Today I am truly honored to introduce you to Felicia Funderburk, creator, designer, and owner of Fragments Mosaic Studio in Los Angeles. Felicia is a mosaic artist with a love and passion for Italy, and it certainly can be felt in her words and seen in her works of art. If you’re like me, you will have tears in your eyes by the time you finish reading.
When did you visit Italy for the first time, and what was your reason for going?
My first visit to Italy was in March, 2013. The purpose of my trip was twofold: To immerse myself in the beautiful history, art, culture and landscape of 3 cities I’ve ALWAYS longed to visit: Rome, Florence, and Venice. I wanted to visit Rome and Florence before ending in Venice (saving the best for last?!) where I would participate in a week long, intensive mosaic course at the famed Orsoni Scuola Mosaici. The result of my trip was life-changing: I fell in love with Italy!
It’s obvious you have a passion for Italy. Did this develop after your trip to Italy or have you always felt this connection?
I grew up in Pennsylvania, having lived next door to a wonderful Italian family of seven (the five children were my childhood friends) so I was always fascinated by their Italian traditions and their annual visits to Italy. I then studied Latin for 4 years in high school with the most amazing full-blooded Italian teacher (Mr. Stagliano) who continued to nurture that “Italian seed” in me! Studying Latin not only helped me learn medical/scientific terminology quickly, it also gave me an even deeper appreciation and respect for the history of Roman and Greek civilization, language, literature, art, music, culture, and architecture. So, in essence, I guess it’s safe to say the appreciation of and longing to visit Italy have long been a part of me! Now I simply dream of my next visit there. My husband and I just returned from Italy in November of 2014.
When did you first realize you wanted to be an artist?
I grew up with 3 older brothers and a younger sister. Our sister is severely disabled as a result of brain damage suffered from an undiagnosed metabolic disorder at birth. Having said that, I was the “first born girl” so I had a unique position in our family. My Mom was a labor and delivery nurse and I spent a lot of time as a very young girl “helping” my Mom to take care of my sister. The “helping” gene established itself in me early on and I did wish to be a nurse like my Mom; HOWEVER, I was notoriously ALWAYS busy, busy, busy with my hands. Very much a tomboy, hanging out with my 3 older brothers, I learned to do a lot of things with my hands at a young age, also.
When I was 7 years old, I suffered a tragic accident that left me completely blind in one eye. It’s true when a Mom says: “Don’t throw stones, somebody can lose an eye.” That’s precisely what happened to me and we still have no idea which brother did it 😉 I spent an entire summer in the hospital with both eyes covered with patches, having to be carried to the bathroom and having to be on bedrest…that experience, I believe has heightened ALL of my senses to this day and especially, it has helped me to realize that I should never, ever feel “limited” by my lack of sight. I made my first “real” stained glass owl at age 8 in my Dad’s Uncle Bernie’s studio. I’ve always been surrounded by creative people—mostly very gifted musically (which skipped me!)
Perhaps the first time I realized that my parents both supported me (entirely) in my quest to be creative and artistic came when I was a rebellious teenager and they allowed me to paint my bedroom walls the way I wanted to paint them—which involved a gigantic, continuous rainbow all the way around the room and a black closet wall complete with white stars! My parents always fostered my creativity and I had the most fabulous art teachers in my schools all the way through 12th grade! Our school district’s art program was second to none—we had exposure to it all: Drawing, Painting, Photography, Ceramics, Art History, Art clubs, field trips…it was very cool to have such talented teachers who were so inspiring—I credit them among the many who nurtured the creative part of me!
I have been a registered nurse for 26 years. After I graduated, I worked for one year in the adult hematology/oncology department. Neonatal Intensive Care units were the “up and coming” thing while I was in school in the 1980’s. A job opening became available in the NICU and I was young and adventurous and said “Yes!”. I never left the NICU since. I absolutely LOVE taking care of critically ill babies and their families as most of the stories have very happy endings…even after many months! I believe the highlight of my NICU career was being on the aeromedical transport team for 12 of those years—flying in a helicopter in all kinds of East coast weather with a critically ill infant, a respiratory therapist, and a pilot probably cemented my ability to think critically, act autonomously, and live adventurously!
Can you talk about the way the Master in Mosaic course is organized at the famous Orsoni Studio in Venice?
First, allow me to say: attending the Orsoni School was SUCH a dream come true for me! I literally cried when I stepped out of the train station at Santa Lucia in Venice—I was traveling alone and Venice literally “spoke to me” (and has been speaking to me since!)…for, I was LIVING THE Dream!! The course is very well organized. Prior to arriving at the school, the student is expected to have their drawing/design ready as the students get to work immediately on Day #1 and work many, many long and diligent hours after first receiving individualized and group instruction on the history, methods, and techniques of the ancient art of mosaic. The class size is very intimate and students in my class came from all around the globe.
Our teacher, Antonella, is amazing and quite talented as a mosaic master. She was assisted each day in our classroom by Mirta, our interpreter who translated into English. We met Lucio Orsoni on a number of occasions during our course time and that was extra special! The students are allowed 24 hour access to the studio so a few of us worked late at night after a late dinner somewhere in the city. The school is a truly magical place. The course takes place right in the midst of an ancient, working glass foundry.
When I arrived in Venice, I walked along the Grand Canal, followed along a Fondamenta, found my little calle and came upon a very unassuming pink façade of a building with a small mosaic sign that read: “A. Orsoni”. I knew I had arrived; yet, I had NO idea what treasures awaited behind that façade, that door, that wall!!! The grounds of the Orsoni factory consist of several separate buildings—you enter through a door into the most amazing gallery: Lucio Orsoni’s work is proudly displayed under beaming lights and it takes your breath away instantly! This building houses the offices of Orsoni Worldwide Headquarters. To the back of the building, past the gallery, are the offices and a door that leads outside to the studio, foundry, color library, and warehouse (complete with a door that opens to a tiny canal where they ship their product from!) The second floor of the gallery is the absolutely stunning Domus Orsoni—easily, the most beautiful, impressive “bed and breakfast” I’ve EVER stayed in (or encountered!). All of the buildings form the perimeter of a beautiful garden space—very unusual in Venice!
Were you able to complete your mosaic piece during the week at Orsoni?
Yes, after many long hours and days! I am always shocked and amazed when someone says “Oh, that looks easy; I could do that”! Mosaic is very labor intensive and time consuming…very meditative for me. I spent the first day of class drawing my design onto the substrate and choosing materials. The remaining four days began early in the morning at 8 or 9 AM and we worked all through the day, many days skipping lunch and most days, returning in the evening to work some more! I was very happy to complete my project on the last day! The teachers helped me to package it very securely and I hand-carried the very heavy mosaic all the way home!
How intensive were the courses and did you stay on the grounds during your study there?
There were students of all skill levels in my class; but, it was very suitable for all present. The teachers were always available if you had questions and there was never any pressure to finish the project if you worked more slowly. I did, indeed, stay on the grounds of the school at the Domus Orsoni and it was FABULOUS to say the least! A few of the other students stayed there as well and so, it was quite nice to be right “on location” and to have 24 hour access to the studio if we wished! We each had a key to the front door and to our individual rooms so we could enter/exit whenever we wished.
The rooms are unbelievably gorgeous—each furnished by a different mosaic artist’s touch! The room I stayed in was SO extraordinary: my bathroom floor and walls were made of GOLD!! My headboard and side tables were covered with beautiful mosaics that reflected the natural light that filtered in through the four windows in my room—two windows overlooked the calle below and the other two windows faced the magical courtyard below, just across from the foundry and studio. Staying there was like living in a dream. Awakening to the lyrical sound of the foundry workers singing in Italian every morning was absolute heaven!
Tell me about Fragments Mosaic Studio in Los Angeles and how it came to be that you opened this business.
After I married my husband in 2005, my then-13-year-old daughter, Erika and I moved to Los Angeles from Pennsylvania…we blended families with my stepdaughter, Claire, who was 8 at the time and we all set out anew: new family, new house, new city, new job, new school, new everything! I moved my glass and mosaic supplies with us and set up a studio at our first home here.
In December of 2006, while visiting my family back East for the Christmas holiday, I became suddenly and very unexpectedly ill during what was supposed to be my Mom’s retirement celebration. Not wanting to “ruin the party” I locked myself in the bathroom and proceeded to become lethargic and near unresponsive—my Mom, thankfully being a nurse, called 911 and the next thing I knew, I was in the trauma room of the local ER…in complete hypotensive shock with plummeting blood pressure and a rock hard abdomen. Being a nurse myself, I knew instinctively that I was about to die…my youngest brother who is an Ob Gyn was en route to my parents when my Mom called him and diverted him straight to the ER. I credit him for saving my life as the last thing I remember is him saying: “Get 2 large bore IVs in her now, or I’ll take her to the OR myself”.
Ultimately, that evening, my husband and I learned that we had both conceived and lost our baby and in the process, I had ruptured my uterine artery—requiring surgery and blood transfusions, etc. During the many weeks of recovery following that event, I decided it “was time” to finally create the business I had always dreamed of. The name “Fragments” was an apt metaphor for “picking up the pieces” (of my life, now that I was being granted another chance at living!) And so, “Fragments Mosaic Studio” was born! For many years, my “business” was basically a hobby as I focused on settling on the other coast and raising our family. When my Dad became ill in 2012, I began to realize just how much influence he singlehandedly had on my creativity. Read more about Fragments Mosaics Etsy shop here.
Is most of your work sold through your Etsy shop or is there another avenue for anyone to view your works?
One very valuable lesson I’ve learned along the way as an artist is to document my work! I’m still working to achieve that. The majority of my business has come from word-of-mouth referrals. I opened my Etsy shop in September 2014 at the suggestion of our daughter who insisted I should try it out! We moved to our current home in 2010 and have converted the former garage into my studio. There is always work in progress there; so, one way to see my work is if you are in the Los Angeles area, you can always stop by to see what is going on! I have a portfolio of some of my work that will soon be updated on my website (still learning about documenting my work!) I have done commissioned work for clients after they’ve seen my work elsewhere.
What was one of the most valuable lessons you learned at the Orsoni Studio?
Probably to LET GO of my perfectionist tendencies! Mosaic of ancient times—in its truest, most authentic form—was meant to be viewed from a distance (think: celings, domes, walls, etc) usually at least 30 meters or so. I guess an equally important lesson that I learned is that the spaces between the tesserae are as important—if not more important—than trying to make each piece fit “perfectly” next to another.
How do you balance time for work, a family, and your art studio?
As of August 2014, balancing has become a little easier as we sent our youngest daughter off to college. Our older daughter graduated from college in 2013. So, just by virtue of having parented to the point of college, I have more free time than ever before…yet, simultaneously, caring for my aging Mom and sister on another coast presents its own unique challenges. Balance, I believe, comes about when one is MINDFUL—deliberately paying FULL attention to what is happening around you and within you…mind, body, and heart. I also firmly believe that balance is possible ONLY when one SLOWS DOWN. In this way, I believe we have the power to remain happy and satisfied despite changing conditions around us!
I walk every day, most times more than once…simply to reconnect with my surroundings (inside and out). I don’t watch TV but prefer to listen to music instead. These things help to create the internal ‘balance’ that allows me to face external imbalances [if that makes sense?!] Additionally, I put my fork down after every single bite of food during a meal (seriously!)…..weird? painfully slow? Perhaps. But, it is a reflection of my desire to stay fully present—even during a meal! THIS is what allows pleasure to bloom in thousands of small moments throughout our lives…leading beyond ‘just’ happiness to true Joy! I’d much rather skip a meal than be forced to eat it quickly!
I can custom design/create and mosaic anything you wish. I really enjoy creating mosaics that are made using the ancient techniques, using the ancient tools and materials of thousands of years ago. The most important aspect of my work is to do work that is MEANINGFUL and heartfelt…work that connects the owner to the piece.
Who I serve? I create mosaic art for people who have an appreciation for authenticity, old world style, connectedness, soulfulness, purpose. Typically, the art stirs memories…reminders…connections…love… for the recipient. A dear friend of mine recently lost her 16 year old son suddenly and unexpectedly to undiagnosed cardiomyopathy. I made a mosaic in his memory. As a result of that gift, she in turn has purchased at least 30 unique and very personal mosaics from me in the past 3 months to give to other parents who have lost children. The ripple effect of her compassion is far reaching—I’m merely a vessel through which she works. Sharing in a family’s grief is a privilege and an honor for me. This is the kind of meaningful, soulful, healing creative work I so thoroughly enjoy. In some small way, as I work on the pieces, I am intuitively connected to their spirit and thus, the piece is infused with their energy. It is a newfound gift that has presented itself to me time and again recently. The impact it has on the recipient is astounding.
WHY I do this work?? As a nurse, I helped the sickest, tiniest, most fragile patients fight for their lives. As a mosaic artist, I believe I’m being called to help others connect (or reconnect) with their Spirit. I do it because of what it gives the person—the experience of Joy or Beauty or Hope in their world. For me, my journey to Venice the first time represented a GIANT step in courage to be able to go to Italy by myself, to be open and ever mindful on the journey…as a result, I discovered SO much about myself.
As my website states: I am who I am when I am there. I will return again and again.