Making Arrangements

Making Arrangements

After working in software design and then as a math teacher, long-time New Haven resident Beth Klingher took an unusual but, on reflection, not unrelated career turn: as a mosaic artist. Walking into her bright and brimming studio, my eye was immediately drawn to two large panels of a work in progress. Commissioned by the Make-A-Wish Foundation at the request of a former student, the panels portray blooming dandelions beneath a white seed head, the wind carrying away bits of its fluff against a variegated blue, pink and green sky that managed to feel both energetic and calming.

When completed, the mosaic will be affixed to a wall in Sloan Kettering Westchester’s outdoor garden. Klingher has cut and arranged the glass tiles on sticky mesh attached to a wedi board (a lightweight, waterproof “building board” with a cement surface). Once satisfied with the image, Klinger will cover it with contact paper, put a board on top, clamp the mosaic to the board, flip it, slather another board with cement, set the wet-cement side on top of the back of the mosaic, clamp and again flip it so the mosaic is right-side-up, let it dry, remove the clamps and board and peel off the contact paper—revealing a finished mosaic, with no grout.

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The absence of grout creates a more textured surface, allowing for more interplay with light. “It’s a choice,” Klingher says. Neither is better; it depends on the look you want.

Choices abound in her studio. One wall is lined with shelves holding containers of glass and porcelain pieces sorted by color and material. Nippers, palette knives, tweezers and a bag of jelly beans laid next to another current project: a mirror frame for this year’s Leonardo Challenge art auction fundraiser at the Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop, where Klingher teaches in the summer.

In the end, she says, “you can use almost anything” to make a mosaic. She pointed to a bowl of stones and pulled out a box of irregularly shaped but smooth-edged red tiles, the result of running pieces of a broken dish through a rock tumbler. A ceramic sculpture major in college, Klingher has also begun creating her own textured and glazed stoneware tiles to use in future works.

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Other projects attest to Klingher’s continual creative energy—mosaic pendant necklaces, a heart mosaic outside her studio door. During the pandemic, she tiled her living room’s fireplace surround and sculpted two sheep from Pal Tiya (a cement-based product that cures without heat), their wool crafted from an astounding variety of bold and subtle beads.

Visible projects in New Haven include working with teachers and students at Worthington Hooker School, where she used to teach, to create a 40-foot timeline covering human history from before 1500 BCE to 2000 CE, as well as 14 mosaic panels on the Blake Street Bridge depicting natural residents of the West River watershed. After installing a vibrant commissioned portrait for permanent display inside the Yale medical school library, Klingher has been thinking about possible community mosaics as well as her next privately commissioned portrait.

Public or private, Klingher’s work tends to illuminate the whimsy and joy in the world, and encourages those who view it to do the same.

Written and photographed by Heather Jessen.

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