Los Angeles Times | Five Acres story - Pasadena Star-News | Dream Snake Mosaic - Pasadena Weekly | Wildflowers - Pasadena Star-News | HOME
Dry Garden - ChanceOfRain.com | That's Mosaic - The TED Project | Image Magazine | Artist Adams - Pasadena Star-News | Home + Garden


Artist Adams offers abstract and representational pieces
By Michelle J. Mills, Staff Writer, Pasadena Star-News — Posted: 11/26/2009 11:15:01 PM PST
It's late afternoon and a glass mosaic in orange, red and yellow glows as if on fire. It sits in a chair near the window, while Raki, a 4-year-old rottweiler, catches a stream of sun nearby from his spot smack in the center of an Oriental rug in Altadena artist Leigh Adams' home.

Adams specializes in architectural glass, such as fused glass panels for doors, and creates both representational and abstract pieces.

She describes a glass panel with the tree as a main course; her smalll glass works are the french fries.

The items are part of what she will be exhibiting at the Gallery at the End of the World in Altadena Dec. 3-6.

Adams makes household objects including paperweights, picture frames, mailboxes and art pieces. She decorates shoes and animal skulls. She has several series of works, including Essential Garden Gears, which features glass pieces affixed to bicycle gears (they are ready to hang in a tree on on a patio); Dichroic Mosaics, layered glass in rich tones, and Tree, in which vitrigraph is incorporated into pictorial images.

Vitrigraph is the process of shaping liquid glass with tools. Adams adds the formed glass into her designs; this has become her trademark.

"I'm a pioneer in the field of vitrigraph," Adams said. "I designed the technology. I call it dancing with glass."

She also cuts, grinds and melts glass and has five kilns in her home studio. Large works can take months to complete, but even small and medium pieces can be labor intensive, as they may need to be fired many times.

Adams uses a lot of layering in her work. For example, she will start with a clear glass disc, add color to it and fire it. She repeats the process several times until she has color on both sides and the hues are the desired shade. Then Adams manipulates the glass, making it twist and bulge into a shape. Finally, she adds in smaller previously finished pieces of glass and vitrigraph.

"It's like cake decorating because you create elements and then you bring them together," Adams said.

Adams finds inspiration for her work everywhere, but usually her mosaics are sparked by a painting or photograph that catches her eye.

"It's usually the colors in a piece which inspire me and I want that color to transmit light because that's what thrills me," Adams said.

Growing up in Humboldt County, she would spend hours in the woods building wolves, bears and lions out of branches, logs and stones. Fifteen years after Adams moved away from home, her mother told her that she would go for walks and look for Adams' work.

Adams studied anthropology at UCLA, then married and had children, settling in the Pasadena area. She taught for 20 years at Sequoyah School in Pasadena and during that time took a gourd art class with Margo Farrin at Farrin O'Conner Design Studio in Pasadena. Adams did gourd art for 10 years and was invited to study with a gourd master in China. She also began doing basketry.

Adams was teaching a gourd class at Farrin O'Conner when Farrin asked her to take the new glass artist's class to see how it could be improved. Adams made five jewelry pieces and helped design the curriculum. After the class, she would often wear the items she had made and people kept stopping her, offering to buy them.

A year later, she decided to hone her craft by taking a glass class with Shirley Webster. Webster recommended that Adams take over the sessions when she retired, so to become a better teacher, Adams began studying glass further.

"I just became besotted with it," Adams said. "I dream in glass. I think about putting glass on everything."

For the past six years Adams has been the artist in residence and an occasional teacher at Westridge School in Pasadena. She also teaches at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden in Arcadia, Five Acres in Altadena and Piece By Piece in Los Angeles.

Piece by Piece is a charity organization that began as a project to aid those on Skid Row by teaching them how to create and run a business, using mosaics as a business model. After two years, the students are no longer homeless and have become established artists. One of the Piece by Piece benefactors was a featured artist at the Affaire in the Garden Beverly Hills Art Show this year.

Adams has taught and has art pieces in China, Costa Rica, Mexico and Central America. She recently traveled to Kenya to do a mosaic installation at the Kitengela Glass School.

"What's brilliant about it is they use leftover glass," she said. "They recycle everything, they all make their own glass. There's melted beer bottles, melted wine bottles. They blow their own glass and what's left over from blowing, they make into sheet glass. They do stained glass and with what's left over from that they do mosaic."

The African glass school trains local people in metalwork and glass and sells its products all over the world.

Closer to home, Adams' "Rainbow Dream Snake," a 1,000-foot mosaic walkway she created with workmen from Tonga including art by local children, is a permanent part of the Arboretum's Australian garden.



Winding roads

Arboretum's dream snake mosaic tracks the stories of our lives

By Ellen Snortland 08/20/2008

You'll know LA County Arboretum and Botanic Garden artist-in-residence Leigh Adams when you see her. Besides being incredibly talented in glass, mosaic and gourds, her whole life has been one giant artistic expression, right down to the color of her hair — which is actually purple and blue.

Sometimes silly, often serious but always fun and exciting, Adams has been commissioned by the Arboretum to create a Dream Snake, a mythical creature of empowerment born in Australia thousands of years ago that will be expressed in mosaic designs built into portions of the Australian section of the gardens on the Arboretum property.

The installation promises to be monumental, with poured concrete used to create the creature's scale patterns, and the completed reptile having differently shaped mosaics throughout, illustrating its windy, quarter-mile path.

In many ways, Dream Snake is emblematic of Adams' own artistic mission in life, which is to empower children through public art. To that end, kids who show up while Adams is working on the project will have an opportunity to get involved with the actual Dream Snake creation.

Wait a minute! This is on a par with a small construction project, with contractors doing much of the heavy lifting. Won't kids just mess things up? The true teacher that she is, Adams says no. In fact, everyone — especially kids — is valued. Everything they do is a lesson to learn from, no matter what happens. Oh, really?
Perhaps part of Adams' confidence comes from the nature of the creature she is recreating, which to Aborigine natives of Australia thousands of years ago represented the creator of life and not the evil destroyer as it's characterized by Western Civilization.

But even more importantly, Adams has done this kind of thing before, at one of her teaching gigs at Five Acres, a home for neglected, troubled and abused kids in Altadena.

At Five Acres, Leigh teaches a class where the kids get to construct a permanent mosaic designed, created and installed by members of the group. It decorates the campus — publicly and permanently. For kids whose grasp of “permanence” is often at best tenuous, a public piece of art is a particular point of pride.

“Working with mosaic is forgiving,” Adams observes. “You can drop the tile and the broken pieces are often better than they were when they were whole. One Five Acres resident, a young woman, demonstrated that by intentionally dropping a tile that had a butterfly on it. She picked it up, rearranged its pieces and proudly pointed out how much more interesting it was with the breaks.” The metaphor for their own lives is obvious: Kids from broken homes are beautiful too.

The Dream Snake mosaic offers an opportunity for both kids and adults to participate in the creation of a, well, creation — literally and figuratively — with the snake playing an integral part in the beginning of the Aboriginal people, who still worship it as a god of life.

Public art, says Adams, is important for another reason as well: “When you have participated in something that is public, you always have a place to go back and see what you've impacted; the contribution you've made. You can visit or you can bring your family and friends to share in beauty.”

An interesting footnote to the Dream Snake installation is that the concrete contractors are from Tonga, a South Seas culture with similar creation beliefs, and have bonded with Adams, who says this is the first time that she's worked with a crew that treats her with respect, without attitudes about gender.

The Tongans, in fact, are bringing their kids around to help mosaic, and because they love the way Leigh is with children, she's going to be visiting Tonga next year — to teach mosaic.

I've seen her with kids: Tall, but never condescending, her knowledge of art and many other things is legion. It's clear that she truly loves children. They feel safe when they first see her with her purple and blue hair. That's because they know she's all about empowering them to find their own artistic expression.

So if you have a few hours and some burgeoning artists in your family, short or tall, go to the Arboretum and walk the snake. Or be bold and take action. Put your own public mark on it by volunteering to help. Ask for the lady with purple and blue hair and everyone will know exactly who you mean.

The Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanical Garden is at 301 N. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia. Call (626) 626-821-3222 or visit www.arboretum.org

Pasadena Weekly

Contact Ellen at www.snortland.com

That's Mosaic
by Leigh Adams
Our plan

My original idea was to create a mosaic with kids living in a group home situation. I know it is important for all kids to learn to express themselves, to communicate, to learn to achieve consensus and to feel empowered to create. It is doubly important for children who have lost their families, been abused or neglected or removed from their birth communities to learn these things and to learn to trust that it is even possible for them to engage with people, adults and kids, on different levels. Mosaic is particularly forgiving, a medium that allows the use of broken materials and the creation of beauty through a shifted paradigm. It seemed ideal for these kids.

What we did

I met with the Assistant Director of Five Acres Home for Children. My friend Annie went with me to show her support of what I can do and her belief in my ability to pull a rabbit out of a hat! We showed Ms. Bette some photos of my past work with children and she approved the project after I submitted a budget. The facility found a grant with a patron, Beth Uffner (to whom I am eternally grateful)! We began the project by showing the kids a "history of mosaic" computer presentation I put together. Then I showed them work that I had done with other kids. At that point they began to focus! "What are WE going to do?" I explained that they would be deciding what we would do and it was my job to support them. I also let them know that if they couldn't decide, I would do so but that it would probably be something really really boring and not as exciting as their ideas. They emerged from the presentation with the excitement of a tidal wave! As we surged toward the multi purpose room where we would begin our work, I asked the kids to look around and show me examples of "mosaic". They began to notice brickwork, roofing tiles, cinderblock patterns, all kinds of things that fit the definition of mosaic they had just learned. Their excitement was near delirium! As the ideas flooded out of the 8 kids chosen to work with me (by their recreation director Lupe Lascano Morales), I carefully noted each idea and made sure I had several ideas from each kid. After the kids left, I measure the area where the piece was to be installed and sketched a rough view of a seaside landscape which contained one or two ideas from each of the kids. When our next session took place the following day, the kids were a bit argumentative UNTIL they saw the sketch and their ideas represented in it....and then there was no stopping them! I introduced the concept of a vocabulary list as I defined terms of mosaic and art and working with clay....groan....until the kids recognized that they knew words that some adults didn't know and could use them appropriately.....the vocabulary list SOARED in popularity and was added to regularly. It became such a source of power that I had to limit the kids' access to "suggestions" rather than writing on the list. When a child missed a day, they checked the list to be sure to "get" what the other avid learners had already "gotten"! We created ceramic pieces to match up to the rough sketch. When a student didn't have fine motor skills or the patience to work to a recognizable standard, they became our "texture expert" or "specialist in ___" Everyone found something that could contribute to the project (with a little support!) When the first pieces came out of the kiln, beautiful and exciting, one of the best pieces slipped on the kiln shelf and broke, right in front of the kids. The boy who had made it spoke animatedly into the tense pause in the room, "That's mosaic!" They GOT it and ran with the concept. A student demonstrated her work to an adult showing how the piece she carefully made could be cut up and used to an entirely different purpose, perhaps even more beautiful that the original intent.

Our results

The kids who participated were impacted enormously by their success. The facility was beautified by the installation of the kids work in a permanent location. We did a second installation soon after. For the kids who didn't participate, it gave them a vision of accomplishment that they hadn't had before, a pride in their peers' work. For the teachers and therapists? A sense that children, regardless of their circumstances and challenges, can do just about anything!




Twitter Author's full bio