Most artists would be content to find a studio with good light and with enough space to store their material and make their art. Mosaic artist Jes McMillan thinks bigger. She rented a 16,000 square foot building in downtown Miamisburg that once housed a J. C. Penney Store and opened The Mosaic Institute of Greater Dayton.
Jes taught and lead murals for 10 years at The K12 Gallery for Young People before starting The Mosaic Institute. The space in her new organization will be used to host a variety of art classes, a walk-in mosaic art studio, and a huge gallery space for art exhibitions. When I visited, I saw an exhibition by the well known photographer Gary Mitchell.
We climbed the stairs and Jes showed me her studio which overlooks Miamisburg’s Main Street. This studio has everything. The windows provide lots of light, and Jes has plenty of work and storage space. There’s even a couch for restful breaks. For more energetic breaks from making art, Jes has a punching bag hanging in one corner.
I asked Jes to keep working as we talked and as I took photos.
I asked about the piece she was working on.
“This is Mary. I’m trying to present her in the most authentic way I can – the realistic portrait of a 13 year old Middle-Eastern girl painted with glass. Whose eyes are modeled after my own. Her halo will be a tribute to the historic icon mosaic style with beautiful combinations of gold mirror.
“All of this glass is handmade with unique detail and features. I may find a small piece of an eyeball in the middle of a 2 square foot piece of glass. Each piece has a different texture and color, and responds differently to my tools. Part of the challenge is guiding the glass to break how and where I need it to.”
“I have been a mosaic artist for 17 years, and I have taught mosaic art almost that long. Only a few months after I enrolled at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh to study industrial design, the school put me to work representing them in festivals, and teaching mosaic workshops to faculty and in the community. When I graduated in 2005 the school hired me to make a large mural that hangs in the Shannon Hall Artist Dormitory.”
I found an interesting apron hanging on the wall and asked Jes if she wore it while working (unless someone was visiting with a camera). She explained that it was used for messy projects and grouting.
“I’m excited about getting more people to come here and get involved with mosaic art. In addition to the mosaic studio and art classes, we’re gathering community to get involved in making large-scale mosaic murals. We recently finished our first mural that will be presented to Club Impact, Miamisburg’s Youth Center, this month. Families of Addicts, Montgomery County Adult Services, Miamisburg Parks & Recreation, youth groups and many more stopped in to place the pieces to create it.”
I asked Jes to pose for me one more time, and then to walk me around the building and show me some more of her art.
“These four pieces on the floor are my Trees of Life mosaics. They belong to the Dietsch family who is allowing us to display them in Dayton.”
“This is the first mosaic I ever made. I was 16 years old. It was inspired by Clash of the Titans. It is fun for me to look at this piece and be reminded where I started. I will probably never sell it.”
On my way out, I asked Jes about her artwork near the front door.
“From a distance the forms in a mosaic are striking. This one in particular is meant to present a strong design from further away as it is portraying a human aura of energy surrounding a figure. But when you get up close to the thousands of tiny pieces you can find some amazing details.
“Look at the depth here where I have painted and then glued clear glass on top of it. Small details are matched up perfectly from two completely different pieces of glass. I hid a squirrel in the bark of the ‘Spring’ Tree of Life. There are lots of hidden gems in my pieces but they can be very difficult to find. I could write full sentences and most people wouldn’t see it.”
Jes asked if I could find her signature. She said she signs all of her work, sometimes it’s obvious but mostly it’s not. I looked for a while, and then she showed it to me.