Mosaic artist Lori Greene creates beauty out of something that was broken

"I like 'mosaic' because it has a lot of metaphor - making something broken into something whole," said Lori Greene, this month's cover artist. "There are so many metaphors. It works for me."

Greene studied textile design in college and graduate school, but her interest shifted to working with ceramic tile, glass and found objects.

One of Greene's first mosaic projects was a community mural on the former Resource Center of the Americas building at E. Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue S. in Minneapolis. She worked with six other artists - Gustavo Lira, Deborah Ramos, José Luis Soto, María Guadalupe García Rojas, Isa Campos and Crescencio Méndez Gaspar - and more than 200 volunteers on the "Mosaic of the Americas" mural that boldly filled the side of the two-story building with color.

Installation day was - coincidentally - Sept. 11, 2001. Despite the terrorist attacks, "We decided to go ahead and install it. It was very helpful to everyone to participate," Greene said. "It became very clear to me that community work was important." People shared their personal stories while working together, she said, "and that all went into the mural we created."

That project was the beginning of Greene's thinking that mosaic work - in community - was her work to do.

Mosaic on a Stick

Shortly after the "Mosaic of the Americas" project, Greene participated in the Creative Community Leadership Institute, which paired artists with community organizers with the goal of finding solution-creating ideas. During her interview for the program, she voiced for the first time her interest in opening a mosaic shop that was a safe space for women to come and create.

"I had never said that out loud, never consciously thought it before. But that's how it began," Greene said of Mosaic on a Stick, the business she opened in 2004. Just south of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds at Snelling and Lafond avenues in St. Paul, it's the first mosaic-only store in Minnesota. She offers supplies, classes, studio and gallery space, and she even provides the tools. The shop is in a former city recreation center, a historic building designed by St. Paul's Cap Wigington, the nation's first African-American municipal architect.

Greene has a "no rules" approach to making mosaics in her classes. "Mostly, I want people to feel like they 'can,'" she said. "People are very fearful, but there's nothing to be afraid of. It's fun. People often say 'I have no artistic background, no skill,' and of course, that's not true. Everybody's got something."

Greene also does artist residencies, working with schools and women's transitional programs, hospitals, community centers and businesses on creative installations.

Her work can be seen at Midtown Global Market, Seward Community Co-op, Solera restaurant, Breck School, In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, the Ronald McDonald House, University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, and Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare.

Prison project

The black-and-white mosaic artwork on the cover of the February magazine (above) is a sharp contrast to her typically colorful mosaic pieces. The image is a response to her current participation in the Alternatives to Violence Project/USA (AVP) program.

Greene had training sessions with AVP last year that focused on introducing peaceful methods of conflict resolution, violence management and personal growth. Her first three-day workshops at a men's prison in Minnesota were in October and November.

"I still don't really know why I'm doing this," Greene said. "My life is kind of complicated. I'm a single mom. I have three children. I own a business. I'm usually working on a couple of projects, as well. I really don't have any extra time."

But "something touched my heart," Greene said, when one of the regulars in her classes at Mosaic on a Stick told her about the AVP program. Greene felt called to participate, too.

She described the workshop experience as intense: "[An inmate] tells you a piece of his story, you listen, and then you tell a piece of your story and he listens. There's no feedback, no response, it's just listening.

"We had shared so many stories. I shared things with these guys that I had never shared with anyone," she said, including her experience of being kidnapped in high school. "These were all very violent things, things that make you very vulnerable," Greene said. In some ways, she found the program to be a time of personal healing and transformation, although that is not why she thought she was participating.

She found it odd to be sharing her story with men in prison, when she had been responsible for sending someone to prison. She thinks it relates back to her creating a safe place for women to do art.

"I think I wanted to understand who people in prison are," Greene said. "What I discovered is that they really are just people. Some have made some really serious mistakes and others some really small mistakes. And they are paying for it. None of the guys said anything to me to imply that they didn't deserve to be there or that they felt sorry for themselves."

Whether in a program in a prison or when working on a community-based art project or in a mosaic class at her shop, Greene shares stories and creates beauty. She sees individual broken pieces and puts them together to make something whole again.

FFI: Lori Greene: www.greenemosaic.com
Mosaic on a Stick: www.mosaiconastick.com
Alternatives to Violence Project: www.avpusa.org

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