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Artist creates one-of-a-kind mosaic pieces

Virgene Tyrrell holds a mosaic tray. In the background are photos of other pieces and different designs such as the mirror in an Asian motif. Tyrell will be part of the First City of Arts Studio Cruise Oct. 21-23. Pioneer Photo/Patt Rall1 / 2
This table that has been treated with a mosaic design by Virgene Tyrrell can be seen at her workshop during the First City of Lights Studio Cruise. Tyrell will take commissions to place a mosaic design on an existing piece of furniture. Pioneer Photo/Patt Rall2 / 2

Another new artist for the First City of Arts Studio Cruise this year is Virgene Tyrrell of Tumble Glass Studio on Turtle Lake.

She and her husband, Chuck, moved here from Kansas City, Mo.; they worked at the Kansas State School for the Blind in Kansas City, Kan. They went to the Studio Cruise for the last two years, and this year decided to try their hand at it.

"What surprised and excited us was the arts community here in Bemidji," Tyrrell said. "It's flourishing and vibrant, and we were both thrilled with it. My son Ben just recently said, 'You paint with glass,' which is a nice compliment. So we built the studio and stepped into it."

Virgene started working in mosaics more than nine years ago after taking a stained glass class with her husband. Chuck still makes stained glass pieces but Virgene discovered she liked using the broken glass pieces to make patterns and designs.

"It takes a special kind of mind to be able to focus on detail like this," said Chuck, and Virgene agreed.

"I started out doodling," she said. "I could not sit anywhere without doodling, even in meetings. I would make very detailed doodles and Chuck kept giving me paints and brushes. I fought them because they just didn't feel right to me.

"This feels right, and I sometimes come out here (the studio) in the morning and the whole day goes by," Virgene said. "I can sit here for hours and hours and be totally happy. It is detail- and puzzle-oriented."

The first step in creating a mosaic is tumbling the glass pieces in water to soften them to make them easier to work with. The tumbling, which takes about two days, smoothes the rough edges. Virgene sometimes adds some grit to make sea glass. The colors in sea glass are a little less shiny and vibrant and are used for shading.

"Then I design the pieces that I want to make," Virgene said. "I do a lot of designs from nature; we live on Turtle Lake, and I like to make turtles, all kinds of turtles, even sea turtles. I also like to sometimes take a photo of the mosaics of the sun as seen on the CBS program 'Sunday Morning.' They are spectacular."

Virgene said she takes inspiration from paintings, such as those they saw in a museum in Estonia, and interprets through art works like her sea turtle piece tray.

"Also, I like to do pieces that have an Asian influence," she said. "We were lucky enough to go to Barcelona and saw amazing mosaics done by the late Spanish artist Antoni Gaudi, whose work was notably organic in nature. I have a variety of colors that I work with and then I piece it together, glue it, let it dry and get rid of the glue in the cracks and grout the piece."

Virgene's work is primarily functional from wall hooks, kitchen paper towel holders, trays, lazy Susans and platters to larger pieces of furniture with mosaic designs. She has many pieces with sunflowers.

She likes pieces that fit close to the wall for easy storage or hanging items such as a mosaic mirror. Virgene does re-purpose some articles and will use anyone's piece of furniture to create a new piece as she will take commissions for new works.