Natalija the Mosaic Russian Doll

Natalija the Mosaic Russian Doll

Most artists are aware of how much personality a work of art can assume during the process of creation, especially when the piece of art requires a long period to complete. Artist Peter Vogelaar says he often spoke to his “Rebirth” mosaic matryoshka sculpture while working on her and referred to her as Natalija.

A matryoshka (“little mother”) is a traditional Russian doll made from painted wood and hollowed out for a series of smaller wooden dolls inside with the same design. These recursively-nested dolls symbolize fertility and the continuity of life and the family.

Peter made his mosaic sculpture Rebirth in the shape and styling of matryoshka dolls but clothed her in illustrations of the forest’s power of renewal instead of traditional costume.

rear detail, Rebirth matryoshka mosaic sculpture by artist Peter Vogelaar
rear detail, Rebirth matryoshka mosaic sculpture by artist Peter Vogelaar

On the back of the sculpture, we see flames consuming the charred trunks of dead trees, while the surface of the matryoshka’s bulging womb shows a tree seedling emerging from the dark soil of a burn scar.

womb detail, Rebirth matryoshka mosaic sculpture by artist Peter Vogelaar
womb detail, Rebirth matryoshka mosaic sculpture by artist Peter Vogelaar

Wasting no opportunity to develop his theme of the forest’s power of renewal, Peter made the base of the sculpture in the form of a realistic tree stump.

The Definition of Artist

One definition of artist is a person who can take ordinary materials and make something that is extraordinary.

The lifelike “tree stump” base of the Rebirth sculpture is made from hand-sculpted concrete that was then painted an umber brown with variegation.

Look at the photo below and study how realistic the dead stump is in appearance. Notice how the top edges of the stump extend over the bottoms of the lowest tiles. Notice how the dead bark looks like it could be knocked off quite easily with a stick or boot kick.

Would you know it wasn’t a real tree stump if someone didn’t tell you?

base detail, Rebirth matryoshka mosaic sculpture by artist Peter Vogelaar
base detail, Rebirth matryoshka mosaic sculpture by artist Peter Vogelaar
in progress, Rebirth matryoshka mosaic sculpture by artist Peter Vogelaar
in progress, Rebirth matryoshka mosaic sculpture by artist Peter Vogelaar

Local Art Contests

When Peter emailed me that Rebirth had won a People’s Choice Award at the Castlegar, British Columbia annual Sculpturewalk, I was pleased, but I didn’t know how impressed I should be. Given that many local art contests don’t really have entries that could compete with a large well-executed mosaic sculpture, I thought well of course Rebirth won.

Then I noticed that it wasn’t just any local art festival, but I still wasn’t surprised Rebirth won.

Rebirth affirms local themes and universal aspirations. The forest depicted is the evergreen forests of British Columbia, the land where the sculpture is located. Peter tells me there is a local Russian population. Of course Rebirth would be a logical choice for winner of a contest to select public art.

But what actually happened is even better.

It turns out that Rebirth only tied for the award, and Peter’s email explained that both winners had been selected for purchase for Castlegar’s art collection.

Check out the other winner:

Choosing Hope sculpture by artist Kyle Thornley
Choosing Hope sculpture by artist Kyle Thornley

It’s one thing to win an art contest, but Rebirth won in a contest with real competition.

Congratulations to Peter and Natalija! And to Kyle!

Congratulations also to Castlegar, BC, Canada on the success of their annual Sculpturewalk.

Rebirth matryoshka mosaic sculpture with artist Peter Vogelaar
Rebirth matryoshka mosaic sculpture with artist Peter Vogelaar
concrete base, Rebirth matryoshka mosaic sculpture by artist Peter Vogelaar
concrete base, Rebirth matryoshka mosaic sculpture by artist Peter Vogelaar

Concrete Bases for Mosaic

Here are my instructions for making wire and concrete bases for mosaic sculptures.

You don’t have to use as much steel as I did in that mosaic. Chicken wire and sheep/goat wire are better choices than the heavy-gauge expanded metal I used in that example.

You can use sheets cut from foam insulation board to make a void/hollow inside the sculpture to reduce weight. Filing the void with foam board or Styrofoam or similar materials is recommended because it allows you to pack the concrete into the wire skin from the outside without the concrete falling inside the hollow shell.

Rebirth matryoshka mosaic sculpture by artist Peter Vogelaar
Rebirth matryoshka mosaic sculpture by artist Peter Vogelaar
, ,

8 responses to “Natalija the Mosaic Russian Doll”

  1. Wow! This is amazing, as is the sculpture piece from the other artist. Thank you for sharing. I wonder how long it took him to make it. It is pretty large.

    I’ve been wanting to do a mosaic dandelion seed head for a 3d piece. The other sculpture provides the inspiration to do it.

    • Hi Jill!

      You can. It makes a great surface such as in your outdoor mosaic backers. But for deeper reinforcement in larger structures, mesh isn’t as useful. Fencing wire acts like rebar inside concrete while mesh is more likely to be a layer that can delaminate. It’s an example of a situation where “less is more.”

      I will be getting back to you about those examples of white grout you emailed me. Thanks for doing that!
      Joe

  2. Well, this is just glorious. I continue to be amazed at the vast, varied and unique expression possibilities of mosaic art.

  3. Wonderful post – enjoyed reading about the sculpture -I’m in WA. near BC border and the forest fires in BC have been so terrible. Thanks also for the tutorial link – that is exciting! Would love to try some outdoor mosaic sculpture!

    Have you ever used hypertufa? What are your thoughts on it?

    • Hi Brenda,

      A lot of my technical input is based on my work as an engineer in material testing labs and that sort of thing, but my experience working on old houses and doing demolition has also given me a lot of insight into how materials age. (For example, no one living outside a desert should use masonite or particle board as a mosaic backer because these materials are degraded over time from humidity in the air.)

      Every time I have encountered hypertufa objects digging for old bottles or cleaning up trash, they fall apart like loose soil. The material is porous and designed to be degraded. It is not something I would use for a mosaic backer or sculpture.

      Thanks,
      Joe

  4. ps – I couldn’t edit the comment I submitted but wanted to add that the matryoshka is amazing and beautiful – and I never would have known that wasn’t a real tree stump. It’s genius – the whole concept – and it deserved the win. I love the mosaic work the artist did so much.

  5. Lovely write up ! I have known and seen his art works for over 50 years . Every Art teacher said he was a natural . He did scores of paintings , portraits and old farms and Jazz musicians , leaded glass , pottery ,
    and discovered ice and snow and sand-sculpting plus a few more . Welding Arbors and gates etc.
    Of course you realize I am his mother and pleased he is happy doing and creating all his life.
    By the way he made a special house-number for me at Water’s Edge with the spare tiles he had .

    Thanks for giving me a chance to tell you about him. I
    I liked the part where you slowly get the idea that he was areal Artist. Greetings Anneke

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.