Cathleen Newsham

by Sally  Kinsey - December 2017

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     The greatest part of writing the Featured Artist column for Luna Mosaic Arts are the artists themselves. This month I had the opportunity to chat with Cathleen Newsham. Passionate about mosaics, about her art work, about educating other artists, as well as growing the popularity of mosaics, Cathleen was easy to chat with!


     In speaking with Cathleen, she mentioned that, “…about two years ago I helped start the New England Mosaic Society, which is a regional mosaic organization.  We began with 9 members and now we have grown to over 100.  I built the website and managed it for the first two years, and have recently taken on the position of Co-chairing the Program & Education Committee. Two of our members worked very hard to get the SAMA conference to Boston, and we were successful!” As most of you know, the SAMA conference is right around the corner, the opportunity to interview Cathleen seemed kismet.



     Our conversation centered around the great responsibility we as mosaic artists have to be the best stewards of the art form, that we can be. For this reason, Cathleen focused her career in mosaic art, on educating fellow artists. Cathleen is one of the few who makes her living in the mosaic field. She expressed her passion in educating fellow artists in the proper techniques and processes for creating public mosaics that are going to last. Her goal is to insure the reputation of mosaic art as being a viable art form and one of the preferred options for public art installations. She also expressed that as much as she enjoys teaching, she also loves to learn from her contemporaries.



     Many readers will undoubtedly be attending the Society of American Mosaic Artist conference in Boston in March, 2018. (Registration is open and classes being filled quickly! - www.americanmosaics.org) I hope to meet many of you there, and if you get the opportunity to spend a few minutes chatting with Cathleen, I hope you catch her contagious enthusiasm for all aspects of mosaics!



LMA: Tell us a little about your artistic background:


Cathleen: I moved quite a bit growing up so I learned to entertain myself for hours on end with nothing but a pencil and paper.  My family ordered most of our clothing from the Sears catalog, (remember Toughskin jeans?), and I didn’t like the clothes very much, so I began sketching my own elaborate catalogs filled with the dresses and shoes I hoped to one day wear.  I learned how sew when I was about 10 and began making my own clothes, including a suit made of bright yellow corduroy!  No kidding.  It took me almost six months because I had to rework the pattern (which was an adult size), but it was impeccably sewn and I was very proud of it.  It was pretty hideous, now that I think about it, but hey it was the 70’s and corduroy was in style!  I really wanted to go into fashion design, but that did not fly with my parents, so after taking some drafting classes in my senior year of high school, I decided on Graphic Design as a major with a minor in Fine Art.  I graduated with a BFA in 1983 and began working as an art therapist at the largest state mental hospital in Louisiana.  This was prior to Prozac and needless to say, it was like the dark ages and pretty scary for a recent college grad.  (I could tell you many stories about my time there, but I’m saving those for a book.)  After about a year of struggling to teach art to patients who were almost comatose from the medications they were receiving, I took a string of graphic design jobs before landing a position as an animator for a video production company.  I really liked it, so moved to Washington D.C. for a better job, and eventually to New York City where I was fortunate enough to work on branding campaigns for several of the newly created cable networks.  A&E, The History Channel, The Food Network, ESPN and HBO were all building their brands and I was in the right place at the right time!





LMA: How long have you been creating mosaics?


Cathleen: I started making mosaics in 1999 while renovating my house in Westchester county, N.Y.  I wanted a glass sink and while on business in Seattle went to Dale Chuilly’s studio to buy one, but after looking at the price tag I decided if I could make a yellow corduroy suit I could make a glass sink!  A friend had given me some stained glass scraps a few months earlier so I began experimenting with various glass bowls and adhesives until I created a sink that was functional and would hold water, then played around with lighting it from underneath.  I was happy with the results, and after it was installed I went back to my usual artistic hobbies of photography, jewelry making and collage, until a neighbor came over for dinner.  She saw the sink and wanted me to make one for her.  Then another neighbor wanted one, then another.  And so my mosaic business began.  I think it was 2000 when I took a workshop in Philadelphia with Isaiah Zagar, then I started going to the SAMA conferences and taking classes with Laurel True, Ilana Shafir, Sherri Warner Hunter, Guilo Menossi and Bonnie Fitzgerald among others.



LMA: What are some of your favorite materials and what do like about them?


Cathleen: I started with glass and still use it quite a bit, and I use smalti for most of my architectural projects, but my real love is pique assiette.  It’s so much fun to collect everything and I really like that you can tell a story about a family, a place or an idea.  I am always trying to find large amounts of unusual materials that can be substituted for tile.  I’ve made floor mosaics out of coins from all over the world and once used old house and car keys for an entryway floor, making sure they were all the same height to keep it safe for walking.

LMA: Where do you find inspiration for subject matter?


Cathleen: Everywhere!  I love my iPhone because no matter when or where I find inspiration I can photograph it and reference it later.  I have a tons of Pinterest boards where I pin my photos, and if a client also uses Pinterest I share the boards so we can have the same visual reference points.



LMA: What is your favorite thing you have created and why?


Cathleen: I had a client who owned a broken Picasso ceramic platter that had been made in the last years of his life at the Madura Pottery factory in France. She wanted somehow salvage the platter and incorporate the pieces into a fine art piece to hang in her living room.  Of course I was very intimidated, but Picasso’s genius became so evident while I was working, that I felt he was right there with me telling me what to do, placing each piece and encouraging me.  I couldn’t wait to go into the studio and work every day, and the piece only took me a few weeks.  We named it “Jacqueline” after his second wife, who worked at the ceramics factory, and it hangs in the family’s dining room.



LMA: What would you like to learn more about in mosaics?


Cathleen: I love learning new techniques and styles so want to take classes with Kelly Knickerbocker, Carol Shelkin, Carole Choucair Oueijan and John Sollinger.  I love so many mosaic styles, and can never settle on just one and stick to it.  But hey, neither could Picasso!


LMA: What would you like readers to know about and your artwork?


Cathleen: That’s it’s always evolving.  And I don’t just make mosaics.  I paint, make collages, take photos, make jewelry, knit and crochet and feel that by practicing all these other art and craft forms it helps me stay interested and experimental with my mosaic work.  I’m currently working on a mosaic piece that was inspired by an exhibition I saw recently of the Gee’s Bend quilts, which were made by self taught outsider artists with cast-off clothing.



LMA: Do you have any favorite charitable causes?


Cathleen: I support the MS Foundation, www.nationalmssociety.org  Get-Involved and The Prospector Theater in Ridgefield Connecticut, which is a non-profit movie theater that creates meaningful jobs for adults with disabilities.  I made a pique assiette fireplace mosaic there a few years ago and it’s a truly inspiring place!  www.prospectortheater.org



LMA: What are your goals and aspirations with your artwork?


Cathleen: I had a walk-in mosaic studio in Ridgefield CT from 2005-2007 and realized how helpful the art form was to people going through and recovering from trauma.  I’m currently working on my Master’s degree in Art Therapy, so eventually I would like to teach what I’m learning to other mosaic studios around the world so they can feel confident incorporating trauma recovery programs into their class offerings. I’ve also been shooting footage of mosaic artists in their studios and hope to turn it into a documentary film about the renaissance of the art form.  But I need to focus on my day job - creating architectural mosaics!





LMA: Please share a favorite mosaic experience with us.


Cathleen: Creating the fireplace mosaic at the Prospector Theater was a lot of fun and very gratifying.  Using the pique assiette method, we incorporated Special Olympic medals that some of the disabled employees had won, movie reels, figurines, toys, an antique rotary phone, and lots of words that applied to the mission of the theater.  I met so many wonderful people and everyone was so encouraging throughout the process, that I was a little sad when we completed it just a few days before the grand opening.  I still see movies at the theater all the time and am very proud of that fireplace!



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