Mix and Match

Karen Giarrusso makes masterful mosaics from her home in East Greenwich

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A vintage table laden with rhinestones and pearls. A mirror rimmed with beads and stained glass. The letter “G” composed of stones and soldered details. Karen Giarrusso’s masterpieces are colorful and intricate. You could easily lose track of time getting lost in the patterned puzzle, the product of hours or even days of work.

Karen’s love for mosaic started when she traveled to Italy to meet her husband’s family. While in Venice, she fell in love with the mosaics in St. Mark’s Church. Then in Ravenna, she decided to learn the craft for herself. “Here I held a piece of a 2,000-year-old mosaic floor in my hand, and I was hooked,” she remembers.

Originally from Kentucky, Karen has always been crafty. She grew up sewing, crocheting, and quilting. She’s always been drawn to ancient art and loves breathing new life into yard sale finds. For the wife and busy mom to a nine-year-old girl, mosaic is a chance to “create and relax my mind with my hands.”

The process starts with a space and envisioning what goes there, whether it’s a mirror, picture, or piece of furniture. Sometimes there’s a sketch involved, other times inspiration strikes from a photograph or magazine spread. “The base is important,” Karen explains. She’ll work from a base of wood, or for smaller pieces, a lightweight material called Wedi shaped with a jigsaw. Then comes the “fun part,” she describes: Picking out colors and beads, tiles, smalti (cut glass), or millefiori sourced from online and brick-and-mortar shops. She lightly pencils the design onto the base and works from edge to center, knowing “things will change and evolve as I work.” It’s a meditative process involving glue or epoxy, tweezers, and time. “I may work all night on a six-inch section,” Karen says. “I just know when I think it is right and done, and time to move to the next.”

Despite her busy schedule, Karen already has next projects lined up in her head, including large pieces for her living room and foyer. “I find unlocking the puzzle to create a piece and the organization involved in the artform mesmerizing,” she says. “It’s my daily meditation!”

Find Karen’s mosaic work online. Also find her along the West Bay Open Studios Tour on October 26 & 27.