Sharon Smithem’s genius has combined a world of business and art in this extraordinary mosaic over the Book Nook fireplace.
The interior of the new and vastly expanded Book Nook & Java Shop on Ferry Street in Montague is an interior ambiance delight of construction detail and Mary Payne’s decorating skills. Functioning like jewels that highlight its multi-themes are two intricate, spectacularly brilliant colored mosaics by local White Lake artist, Sharon Smithem.
Smithem, a graduate of the Kendall College of Design in Grand Rapids, is a well-known area artist, where her wide range of artistic abilities can be seen in area homes with oil portraits, wall floral designs and household mosaics.
Smithem’s public and business art work can be seen in murals in schools, and in businesses, one of her most imaginative is the Donor Tree at the Fremont Tamarac Health & Wellness Center. An elaborate and massive 12 by 15 feet wall painting/mosaic combination, “the trunk and branches are glass mosaic with branch extensions painted as part of the wall,” Smithem says, adding, “The copper leaves are engraved with donors’ names.”
Keeping in Smithem’s large mosaic/painting designs are her two mixed/media entries in the Grand Rapids Art Prize, one each in 2010 and 2011. One was a 8 by 12 foot triptych of several women with only the faces painted, with the remainder of the art work, clothes, etc., of found objects.
Smithem continued the mosaic and other media theme in a life-size plaster sculpture adorned with shimmering mosaic glass on a long gown that makes the sculpting come alive.
To provide a “shimmer” look to the original Book Nook mosaic designs Smithem used “acrylic paint on the wall for the open book, coffee. For glitter, I tied the moon phases to stars on the wall by gold paint.”
As distinctive as the originals are, in the new Book Nook, Smithem shifted the art medium to mosaics, a millennia-old technique found in archeological remains as early as the Egyptians, and, for centuries, throughout the Mediterranean, including thousand-year Roman era.
Smithem takes her audience into the 21st Century, however, as her mosaics shimmer with iridescent color and light. A major reason for this is that in contrast to the past where gold was the primary “shimmer” material, Smithem uses the incredible colors created by the Spectrum glass company, manufactured in Woodinvill, Washington. Smithem’s contact for glass, Clark Page of Page’s LLC of Montague, says “that Woodinvill is part of a large glass manufacturing area in that state.”
Using a glass cutter and snippers, these American-made glass sheets will eventually be cut, by hand, into thousands and thousands of pieces to conform to Smithem’s full-scale design. Smithem then glues them per the design on a mesh. To fill in the spaces, a “wash” of grout is made over the entire surface to fix them securely, and finally there is cleaning and polishing. Hours are spent hours cleaning the glass.
It takes Smithem about six months from start to finish.
One of the two finished mosaics can be seen to the left over the stage when entering the Book Nook. It is Smithem’s mosaic interpretation of the original Book Nook motif: an open book, a cup of coffee, the moon phases, stars on the wall. In this interpretation, however, customers enter a new artistic world. When asked how she develops the artistic concepts, Smithem says that she “makes them up as she goes along.”
The open book is not just a flat white area; it “is” a book created by Smithem using five shades of cream-colored glass for realism and depth. There are even “page” sides: long slices of individual glass. The Book Nook & Java Shop name is in an intense blue across the pages leading viewers’ eyes to the familiar moon phases that arch over the book. Now the moons shimmer in white glass, as the stars shine in gold. Not to be forgotten is the “java cup,” an iridescent green glass, and be sure to note the “foam,” which is found items of small white beads.
The second is an immense stunning glass mosaic design over the fireplace, Smithem’s imagination is a visual imaginative delight of a whirl of a musical score with notes, stars, wine bottles, cheese, grapes, all in a cohesive vibrant expression whereart and the new Wine Cellars become one.
Previous elements, of course, are there, but in new glass clothing. The background stars now swirl and shimmer like those in VanGogh’s “Starry Night.” The musical staff likewise flows in a steady rhythm with notes made out of metal.
The burgundy border is another visual flow, here of wine pouring out of “bottles” at the bottom of the mosaic, into wine glasses whose outlines are defined by small jewel-like found items. Real wine bottle bottoms form a base.
Central to the mosaic is a wine bottle with the only painted item. “Best Cellars” is painted on canvas and glued in place.
Every detail of these extraordinary works of art becomes a viewer’s fantasy of finding them all. It is up to those viewers to see how the artist’s chop – “Designed and conceived by Sharon Smithem” – reflects her comment that “it is like giving birth.”