London School of Mosaic

Be part of the foundation of the UK's first degree course in Mosaic Studies.

London School of Mosaic was opened in September 2017 and is a small independent art school constituted as a self-governing charity with trustees from the academic, arts and business communities. The purpose of the charity will be to run the London School of Mosaic delivering a range of courses including vocational diplomas, a foundation and undergraduate degree in mosaic studies that sets a standard of excellence for the dissemination of this complex and architectural art form.

The move to establish the school has grown out of the work of Southbank Mosaics to civilise and decorate the minimalist face of London’s premier cultural quarter: London’s Southbank. They were started in 2004 by volunteers, led by David Tootill and now have over 250 installations in public space and a track record of teaching children and university students.

 

Origins of a British School of Mosaic

The London School of Mosaic fulfils a long standing need for a central institution teaching all aspects of the art of mosaic, practical and imaginative, from design to installation to restoration. The call for such a school has a long history.

When the Romans ruled Britain, the art of mosaic prospered: when they left, mosaic disappeared with them and it stayed disappeared.  In 1851, the Great Exhibition, followed by The International Exposition of 1862 inspired the revival of the applied arts. In Britain’s damp and smoky climate the durability and brilliant colour of mosaic made it a favourite. Soon, a mosaic studio was set up in the new Victoria & Albert Museum by its director, Sir Henry Cole. Members of his own family, including his niece Florence, worked there.  This can be considered as predecessor of a London School of Mosaic, as Cole’s aim was to establish a school of mosaic at the V&A. Many of their mosaics, including the floor mosaics made by women prisoners, are still visible in the Museum today. This highlights mosaic's social role from very early on as suitable professional occupation and perhaps therapy for the inmates.

Arts and Crafts artists of the late 19th century, who championed the art of mosaic, pointed out the lack of a 'British School of Mosaic' needed to counter the Venetian Salviati, who had cornered the market in the now popular art. Robert Anning Bell, published ‘The Art of Pictorial Mosaic’ in 1901, to encourage the collaborative practice of mosaic, cheered on by artists, craftsmen and architects of the Art Workers’ Guild.  He designed many mosaics on public display in London, but no school ensued. With certain exceptions, mosaic workers still travelled from Italy to work on prestigious British projects.

In Italy, where the practice of mosaic continued beyond the Romans, a mosaic school was founded in 1903 in the Italian town of Sequals by Giandomenica Facchina, credited with preceding Salviati in using the indirect method.  In 1922 the school was moved to Spilimbergo.  The artist and mosaicist Gino Severini, who was involved with teaching at Ravenna, founded his renowned school of mosaic in Paris in 1955.

A call for a British school of mosaic came from the Liverpool University School of Architecture and Applied Art in the late 1890s, still there was no school in Britain. But in 1965 the artist, teacher and designer of the Merrion Market mosaics, Eric Taylor, finding an ‘extreme shortage of craftsmen’ able to carry out mosaic work from his designs, travelled to Italy to research materials and methods with a view to setting up a department of mosaic in Leeds College of Art. This promising venture came to nothing.

Now we are opening the London School of Mosaic, which will be a source of knowledge and skills, a centre of excellence to match the achievements of the well-known teaching centres such as Spilimbergo in Italy, the Chicago Mosaic School, and Spier Arts in South Africa.

The London School of Mosaic will offer the only degree course available in the study of mosaic in the UK.  Students awarded a BA degree from the LSOM will be recognised as qualified to work on mosaic projects worldwide, as designers, fabricators and restorers, with a knowledge of methods and materials, able to work to the highest level of artistry, and with a depth of expertise applicable anywhere.

The applied need for mosaic training:

  • There is currently no opportunity to train in Mosaic Making at degree level in the UK
  • For one thousand years from 400-1400 this was the Western and Islamic world’s most celebrated art form [1]
  • A large percentage of Britain’s ancient mosaics have been re-buried – the best way (at present) of preserving them
  • There is widespread neglect and even trashing of the world’s mosaic heritage, particularly around the Mediterranean basin. Italy, Greece, Turkey, Tunisia and Libya among others need our help. The oldest mosaics from Uruk in Iraq are 5000 years old and part of the cradle of civilisation [1] [2]
  • The great Victorian mosaics of St Paul’s cathedral, the V&A museum and Parliament are beginning to fall off and need restoration and maintenance;
  • The potential to create purposeful jobs “making my neighbourhood more attractive” has many accumulating gains such as work in an inclusive and creative setting, linking neighbourhoods to their roots, creating a sense of place and drawing visitors.

[1] Fischer, P. Mosaic: History and Technique (London, 1971)

[2] Dunbabin, K. Mosaics of the Greek and Roman World (Cambridge, 1999)