Creekside man forms his artistic vision a piece at a time
When Jerry McClure picked up a book on 13th century mosaics five years ago, he never imagined he would one day see a one-man exhibit of his own mosaics.
McClure is featured in the Indiana Art Association's current exhibit at the UrgiCare facility at Indiana Regional Medical Center's main Indiana campus. Fourteen of his many works will be on display there until Sept. 1.
“I always liked to draw and I got good grades in art in high school, but I never thought about doing mosaics until I looked at that book,” he said. “When I saw them I decided I wanted to try one. My first mosaic was just a simple flower, but from then on I was hooked.”
McClure is willing to make a mosaic on any subject, but his most common themes are birds, animals, Greek mythology and religious icons. “I get up at 5 a.m. and sit on my deck and drink coffee,” he said. “That's usually when I get the idea for what I want to make next. Sometimes, though, someone suggests something to me and I do it.” He is also willing to work on commission.
He ‘s also created some abstract works, which he noted his wife, Heidi, likes.
McClure admits mosaics aren't as easy to sell as some other genres of art.
“It seems like the popularity of certain art forms comes and goes. Even among the mosaics, certain themes sell better than others,” he commented. “My most popular items are the mirrors with mosaic frames. That may be because they are functional art and because they are cheaper than the other pieces.” He said last Christmas he sold six of his mirrors.
His favorite subject is exotic birds because they are so colorful. He also enjoys making his religious icons but said he doesn't make as many of them because they don't sell well.
He admits that some of his pieces are “pricey,” but he explained, “Some of my larger works have hundred of pieces of tile in them and hundreds and hundreds of hours of work.” He noted that he does sell his work sometimes on payment plans.
When McClure gets an idea for a mosaic, he begins by drawing a rough sketch of it on paper. He then makes a rough outline of the subject on paper in the size of the finished mosaic. “I use a lot of erasers,” he said.
When he is satisfied with the outline, he traces it onto a piece of plywood. He is then ready to start applying tiles.
McClure buys ceramic tiles from a local dealer in one-inch pieces and cuts them to the size he needs. He also frequently used stained glass tiles, also cut to fit if need be.
“Every one of my works usually ends up with a little of my blood in it somewhere,” he said with a laugh.
McClure doesn't usually plan the placement of tiles before starting a piece. “I like to decide that as I go,” he said. “Sometimes I'll work for a couple days on a portion of something I'm making, then decide I don't like it. I'll scrape off what I don't like and start that part over again.”
He said it sometimes happens that he won't like something, but he leaves it alone because Heidi does like it. When a piece is finished, McClure makes the frame for it himself out of oak.
According to McClure, every piece he has ever made, no matter how much he likes it, is for sale except one.
“I had my dog, Andy, for 13 years. He was my best friend,” he explained. “He got cancer when he was 11 years old and had a leg amputated, then went to Pittsburgh for chemo treatments. He died when he was 13. I made a mosaic of Andy in the arms of an angel and it's hanging in our living room. A million dollars wouldn't buy that one.”
In addition to his exhibit at IRMC, McClure has a mosaic of a black crow on display at the International Small Works show in Kutztown. He has also shown his work at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art in Ligonier, the Hoyt Museum of Art in New Castle, the Butler Art Association and numerous Pittsburgh galleries.
McClure, 60, grew up in Indiana and currently lives in a log cabin near Creekside. His studio, Autumn Moon Mosaics, is above a garage on the property. Heidi, who is an artist who does jewelry and abstracts, has a separate studio. He is hoping to build a larger studio next year.
The thing as near and dear to the couple as their art is their dogs. McClure noted they frequent the local shelters and adopt old dogs who would probably not get a home otherwise. “Right now we have six dogs and they are all over 13 years old. Our property is fenced and the house and studios all have dog doors in them so no matter where we are we have a few dogs with us,” he said.
One difficulty of welcoming older dogs into their home is that they must soon say goodbye to them.
“One year we lost four in one year, and that was rough,”McClure said.
McClure's philosophy on life and his mosaics are the same. “Life is a puzzle,” he said, “Sometimes you just need to sit back and see where the next piece will fit for you.”
Jeanette Wolff is a freelance writer.