Andersons study at world-renowned mosaic art school

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Over the course of two weeks spent studying mosaics in Ravenna, Italy, the Andersons learned exactly the same techniques used by Roman and Byzantine artists. (Photo submitted)

By Molly Moser

It took thousands of individual pieces of glass, hand-cut to size and glued upside-down in a mirror image of the final artwork, but this spring Pastor Shane Anderson of Guttenberg unveiled a stunning mosaic of Christ the Pantocrator. It took over eight months to complete, using 10,000 individual pieces, and was on display this summer at St. John’s Lutheran Church.

“I first got interested in mosaics when I traveled to Israel in 1999 and saw the Mona Lisa of the Galilee at the ancient Jewish city of Zippori. It is simply amazing and is still considered to be one of the best ancient mosaic portraits in the world,” explained Anderson. Several years ago, he read an online article about the Lod Mosaic discovered in Israel during road construction. “I then wanted to know how mosaics were made and one thing led to another and I finally decided to try my hand at making one myself. I am most interested in Liturgical Mosaics or those which adorn churches, so my first mosaic was inspired by the loaves and fishes mosaic found in Tabgha, Israel, the site of Jesus feeding the 5,000. After six months of being completely self-taught through online articles and videos, I finished my first mosaic,” said the pastor.

He knew he wanted to study mosaics at the world-renowned Mosaic Art School in Ravenna, Italy. “It was only after a relatively young and healthy member of our congregation was recently diagnosed with cancer that we decided not to put it off and made plans to study abroad this year,” Anderson told The Press. He and his wife got their passports and departed for Italy the first of July. 

The Andersons spent two weeks at the school, working alongside students from America, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Spain, Ireland, China and Russia. Students learned exactly the same techniques used by Romans and Byzantine artists.

The Mosaic School was founded in Ravenna by Luciana Notturni, one of the few mosaic masters in the world allowed to restore old masterpieces. In addition to teaching and restoring old masterpieces, the school also creates new projects sought by international designers, architects and artists. The city has become the International Center for Contemporary Mosaic, and artists now visit Ravenna to study, exchange ideas and techniques, and exhibit their artwork.

“While there, we rented a cottage right in the center of the old part of the city, within easy walking distance to everything,” said Anderson. “Ravenna is home to eight UNESCO world heritage sites which contain the best examples of Byzantine mosaics in the world. As part of the class, we got a tour of the sites with a professional tour guide who gave us the history of Ravenna and of course the history of the mosaics in all of the amazing churches and museums.”

Mosaics were first created over 4,000 years ago. In the four centuries B.C., Greek artists began using precise geometric patterns and detailed scenes of people and animals. With the rise of the Byzantine Empire came the use of ungrouted Italian glass pieces in mosaics sometimes backed with silver or gold leaf to create a glittering reflection of light. Mosaics rose from floor to wall and ceiling coverings, and the images depicted were of typical Christian themes.

“The most amazing thing is the stunning brilliance of the 1,500 year old mosaics, which look like they could have been installed yesterday,” Anderson told The Press. “Several of the churches we visited had Frescos that date anywhere from the 900s to the 1400s, and all of them were faded and in poor condition, but the mosaics were stunning – especially at the Basilica San Vitale and the Mausoleo di Galla Placidia.”

Anderson’s wife, Lori, had never done a mosaic prior to attending the school. She signed up for an introductory course and became captivated. “During the two weeks we were there, Lori made four mosaics with four different techniques and I made two. She is now hooked and is looking forward to making several more,” Anderson explained. “During the courses we learned all the different methods of making mosaics, including the ancient Roman and Byzantine methods as well as framing and modern installation techniques for floor and wall mosaics.”

The couple hopes someday to do liturgical mosaics for churches as another way of proclaiming the Gospel.

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