One of my passions is functional art — items handcrafted by artisans that can also be used for everyday purposes: pottery vases, stained glass candle holders, majolica pieces, batik fabrics, and jewelry (to name a few things).
I enjoy learning about the artisans and what led them to their work. For example, one of my first pieces purchased (ca. 1993) was a majolica bowl painted by a woman in the Cal State Hayward (now East Bay) Fine Arts program.
Artists in the program would regularly show their work at campus events; the woman, “B. Priolo,” had traveled to Italy to paint and spent time at Deruta, where she learned about majolica, specifically the pieces created by Grazia-Deruta, one of the oldest (1500) pottery companies in the world.
She talked about how the light was different in Italy and how the beauty of the surrounding area inspired her to paint landscapes on everyday items, such as platters and bowls.
I’ve not been able to determine the background of Grazia-Deruta pieces, but I believe people travel to the factory museum where they can paint pottery pieces. These pieces are then signed by the artist, with an added mark: “Grazia-Deruta, Italy.” You can find these pieces on eBay and Etsy; I’ve begun a small collection. Some pieces are quite rare.
Ms. Priolo’s story, and the bowl I purchased that day, which I still proudly display, inspired me to be on the lookout for local artists and their work. When I meet such an artist, I always feel the delicious thrill of discovery.
Such is the case with Shelley Dane, who specializes in handcrafted mosaic trays.
An ancient art form
According to Shelley, the first mosaics, comprised of ivory, shells, seeds, and other items, were found in Mesopotamia. Over time, artisans moved to pieces of broken or cut glass and tiles.
Today, artisans use anything they can get their hands on — including seeds and beans! When Shelley mentioned this, I instantly flashed on the art project from fourth grade, when we had to create large mosaics using dried beans and rice. “We all did those!” says Shelley.
As with any art form, people either love mosaics or they don’t. Personally, I’ve always loved stained glass (and even took a class in my 20s), so Shelley’s pieces instantly caught my attention.
Shelley’s beginnings: Heirloom mosaics
Based in Bethesda, Maryland, Shelley learned the art of mosaics while living in Bucharest, Romania with her husband and four children. While attending a pottery painting weekly gathering at a friend’s home, she was introduced to a Romanian woman who taught mosaics to women living in rural areas as a way to make extra income. Immediately inspired, she spent the next three years learning and perfecting her mosaic style while living abroad.
One of her first pieces was a remake of a dusty clay vase owned by her sister-in-law. Shelley was moved to transform it into an heirloom when she found a broken tea cup (owned by her mother-in-law) in her china cabinet.
“One of the first pieces I made in Romania was a tray using floor tiles and grout,” says Shelley, “but coffee stained the grout. I hadn’t yet learned how to preserve the materials I used.”
As she learned and experimented, Shelley was commissioned by people to create mirrors, frames, and wall mosaics. She then discovered stained glass.
“Using glass is like a puzzle,” she says. “I love cutting the pieces and fitting them into a piece.”
In 2011, everything came together. A painter friend decided to make painted necklaces. To protect the fragile work, she covered it with a light resin.
As soon as Shelley saw the result, everything clicked. “The resin didn’t require grout,” she said, “and it was lighter, durable, and washable. I realized I could begin displaying my art on functional trays.”
In 2014, Shelley was commissioned to take a broken dish and, along with glass in the colors of the kitchen, create a functional serving tray. “Red Flower” was the result.
Mosaique Designs: Functional trays and commissions
Today, Shelley creates beautiful trays and other pieces on commission using stained glass and tiles.
Her pieces always begin with an inspiration: a photo, a favorite piece of art, or a memory or feeling you’d like to evoke.
She sketches the design on paper, and then selects the materials: glass, tile, etc. Each piece is individually glued to the tray to ensure none of the pieces shift once the resin is poured.
My colleague, Rachel Cunliffe, designed Shelley’s website and then posted it to LinkedIn, which is how I was introduced to Shelley and her trays.
As soon as I saw her work, I knew I had to have one of her pieces and purchased “Thoughts of Spring” (featured in the video), which now sits proudly on my fireplace mantle. It’s a beautiful piece and brings me so much joy.
I also commissioned her to create this beautiful tray for Rachel Cunliffe as a birthday gift. It was quite thrilling to go from her initial sketch to see the actual tray once it arrived. The beauty and sparkle of it was breathtaking.
To learn more about Shelley Dane, and to purchase one of her lovely trays — or have one custom made — visit her website at: mosaiquedesigns.com.
I’m not paid nor asked to write about Made in the USA products or the companies or people that make them. All links in this piece are “free.”
My mission is to keep manufacturing jobs stateside and this blog is my way of giving back. We like to think a “small” choice, such as purchasing something made in the US by American workers or craftspeople, won’t make a difference. It does.