Q & A with ‘Mary in Mosaics’ artist

| June 15, 2015 | 2 Comments
detail-of-mosaic

Detail from “Our Lady of the Trees,” mosaic by St. Paul artist Kathy Mellin Grubbs, 2013. Bob Zyskowski/The Catholic Spirit

Creating mosaics are a form of prayer for Kathy Mellin Grubbs, and the “lovely” and “interesting” bits and pieces that the St. Paul artist uses in creating mosaics are all different, but “together they make fascinating art. Like life, yes?” she said.

An exhibit of her collection, “Mary in Mosaics,” is running through July 12 in a gallery in the lower level of the Basilica of St. Mary, 17th St. N. and Hennepin Ave. in Minneapolis.

The basilica is hosting an artist’s talk and reception at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 18. Grubbs, a basilica parishioner, is trained in both classic and contemporary mosaics. In addition to the classic use of carefully broken stone and fine poured Italian glass known as Smalti, she also utilizes porcelain, stained glass, ceramic, stone, fossils, handmade tile, beads, and found and reclaimed objects in the formation of her work.

The Catholic Spirit conducted the following question-and-answer interview with the artist via email:

Kathy Grubbs

Kathy Grubbs

Q: From seeing your portfolio, your mosaic work touches on a variety of subjects, yet many, like the mosaics of Mary, are religious? What is the reason for that?

Sometimes I like being given a topic to work with, but more often than not I push a few beautiful bits around until they talk to me. And more often than not, the topic of the art I create comes out of a spiritual place. I pray often throughout the day. I read the Bible for a few minutes almost every day. I have religious art in my home. I suppose that has an influence. Creating mosaic art is a form of prayer for me. It’s creative, methodical, and patient. I listen to music when I work. One of my favorite CDs is by the Basilica’s Mundus (World) Choir. The more I listen to it, the more I love it. The lyrics and the music have inspired many of my pieces. I feel like what ends up on my “canvas” is simply what needs to be there. I start with a plan, but not one mosaic work has ever come out exactly as imagined it would. Usually I like it even more when I am finished. I approach my creativity from a place of reverence and respect. I would like to work full time creating art for sacred spaces. 

Q: What do you hope to communicate with your work with people who see the exhibit at the Basilica?

My personal motto with regard to mosaics is “Pick up the pieces and make something beautiful.”  There are a lot of metaphors in the creation of mosaics which apply to life. I had a fairly average and ideal childhood, thanks to my loving, Catholic parents. One of my mottos as a kid was “Bloom where you are planted,” because we were a military family and moved often. But my adult life was often tumultuous, due to my ill-advised first marriage. I was abused, and left feeling shattered. Through faith and courage, and the help of a lot of earthly angels, I picked up the pieces and rebuilt my life. Things got better. I was blessed with a happy marriage. Creating mosaics was therapeutic and joyful. I came to see that many parts of my past were not all bad. If I used and reshaped the good, valuable, lovely parts and rearranged them in my new life, I found I could go forward every day. There may be hundreds of different bits of “lovely” and “interesting” in my mosaics, but all together, they make for fascinating art. Like life, yes? 

Q: What has inspired you to do some many mosaics of Mary? It seems you have a devotion to her.

I do have a devotion to Mary. No doubt. A few times I have dreamed about her, probably because I think about her a lot. I read books about her. I’ve witnessed the power of the rosary in my life. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I was supposed to do with the peaceful, yet energized feeling I get when I think about her. In the last ten years, it has come out in my mosaics. My mother was devoted to Mary. Thank you, mom, for your sweet example.

Q: The figures of Mary that pop out of many of your works — do you create those or are they statues you procure some how? What can you tell us about them, and why have you chosen to use them the way you do?

I sometimes hunt thrift stores and estate sales for cool objects to use in my mosaics. When I find Mary statues, plates, etc., I feel heartbroken that they have been abandoned because they may be chipped or slightly damaged. I try to keep the image of Mary intact as much as I can. When Mary is three dimensional, you can’t help but feel her talking to you somehow. Sometimes I make my own handmade tile or ceramic pieces to pull it all together. I think it’s important for my work to have a lot of texture and color. I feel mosaics gives these images new life. I hope someday someone will see the way the parts have been remade and love them again. (I have painted Mary, but I have not made her in clay. I haven’t had the courage yet.   Now that I have said that, I feel challenged to be brave.)

Q: Finally, are you involved in the Basilica parish is other ways?

Oh, yes, I love the Basilica community. I’ve never left the Church, but after a dangerous and painful divorce I was left with a lot of issues to work on. One day I stopped in at the Basilica. I found a card about a “Catholics Coming Home” session. Attending it gave me answers and healing. I joined the parish a few years ago. The Basilica’s support of liturgical arts is part of the reason I participate there. I joined the Mundus Choir. I love singing international and contemporary music. Both my parents have passed, so now when I say “I’m going to my mother’s house,” I’m headed to the Basilica of St. Mary.

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  • Creating this art was very healing and inspiring for me. I hope that in this show, my mosaic art will reach out to you with kindness.

  • My friend Chris Valentine is a talented poet who wrote the following poem for this exhibit: My friend, Chris Valentine wrote this poem about mosaics
    Randomly scattered, the pieces lie wanting
    Mere shards and stones, to the artist they’re taunting
    Begging for use and to be created
    Into something unique and never outdated

    With caring hands the artist rends new
    An object which is so pleasing to view
    The randomness now becomes art defined
    The fusing of thought and beauty combined

    The gift is not the art itself
    And not that it sits alone on a shelf
    The gift is the message so prosaic
    Delivered in the mystery of the mosaic