One of the great things about attending SAMA conferences are the people you meet, and those you get to know just a bit better than before. Putting a face with a name is good, but being able to put a personality with a face and name is so much more rewarding!
This year’s SAMA conference in Boston, was one that really did that for me, and one of the people I had the pleasure of interacting with was Dianne Sonnenberg. Dianne Sonnenberg has been a well know name in the mosaic community, and to me, via the internet for years. It was not until I met her in person that she became so much more than a name and images of her artwork.
I shared with Dianne that I tell my children often, that if I was leading the life today that I dreamed about in my youth, I would have sold myself short. Today, I do my best to stay in tune with the opportunities and creative inspirations which come my way on a day-to-day basis, trying all the while not to have expectations or self-imposed limitations. Like anything new, it takes practice to change ways of thinking, behaviors, and comfort zones. I find it is the people I cross paths with in life, no matter the length of our journey together, that influence me the most. They are the sparks that light new paths to travel.
Dianne is a person who I feel a kin to. She has not only a desire, but an eagerness to get in touch with her inner-self. Whether it be her heritage, her creative process, or contributions to others creative journeys, she is always moving in a forward direction on her path. My feelings of kinship are not that I feel I am the same, but in that I aspire to be the same in those respects. Yes, I aspire to be like Dianne in respect to her amazing acceptance and willingness to embrace the new and unknown, the creative and spiritual, the internal purpose of self and outward contribution to others.
You will read the thoughtful responses Dianne has give to the questions I posed to her below. It is my wish for you, as a reader, to hear the unspoken, and to feel the curves and straight-aways, hills and valleys of not only Dianne’s journey, but of your own. Put your walking shoes on!
“Ocean(egg)raphy” by Dianne Sonnenberg - 600 square foot sculptural mosaic installation. Two 6’ eggs on boomerang shaped bases grace a ranch setting outside Austin, Texas. Winner of the 2010 Mosaic Arts International Best Architectural Mosaic award.
LMA: How did you get started in mosaics?
Dianne: It’s a very interesting story...I had a vision!! I quit my job in Customer Support at Dell Computer when my daughter was born, so I could be a stay-at-home mom. When both of my kids were in elementary school (9 years later!), I wanted to go back to work. While figuring out what I wanted to do, (other than go back to the tech world) I woke up one morning with the idea that I “wanted to learn mosaics”. It was such an unusual thing, as I really didn’t know anything much at all about mosaics. So...I read some books, took a class, and serendipitously found my passion!
LMA: What was it about mosaics that held your interest? Why mosaics?
Dianne: Per the story above, I feel that I was drawn to mosaics, and it has continued to hold my attention and interest for over 15 years now. I find the process is meditative and engaging, and the end results never cease to amaze me. I love the beauty that can be created with glass, stone, andamento, and some thoughtful design work. I was so surprised that my first mosaics turned out well, and that sparked my interest in continuing to learn and grow and try new projects and techniques. I find that I continue to learn and grow, and expect that to always continue. There is always the potential for something new, unique, or more beautiful.
“Embrace” 8” by Dianne Sonnenberg - sculptural mosaic. Smalti, granite, semiprecious stone, 24K gold, and an illuminated glass sphere create this very personal piece exploring the preciousness and fragility of an embrace.
LMA: Can you share with readers how you have seen your work develop over the course of your journey in mosaic art?
Dianne: I’ve been very lucky to have had the opportunity to participate in some high-profile charitable mosaics early on in my career (GuitarTown, CowParade and Longhorn Stampede), which helped me to become recognized as a large-scale mosaic artist. I enjoy working on these types of mosaics, and this has led to a series of commission opportunities, which continue to this day. I have found that I enjoy working with clients to realize their artistic mosaic visions, and each project is so very unique and different and nearly always infuriatingly challenging! I often find myself saying “what was I thinking!?!?” when trying to puzzle out a particularly difficult installation challenge. Another part of who I am as an artist is all about the art that I create because of the voice within me that speaks. I have observed with great interest as my own voice emerges, grows and changes. A few years ago, I began a journey of recognition of who I am as an artist that has completely changed and directed my course irrevocably. I was adopted as a baby, and grew up apart from my biological family. I have always known that I was half Native American, but never really had the opportunity to fully realize what that meant to me, and what it meant about who I was. I am so fortunate to have recently found my biological family. Along with my parents, my half-brother, and extended family, I have also found my community, and so much more of my identity. I cherish this opportunity and find that am recognizing the Indigenous artist that has always been a part of who I am. This voice is still beginning to emerge, and I am cherishing every single moment of the discovery! After having spent much of my life truly NOT knowing who I was, this shift has been incredibly powerful and emotional.
“Striking Texas Gold” by Dianne Sonnenberg - 10’ mosaic guitar created for GuitarTown Austin, a public art exhibit and charity auction. This mosaic guitar, created from stained glass, mirror, tempered glass and tile, raised $55,000 for Texas charities.
The Dixie Chicks (pictured) were my celebrity sponsors!
Photo: Dustin Downing
LMA: I know you teach different classes, which is your favorite to teach? Why?
Dianne: I do teach a variety of classes, from beginner courses in Austin, to project-based courses all across North America. I love teaching my Mosaic Mandala Design course. It sprung from my love of creating mandalas, and my fascination with Sacred Geometry and symmetrical design. I created a course that really gives participants an education that they can use in their own future design work, while creating a personal, original design for the mosaic mandalas we create in the course. It’s a very labor intensive course to prepare for and teach, but the benefits of seeing the participants learn and grow is SO worth it! I have begun teaching another class I am very excited about too. It’s called Concept to Completion: Exploring the Creative Process. It’s all about finding your own voice, creating work that speaks to who you are as an artist, and moving beyond the blocks and challenges that sometimes keep us stuck. I’ve just begun to offer this course, but the results and reactions so far have been spectacular.
“Tex, the BCS Championship Longhorn” by Dianne Sonnenberg was created for the Texas Stampede for Children, a public art/auction event sponsored by Matthew McConaughey, Jack Ingram and Mack Brown to raise money for children’s charities. The life-sized longhorn featured beveled mirror and water glass mirror to represent the Waterford Crystal Trophy won by the Texas Longhorn football team at the Rose Bowl Championship. This mosaic raised a staggering $250,000 for charity, the most ever for an event of this kind.
“Gilded Lily” by Dianne Sonenberg was created for CowParade Austin, a public art exhibit and charitable auction. She is life sized, and features metallic paint accented with mosaic blankets and embellishments. Stained glass, glass tile and nuggets, millefiori, fused glass, and Spectralock Dazzle grout.
LMA: Which do you think benefits the new mosaic artist the most? And someone more skilled?
Dianne: For beginners, I encourage them to just jump in and enjoy the process. Trying to let go of the fear of learning something new can be extremely rewarding. For more experienced artists, I feel that it is important to never stop learning. I continue to take classes and workshops, and learn from others whenever I can. I think that this is very important for our growth as artists.
LMA: What would you like to learn/add to your mosaics experience?
Dianne: I have become very interested in 3D mosaics and sculpture. I have been practicing and learning as much as possible lately to explore this in more depth.
“The Same Sun” by Dianne Sonnenberg - 16” mosaic mandala. Stained glass, glass tile, beads. Dichroic glass, murrini, granite, 24K Gold Tile. For my brother, who reminds me that no matter how far apart we are, when we look up into the sky, we see the same moon and the same sun.
Light Swirls: 20” by Dianne Sonnenberg - mosaic mandala. Ammonite, stained glass, glass tile, mirror, beads, 24K gold tile, and Spectralock Dazzle Grout. Designed and created to express the awe I felt after being in the presence of Tibetan Monks creating a sand mandala.
LMA: Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years with mosaics?
Dianne: In 5-10 years, I see my voice as an artist more fully established. My work is currently in flux as I recognize and identify with my indigenous heritage and reconnect with my culture and my community. I see a trajectory which will hopefully lead to some strong and powerful new works of art.
“Putting Together the Pieces” Wearable mosaic bra created for Art Bra Austin, a charity live-auction runway show. Raises money for the Breast Cancer Resource Center of Central Texas. 24K gold tile, fused glass, dichroic glass, mirror, glass tile and fabric trim on a fully wearable corset.
LMA: Do you support any charitable causes? Which ones and why?
Dianne: I have supported many charitable causes over the years, including GuitarTown, CowParade, and auctions/community projects with my children’s schools/extracurricular activities, and other worthy community organizations. The cause that I support consistently is Art Bra Austin! This is my 8th year supporting this organization that raises funds for the Breast Cancer Resource Center of Central Texas. As a breast cancer survivor myself, I have received services from them while I was in treatment, and am very happy to help give back. My friend, fellow mosaic artist and breast cancer survivor Monica Meadows and I work together each year to create a beautiful, wearable mosaic bra. The bras are worn by models who are also survivors in a fabulous over-the-top live auction runway show! Our bras have consistently raised thousands of dollars for this very worthy cause.
“Apollo’s Stallions” by Dianne Sonnenberg - 6x4’ exterior mosaic created for an Arabian horse rancher. About 150 different muted shades of smalti and gold. Based on a portrait created by Emilie Touraine in 1964, a dear friend of the family.
LMA: What is one of your favorite quotes or sayings?
Dianne: If you don’t like a part of your mosaic work in process, ask yourself: is it going to bother you every time you look at it, or can you live with it? If it’s going to bother you, you’re going to HAVE to tear it out and redo it!
LMA: If you could give readers one single piece of advice, what would it be?
Dianne: KNOW that you are creative and do whatever it takes to find the time and energy to nourish that creative part of yourself. It will feed your soul in so many ways!
“Destino: All is Connected” by Dianne Sonnenberg - Sculptural mosaic created for the Clauiano Mosaic Symposium in Clauiano, Italy, under the direction of Maestro Giulio Menossi. Our concept was alchemy, and we were tasked with including wine barrel parts donated by our vineyard/winery sponsors. My mosaic features smalti, stone, 24K gold, and materials from my indigenous heritage, including porcupine quills, trade beads and arrowheads Stone from Canada, Texas, Italy, and the vineyard itself represented the concept that we are all connected.