Ancient art form portrays modern subjects in ’50 Faces’ at The Muck

The art of making mosaics stretches back to antiquity—Greek and Roman artisans created splendid mosaics of colored tile and stone to decorate temples, palaces, and public places. This tradition evolved through the Middle Ages into modern times, and continues today, as evidenced by the current exhibit at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 50 Faces: Italian Mosaics from the Scuola Mosaicisti del Friuli.

Portrait of Iris Apfel by Sofia Lucchese (2018). Venetian Smalti, marble, wool yarn, leather, aluminum.

The Scuola Mosaicisti del Friuli (or Mosaic School of Friuli) was founded in 1922 in the small town of Spilimbergo in northeast Italy to teach and preserve the tradition of mosaic art. The current exhibit is the result of a partnership between this school, a non-profit called The Naonis Cultural Association, and the Muck.

Fullerton mosaic artist Katherine England may be credited with putting the initial pieces together that resulted in this unique exhibit.

England, who teaches mosaic art, visited the school in Italy about four years ago to take a class and learn more about the art form.

At the Scuola Mosaicisti del Friuli students begin by learning traditional mosaic techniques and progress into more contemporary styles.

Portrait of David Bowie by Giula Vesentini (2017). Venetian Smalti and cement substrate.

“In this school they started breaking all the rules,” England said. “They started using large pieces, small pieces, standing them on their end, doing colors you shouldn’t be doing, and really experimenting with the medium.”

Guglielmo Zanette of the Naonis Cultural Association works with students from the Scuola to get their work shown around Italy and internationally. Two years ago Zanette organized an exhibit in Marin County, California.

“They rarely have any kind of mosaic exhibits in the United States so we were very excited and a bunch of us went up to the exhibit, and that’s where I met Guglielmo who was the curator,” England said.

She told Guglielmo, “This needs to come to Southern California.”

Two years later the exhibit is here in Fullerton curated by Kelly Chidester.

“50 Faces” features portraits of celebrities—movie stars, musicians, artists, and other cultural icons—done in a variety of mosaic styles by students from the Scuola.

A closer look at each portrait reveals a stunning array of tiny materials—stone, glass, plastic, wood, jewelry, cloth—carefully constructed to achieve an impressionistic likeness of familiar figures such as Kobe Bryant, Steve Jobs, Lady Diana, David Bowie, Amy Winehouse, and many others.

The exhibit also explores the process and materials of mosaics.

The exhibit also features a video about the Scuola as well as both historic and contemporary photographs of its students, and a display of contemporary mosaic materials.

The exhibit is a fascinating mashup of an ancient art form with modern techniques and subjects.

50 Faces: Italian Mosaics from the Scuola Mosaicisti del Friuli

The Muckenthaler Cultural Center

1201 W. Malvern Ave, Fullerton, CA 92833

Jul 15-Oct 7, 2021— Monday–Friday, 12-5pm

Advance reservations required. Call (714) 738-6595 or email

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