Click on the Full
Monty icon for a more in-depth story and visit arts-ville.com to see
more of Solla’s work.
Story by Michelle
Photos Courtesy of Beryl Solla and by Wayne Gehman