By Karin Fabry • Photos By Kent Weakley
“The teacup belonged to my grandmother and I couldn’t bring myself to part with it,” Laura says. “I saved the broken pieces in a Ziploc bag for quite some time.”
Then, while admiring a $30 table she purchased from a street vendor while living in New York, inspiration struck.
“The table has a mosaic top that was made with hundreds of beautiful broken dishes,” Laura says. “I loved the table so much I decided to take Pique Assiette mosaic lessons. And now I knew just what to do with my grandmother’s teacup. I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Pique Assiette, which translates into “the plate stealer,” is a style of mosaic that incorporates pieces of broken ceramics — plates, dishes, cups, tiles — and other found objects into the design of a particular piece.
“To me, this art form is about linking the past to the present,” Laura says. “It’s taking something that’s old or broken and giving it a new life by turning it into something new and functional again.”
For Laura, who has always had an interest in collecting and recycling, half the fun is in the hunt for new materials.
“I find dishes everywhere,” she says. “Flea markets and thrift stores are always good places to start.
“It’s funny,” Laura continues “Once people knew I did this, they began leaving broken dishes on my front porch. I get excited when people break things.”
That being said, Laura admits she has hundreds of plates piled up in her garage turned art studio.
“Sooner or later, I’m going to end up in plate rehab,” she jokes.
But it’s safe to say that Laura doesn’t stop at dishes. As an artist, Laura looks at the world and the items in it with a creative eye.
“I see a potential piece of art in everything around me,” Laura explains. “I get motivation from a lot of different sources. I consider myself to be a treasure hunter.”
An old salt or pepper shaker or tarnished vintage silverware may seem like junk to most of us, but to Laura, it’s the centerpiece of a new mosaic.
“My greatest joy is taking family heirlooms, whether they’re mine or they belong to someone else, and turning them into treasures,” Laura says. “I call it memory ware.”
According to Laura, you can basically mosaic anything you can glue.
“I tend to choose old items such as pieces of furniture, mirrors, and bowls for my mosaics,” Laura says. “Of course I have also worked on fireplace surrounds and kitchen backsplashes, as well.”
A crafter at heart, the creative gene runs in Laura’s family.
“Both of my children, Olivia and Dante, are budding little artists,” Laura proudly says. And just as Laura has passed on her artistic abilities to her children, her parents did the same for her.
“My father, Bob Venosa, is a well-known surrealist painter who worked with Salvador Dali. Laura’s mother, Edie, and her stepfather are crafty as well and have been a huge support system for Laura.
It was Laura’s desire to be closer to her family that brought her to Ocala six years ago.
“I wanted a better quality of life for my children and I grew tired of the long commute and hectic lifestyle in New York,” she says.
Since settling into her more relaxed, Ocala way of life, Laura’s love for art has blossomed.
“I love what I do,” Laura says. “I get such joy out of taking everyday items and turning them into something that can be admired and cherished.
“Pique Assiette,” Laura continues, “sounds simple, but it really isn’t.”
Just like cooking or interior design, the finished product is only as good as the elements that go into creating it. In mosaics, those pieces, called shards, have to be carefully cut to create the intricate quilt-like pattern of the final design.
“Learning the proper technique for cutting the china and dishware has been the most challenging aspect of mosaics for me,” Laura says. “I don’t smash anything with a hammer.”
Instead, using a pair of tile nippers, Laura carefully scores and breaks each individual piece of china. It’s time consuming and messy, but worth the effort.
“Normally, I start off with one particular piece of china or a family memento,” Laura says. “I think of the different textures and colors I want to use and what I want the overall design to look like.”
After years of practice and refinement, Laura says her artistic style leans toward old world and romantic.
“I like a lot of the earthy tones such as muted shades of green, blue, and yellow,” she says. “After 10 years of mosaic work, I’ve come to recognize and appreciate a variety of china patterns.”
She’s used McCoy pots and Limoge plates and says she admires the intricate patterns of the older dishware.
“I never buy anything new,” she says. “All of the items I use, from the base to the plates to the heirlooms, are antique or vintage and they come from all over the world.”
One of Laura’s more recent projects was a horse-themed fiddlehead mirror she made as an engagement gift for her brother and soon-to-be sister-in-law.
“All of the plates used came from England and Germany,” she says. “I even broke an old beer stein to use on the mirror. Both my brother and his fiancée are in the horse business, so it was a fitting gift.”
While having a creative outlet is one of the main reasons Laura has pursued her career in the arts, there is another reason closer to home. A percentage of her profits through art shows and commission work go to support the Prader-Willi Association.
“Prader-Willi Syndrome is a genetic defect my son lives with,” Laura says. This syndrome affects the chromosomal composition of the body dealing with appetite, making it difficult for a person afflicted with the disease to realize when they’re full.
Like the mosaic elements in her work, Laura’s roles as mother and artist have weaved together to create the person she is today.
“I have no intention of slowing down,” Laura says. “I’m passionate about what I do, whether it’s taking care of my family or creating a new mosaic. It’s who I am.”
Laura Venosa DellaPorta