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Friday, October 26, 2012

Pieces in place

Artist Patty Van Dolson celebrates life in her mosaics.

Patty Van Dolson with her mosaic

Photos courtesy of Patty Van Dolson

Patty Van Dolson with her mosaic "The Power of Pink"

Patty Van Dolson's mosaic

Patty Van Dolson's mosaic "A Shooting Star"

Patty Van Dolson's mosaic

Patty Van Dolson's mosaic "Nocturnal Dance"

The old barn is filled with a thousand shards of light. Galaxies swirl within stars of purple glass. DNA strands converge in a forest of green.

Patty Van Dolson stands in this sea of color, amidst the birdhouses affixed with broken plates and stained-glass suncatchers. The Glade Hill woman, who has been creating original mosaics for almost 15 years in her basement studio, displays the pieces, which are not actively for sale, in her Gallery in the Pines off Virginia 40.

The names of Van Dolson's creations are uplifting: "Joy of Life," "Seize the Day," "Metamorphosis."

Colors have meaning, and symbols are threaded throughout the wooden canvases.

Red evokes passion. Blue, the subconscious. Turquoise, healing. Mirrors are reflections of the soul, and butterflies are symbolic of hope.

Hope is in ample supply for Van Dolson, who is fighting a 13-month-long battle with cancer culminating in a double mastectomy.

Working eight-hour days, a mosaic takes upward to three months to complete, and inspiration seemingly materializes out of the ether. Van Dolson said she's often awakened from sleep with a new idea and will proceed to outline the creation on adhesive notes in the dark.

"It just wants to come out," she said.

Twelve-inch squares of glass are obtained from suppliers, and Van Dolson sculpts the pieces into desired shapes using glass cutters. Jewelry pieces embedded within the works, such as "All That Glitters Is Not Gold," were salvaged from thrift stores such as the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop in Moneta.

"[The pieces] kind of create themselves as they go," she said.

A California native, and self-described former hippie, Van Dolson's passion for capturing light emerged in her early 20s. A camera was a necessity during a five-year hitchhiking trip that spanned the globe.

She later shot professional photographs of landscapes and wildlife, and the upper floor of the Gallery in the Pines bears witness to that time: a black-and-white image of a gnarled Bristlecone pine tree and a framed photograph of a peak in the eastern Sierra Nevada range.

In 1997, Van Dolson and husband Buddy, along with daughters, Kelsey and Kylie, moved to Glade Hill. During that time, Van Dolson turned away from photography to focus her energy on homeschooling her children and renovating the old barn and general store on the family's property.

Crafts were a significant part of the girls' learning plan and provided a source of income for Van Dolson. Honeysuckle and flowers picked around the property were dried and twisted into wreathes to be sold later. Glass shards from broken wine bottles would be placed into a rock tumbler, and the pieces would be used in kid-friendly art projects.

"We built our business on weeds," she said.

With the children embarking on their own careers, mosaics would later fill her days. Coming from a photography background, "I wanted anything but photorealism," said Van Dolson. "I love geometry, and I feel more comfortable with colors and shapes."

The artist's newest mosaic integrates the impressions of her handprints. Spirals, representing the chi of life, emerge from the fingertips. A large antique clock, capable of being wound, is embedded within the mosaic.

"Life's complex, but you learn to smell the roses," she said.

Gallery in the Pines, 576-1740. Call in advance for hours. Closed January, February and March.