The article below is from the San Francisco Chronicle and was
wriiten by Angelica Pence. The Chronicle can be found at www.sfgate.com.
Pictures are by Kim Komenich
Mosaic artist takes life one piece at a time
Dust from centuries-old stones seems to have settled for good inside
the crevices of Pippa Murray's hands.
a mosaic artist, she has chiseled, cut, polished and set countless
tiles and stones, from Greece to San Francisco and back again. Most
recently, the 29-year-old finished an 800-square-foot mosaic floor
for the Bay Area Discovery Museum in Sausalito. "The Gathering
Place," as it is aptly called, serves as an outdoor meeting
and performance venue for the museum's new "Lookout Cove,"
a 2.5-acre exhibition and children's playground inspired by the
nearby San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean. An ode to Bay Area ecology
and history, the permanent installation depicts a sun, an octopus
and other sea life. Two years in the making, the piece was put together
from stones from across the globe: Carrara marble from Italy, blue
stone (flagstone) from New Hampshire as well as local finds.
"When people think of mosaic, they usually think of mirrors
and flower pots," Murray says. "I hope my work is much
more substantive -- much more ancient, fundamentally. I'm working
to create something that will last -- that will stand up to time."
To the uneducated eye, Murray's work looks as if it dates back
some 4,000 years, to the beginnings of the art form. But take a
"I respect the history of the medium, but strive to make it
relevant today," she says.
simple drawing of a horse's head, which she'd made years ago in
high school, got her a job in 1993 as a resident draftsman at a
Minoan archeological site in Eastern Crete. She returned the following
three summers and learned, perhaps more than anywhere, the history
and art of the ancient Greeks. It was there, she says, where she
first fell in love with the timeless art of mosaic.
In 1994, Murray helped restore a 15th century Byzantine olive press
in Crete, where she designed a 3-by-10-meter pebble courtyard based
on motifs from the Minoan period. The technique came about in the
eighth century B.C., when artisans crafted pebble pavements, using
colored stones to create patterns. But it was the Greeks, in the
fourth century B.C., who raised the arranging of pebbles to an art
form, creating precise geometric patterns and detailed scenes of
people and animals.
Architect Victor Carrasco, an adjunct professor of architecture
and an art history professor at the California College of the Arts
in San Francisco where Murray is a student, commissioned her to
create several period mosaics for his home in Bornos -- a village
in the south of Spain. Once part of a medieval Islamic fortress,
the Moorish building was added onto and remodeled several times
throughout its lifetime -- including in the 18th century, when a
mansion was added on for domestic use. Carassco, who bought the
vast property in 1978 when it was in a state of disrepair (with
no plumbing or sewage systems, and only a minimal electrical system),
wanted Murray to create art that spoke to the history of the house
-- not something that looked as if it had just been finished.
going about things in a very different way than most mosaic artists,
" says Murray -- comparing the creative process to that of
giving birth -- "drawing very much from ancient traditions."
Murray was born in Bloomington, Ind., and grew up in South Salem,
N.Y. The daughter of an Irish mother and a father who is an English
architectural and art historian, and professor at Columbia University,
she studied visual arts and art history at Columbia, with an emphasis
on sculpture and print making. Murray went on to earn a master's
in classical archaeology from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland,
where she studied Greco-Roman mosaic technique and design. It's
of little surprise, then, that she speaks several languages, including
Greek and a fair amount of French and Italian.
While most of her time is spent on mosaic, Murray also designs
furniture. Once described as "Shaker meets Rococo," her
style of furnishings melds animal- like qualities with subtle, contemporary
lines. Her "Belly Table" is a wooden table that she tiled
with a cream colored, almost alligator skinlike mosaic on its underside.
Why not tile the top? "That would've been too obvious,"
When she's not traveling for various commissions, Murray lives
in Fairfax with her fiance, Zach Serber. She boards her horses --
Henry Higgins, a 20- year-old thoroughbred, and Freelander, a 6-year-old
Irish sport horse, in nearby Nicasio, and teaches kids to ride when
she's not competing in dressage, jumping and eventing.
Murray also is building a reputation for her mosaic work closer
to home, designing residential pieces such as an outdoor spa and
pool in Orinda, and a contemporary wall inside a Craftsman-style
home in San Francisco.
It resembles an Amish quilt, says Victoria Sutton, of her 8-foot-long
mosaic backsplash, which Murray designed partially out of broken
pottery pieces provided by the homeowners. Nearly "every day,"
she says, "somebody walks in my kitchen and compliments the
piece. It's so many pieces -- so intricate and organic."
Profession: Mosaic artist and furniture designer
Contact: (415) 637-6217; www.pippamurray.com
Showing: Murray's "The Gathering Place" mosaic can be
seen at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, Fort Baker, 557 McReynolds
Road, Sausalito. Call (415) 339-3900 or visit www.baykidsmuseum.org.
If you know of hot, new designers (think Generation X or Y), please
let us know about them. By e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org;
by mail: Angélica Pence, The San Francisco Chronicle, Home&Garden,
901 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94103; by fax: (415) 543-6956.