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Reflections of a SAMA newbie

Mosaic sculpture with moss in Philadelphia

I didn’t get to do too much touristing around, but I did find this fun “moss”aic :-)

I just got back from my very first American Mosaic Summit of the Society of American Mosaic Artists (which everyone just calls SAMA for short). It was so fantastic to be surrounded by my tribe, connecting with old friends, making new ones, talking shop or just joking around, being inspired by top-notch speakers, and getting up close and personal with some really beautiful and impressive mosaic art.

I really didn’t know what to expect as I made my way to Philadelphia for the conference, but I had a sense that this would be an important experience for me, given that it was my first real foray into the broader mosaic community. And SAMA 2015 did not disappoint. Being able to really explore the pieces in Mosaic Arts International in person was such a pleasure and it really got the ol’ cogs turning. In addition, several of the talks got me all fired up (chief among them Carrie Reichardt’s, Rachel Sager’s, and the panel put on by Kelley Knickerbocker, Erin Pankratz-Smith, Jo Braun, and Kate Jessup).

While I’m pretty sure I came home with more questions than answers as a result of these talks, I’m really looking forward to working my way through them and slowly and steadily figuring it all out as I move forward. Thanks to Carrie, I will be contemplating how I can perhaps take a more activist tack in my climate change work. From Rachel, I now have thoughts of Place swirling around in my head (it’s like being a geography student all over again!) and I’m doing a lot of thinking about how I can embrace the “imperfect whole” and the inherent messiness of myself, my work, and my place (in every sense of the word), and leverage those imperfections and quirks going forward. And the panel discussion has me in search of my “Why?” and on a mission to create with intent and embrace that which makes me uncomfortable (or give my fear a bear hug, as Kate Jessup put it).

And as if all this food for thought wasn’t enough, the cherry on top was the fact that I managed to sell my mosaic in the annual silent auction and I came home with a commission, both of which definitely gave me a little boost of confidence. Oh, and I snagged some very lovely materials in the vendor marketplace and also won a raffle prize (mmmmm…gold smalti)!

Julie Sperling "Weather is not climate" mosaic at SAMA salon 2015

All set up and ready for the bidding to begin at the mosaic art salon silent auction!

Overall, the conference was amazing. Reflecting on it, I am struck by how full of weird contradictions it was for me. I felt very at home and part of a community, and yet simultaneously felt quite insignificant (it was a classic small-fish-in-a-big-pond experience). Being surrounded by mosaics and the people who love and make them for four days was certainly motivating and I can feel my drive deepening, and yet it also came with a healthy dose of insecurity and doubt. Thankfully, when those feelings settled in after I came down off my conference high, some good friends who are much further into their mosaic journey than I am reassured me that it was completely normal, and I quickly got past that short-lived yet intense funk. All in all, SAMA certainly served to put things in perspective and remind me that I’ve got a long way to go. Luckily, patience is one of my strengths and long ago I committed to playing the long game when it comes to my future (whatever that may be) in mosaic. I walked away from SAMA with renewed energy and a reaffirmed commitment to just buckle down, do the work, and see where it takes me.

Finally, as you may know, sometimes I like to choose a song to serve as a little soundtrack to these big life events. So here’s my anthem to my first SAMA and to owning my messy, imperfect whole: Mavis Staples’ I like the things about me.

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