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Mosaics as Medicine

In March, Elana was lucky enough to be able to attend the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA) conference in Boston.  There she attended presentations and workshops that will help with the installation of Arras, and was able to connect with other mosaic artists from around North America.   


One of the highlights of the trip was attending Mosaic Arts International exhibit and solo exhibit of Sophie Drouin (another Waterloo resident mosaic artist).


Elana's favourite session was called “Mosaics as Medicine”: a presentation by Claire Barnette, owner of Seattle Mosaic Arts (SMA), and one of Elana’s mosaic mentors.  Having been a previous member of SMA while living in Seattle, Elana was inspired along her mosaic path, and Claire taught her most of what she knows about mosaics today.


In Claire’s presentation, she talked about the neurobiological magic that happens in our brains as we piece together a mosaic.  The calming and soothing nature of creating a mosaic comes from the “back” brain when we nip and place tiles, while the ideas, rule-following, and organization come from the “front” brain. In the same way that tapping can be used as an effective treatment for traumatic/stress response and negative emotions, repetitively placing tile or glass in a row over and over again can be very therapeutic. Much like knitting, cross-stitch and jigsaw puzzles, mosaics can be helpful in dealing with chronic pain, compassion fatigue, eating disorders and anxiety disorders. And because making a mosaic uses both hands as we nip and place, it crosses both hemispheres of the brain. 


That wonderful high of getting “in the flow” when you’re on a roll gets more helpful theta brainwaves going.  The need to memorize a pattern and follow directions engages the hippocampus.  And there is a decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol, coming from the hypothalamus.  Finally, mosaics challenge your brain with spatial recognition as you try to find the perfect pieces to fill a space, much like a puzzle and then our reward centres are activated whenever a piece does fit.   


The design that we’ve been working on most recently, “Turquoise Diamonds”, is a perfect example of this brain magic that comes from a mosaic.  This textile was selected primarily because of the clean, simple lines representing the contemporary modernity of recent decades, as well as the lovely contrast that it has against the colourful and crazy Memphis-style “Geometric Gradient” design.  However, as a repetitive pattern, it has been a prime example of these wonderful workings of the brain.  Without a lot of variation in colours or tiles, and with very straight lines it involves all those elements of memorizing a pattern, repetitively placing tiles over and over again and getting “in the flow”.  All that being said, we’re looking forward to the creativity and random fun that will come out of our community workshop next week as we kick off work on our “Alphabet Graffiti” 1980’s inspired design.