Artist Mary Gilles creates mosaic ladybugs to bring community together
Final summer participation event set for September First Friday
Mary Gilles cares about creating community. It is the main reason the retired scientist got into art.
She wanted to start exercising the other side of her brain and began exploring the hobby of fusing glass about 15 years ago. More recently, Gilles transitioned into mosaic work, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic.
Gilles admits she is bad at other mediums like photography, and she specifically wanted to try a hand at mosaics because it can be used for community art due to its sturdy nature. The first work she got involved with is a large community piece in Watsonville, California, involving murals on a parking garage that look like woodblock prints but are actually made out of porcelain tile, telling the story of the migrant farming history in that area.
It was spearheaded by California artist Kathleen Crocetti and will cover 12,500 square feet when it’s complete. Gilles latest artwork, called “A Loveliness,” shrinks that scale to smaller installations across Silverthorne. Gilles provides supplies and guidance to local participants, however, each person ends up creating a wholly unique work.
“You have this limited group of materials that you can work with, but yet the creativity of the person does come through,” Gilles said.
Before entering the art world, Gilles was a military brat that grew up in Seattle, Washington. She went to graduate school in Boulder and lived there from 1987 to 2002 as she finished her doctorate in physical chemistry.
What: September First Friday
When: 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2
Where: Rainbow Park, 590 Rainbow Drive, Silverthorne
Cost: Free. Visit Silverthorne.org for more information
Gilles worked in atmospheric science at The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration until her husband got a dream job offer as faculty in physics and chemistry departments at the University of California, Berkeley. Gilles then switched her career to aerosol science at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
According to Gilles, there isn’t much of a difference between science and art. Both involve putting yourself out there and being vulnerable with fresh ideas. Those ideas require prototyping and trial and error to reach a satisfactory end goal.
“The process of figuring out what will work is an experiment, not so different than an experiment I would have done in science,” Gilles said, calling both creative endeavors. “It’s problem solving.”
The only other public work Gilles has done so far is a solo mosaic caterpillar for a monarch butterfly garden, not too far from her residence in Orinda, California. Yet “A Loveliness” continues the insect theme with mosaic ladybugs at her second home of Summit County.
Gilles bought a vacation home in Copper Mountain in 2006. They’ve been frequent visitors to the mountain since the ’80s and have traveled back to the region every year after moving to California. Now, Gilles estimates she spends about a third of her time in Summit.
She’s thrilled with what Silverthorne has done to promote local art and was glad to receive a grant from the town for her project. It began with mornings at Silverthorne Elementary School for a couple of weeks in the spring. Gilles said she probably worked with around 130 kids in third through fifth grade to create roughly 120 ladybugs. The bugs were installed in a 10-foot long, 2.5-foot wide formation at the school over Fourth of July weekend.
The inspiration of creating ladybugs stems from a hike up to Devil’s Thumb Gilles did when she was living in Boulder. She saw a patch of orange on rocks and thought it was fungus. She was about to sit and realized it was actually thousands of ladybugs.
“Turns out they collect and group when they start to migrate to higher altitudes to stay warm,” Gilles said.
A flying swam is called a “bloom,” but the collective noun for ladybugs is a “loveliness.”
Each mosaic ladybug is made from cobblestone covered in precut pieces of glass. Gilles usually works with whole glass sheets — which she said is easier to work with than ceramic tile — but for time and safety she concluded that store-bought glass would be better with the kids. However, Gilles individually made the glow-in-the-dark eyes.
Gilles also initially sought out smooth river rock, but she couldn’t find a place where she could individually pick them out. So she opted for handpicked cobblestone, and she was able to find enough that were suitably round for her needs. She then designed the project to where people could craft their ladybugs over stages during various First Fridays.
First, people pick out the mosaic pieces, plan where each one is going to go on the stone and transfer the pattern onto the rock. Gilles takes the partially made bugs home so they can be cleaned up and cure for a couple of days, and then epoxy grout is used at the next event. The finished ladybugs are installed on a concrete paver base, which Gilles said is planned to stay indefinitely.
Another loveliness was recently placed at North Pond Park and measures about 4-by-5 feet. Gilles said it is a great location with stand-up paddleboards, swimmers and other locals spending time outdoors with their families. Add the ability to see the ladybugs in nature at night, and Gilles said it is a special place.
“It would be cool to walk at night and take a UV flashlight and you see all of them glow,” Gilles said.
The next loveliness of ladybugs will be installed at the Silverthorne Recreation Center. The last chance to participate in creating the art will be at the Silverthorne First Friday, Sept. 2. The event will also feature music from Ozomatli and Andy in the San Luis, as well as kids activities, a performance by the Silverthorne Storm gymnastics team, a petting zoo and other arts and crafts.
The motivation for Gilles and her art has been joy, and she hopes it brings joy to others.
“If you feel one millisecond of joy as you see the light flicker off this ladybug’s eye, that is all I want out of it,” Gilles said.
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