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Ligonier woman, nonprofit director Zimmerman promotes mosaic art

| Sunday, March 20, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Dawnmarie Zimmerman of Ligonier works on a mosaic in her home on Feb. 26, 2016. Zimmerman is the executive director of the Society of American Mosaic Artists.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Dawnmarie Zimmerman of Ligonier works on a mosaic in her home on Feb. 26, 2016. Zimmerman is the executive director of the Society of American Mosaic Artists.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
'Brothers', a mosaic by Dawnmarie Zimmerman of Ligonier, is on display in her home on Feb. 26, 2016. Zimmerman is the executive director of the Society of American Mosaic Artists.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
'Then My Heart Divided', a mosaic by Dawnmarie Zimmerman of Ligonier, is on display in her home on Feb. 26, 2016. Zimmerman is the executive director of the Society of American Mosaic Artists.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Dawnmarie Zimmerman of Ligonier holds a mosaic candle shelter on Feb. 26, 2016. Zimmerman is the executive director of the Society of American Mosaic Artists.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
'Coquelicots', a mosaic by Dawnmarie Zimmerman of Ligonier, is on display in her home on Feb. 26, 2016. Zimmerman is the executive director of the Society of American Mosaic Artists.

Life is reflected in bits of colored glass for Dawnmarie Zimmerman of Ligonier.

Zimmerman combines glass with marble and with pieces of slate she finds during walks on Laurel Ridge to create contemporary mosaic art. She has a passion for this textured form of expression.

“It's like candy. You want to play with it,” she said of the raw materials she transforms into images inspired by loved ones and by the emotional energy exchanged between individuals. “Each piece is cut and set with an intention of where it belongs.”

“Then My Heart Divided,” featuring agate and glass pieces, is a mosaic that captures the emotions Zimmerman experienced when her father, Donald Dye, lost his battle with cancer.

Her interest in mosaics grew from learning the skills her mother, Carol Dye of Lawndale, Calif., used to make stained glass works. Zimmerman's dedication to her art spurred her to join and volunteer with the Society of American Mosaic Artists a few years after the group's founding in 1999. In 2005, Zimmerman was hired as the nonprofit's executive director.

She said one of the most important roles of the society is to help mosaic artists “find their tribe, their kindred spirit.”

The group has grown to about 900 members from around the world, though most are in the United States and Canada.

It also has an educational mission that includes staging its largest annual event, a spring summit of exhibits and presentations by guest artists. Zimmerman is working with society volunteers to prepare for this year's summit April 4-8 in San Diego. The city also will host the society's 15th Annual Mosaic Arts International Exhibition, running March 31-May 27 at the Women's Museum of California and at the Casa Valencia Galeria. The show will include an online component at the society's website, americanmosaics.org.

Zimmerman acknowledged that the Internet has played a large role in bringing attention to mosaic as a contemporary fine art, not just a decorative art. The society publishes an e-journal, “Groutline.”

Many are familiar with the mosaic decorations of tile found in surviving buildings of classical Rome, but Zimmerman noted that ancient art's legacy has expanded to include images in a variety of sizes and settings.

“A mosaic can be a piece of jewelry or the side of a building,” she said.

Or in some of Zimmerman's recent works, it can be abstract representations of moods.

“I've really been doing a lot about mood as energy, how people's moods affect each other,” she said.

Zimmerman begins her artistic process by making daily “doodles,” watercolor or charcoal drawings that channel her thoughts and impressions of her environment. She visualizes the pattern of her drawing as she builds her mosaic on a backing material, sometimes using salvaged wall or floor tiles as the background for smaller works.

“I can refine it with the mosaic,” she said. “I like small-scale work. You can get a better sense of completion.”

Turning to traditional Italian mosaic tools and materials, Zimmerman employs a hammer and hardie — a thick chisel fixed in a block of wood — to break up larger pieces of glass for her works. She uses smalti, a hand-cut glass that is about the size of a penny. She fixes glass or marble bits in place using a polymer-modified mortar.

While Zimmerman's art has appeared in juried shows in California and Virginia, she has not exhibited much locally. But one of her pieces, “Uncorked,” was used to represent the theme of an identically titled 2009 exhibition by female artists she curated at the Bottle Works arts center in Johnstown. The subtitle of the show: “The Bottled Up Emotions of Women Released through Mosaic.”

Zimmerman finds making mosaics to be a stress-reducing activity.

She said she gets the most satisfaction witnessing the growth of fellow society members, who may become featured artists in exhibitions all over the world or who are teaching.

“That is really the best part,” she said.

Jacki Gran of Miami has worked with Zimmerman at the society since 2005 as a volunteer, trustee and now as president.

“I am in awe of her work ethic, her devotion, her stamina, her infinite patience and her love of mosaics,” Gran said.

In addition to marshalling the efforts of the society's volunteers, Zimmerman's role as director includes promoting cooperation with other arts organizations. Last year's Mosaic Arts International show was held in Philadelphia and included a collaborative effort with The Clay Studio there.

Zimmerman pointed out there is much common ground connecting artists working on mosaics and those working with clay: “We've learned a lot from each other. A lot of mosaic artists will make their own materials out of clay.”

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622 or jhimler@tribweb.com.

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