‘Painting with Glass’ Local Artist Gives New Life to Beach Treasures
By Mary Byrne Lamb
Local artist Valerie Waywell, also owner of Island Home Renovation and Design, with one of her unique glass mosaics.
Waywell’s sea-life mosaics tell a story, from intricate waves made of clam shells to a glass tide rolling onto the sand.
Walking along the shoreline and collecting shells and sea glass is a special kind of treasure hunt. Each collected piece is infused with memory, history, and weathered beauty. Yet, these found items are often relegated to jars and bowls or lost as forgotten remnants of vacations past. But, in the hands of local artist Valerie Waywell, these small treasures are transformed into one-of-a-kind glass mosaic art pieces that can be enjoyed for years to come.
When Waywell began working in glass mosaic art four years ago, she was already a well-known and respected artist on Seven Mile Beach. Her fine-art paintings and murals adorn the walls of homes and businesses up and down the coastline.
But, after years of working full-time as a painter and muralist, the scaffolding work began to take a physical toll and she sensed it was time for a change. Intrigued by the glass mosaic work she was seeing in her Cape May artist co-op, she decided to give it a try. Though still painting, Waywell says she was “ready for a new challenge – it was refreshing.”
Before long, Waywell teamed up with fellow artist and painter Catherine Bosna, and the duo formed their company, Cape Glass and Mosaics. Waywell describes the work as “painting with glass,” and the pair immediately started turning out distinctive glass mosaic art including framed pieces, mirrors, unique decorative surfboards, privacy windows, and furniture.
Waywell and Bosna’s mosaics range from dramatic to ethereal, practical to whimsical.
A one-of-a-kind sea-life mosaic that Waywell created using shells and sea glass.
“We approach glass the same way we would approach doing a painting,” Waywell says. “The composition, colors, and different kinds of shading that we would do in a painting is the same thing we apply when working with glass. We think about it all, not just from a decorative point of view but an overall art aesthetic point of view.”
They use different mosaic techniques to create two distinct styles of mosaics: hand-cut glass mosaics and sea life mosaics.
With hand-cut glass mosaics, grout sets glass pieces into a design – like pieces in a puzzle. While these are generally considered more traditional mosaics, Waywell and Bosna’s hand-cut glass mosaics are anything but ordinary. A peek at their decorative mosaic surfboards reveals one featuring a curling, unfurling giant red octopus in shades of bright red glass, flowing over a deep blue background. Another surfboard features a lighthearted group of turtles seemingly swimming along a swirling sea of blue-green crystalline glass. Yet another surfboard glows with elegance and buoyancy as a large, pearlescent jellyfish rises from sea-hued depths like a spectral figure.
An old wooden table that Waywell repurposed into art in her sea-life mosaic collection.
The pair’s artistic creativity also extends to what they call sea life mosaics. Instead of grout and glue to set glass pieces, sea life mosaics incorporate layers of clear resin compound to create a translucent base upon which shells, glass, and sea life seem to float. The free-flowing nature of these mosaics also allow Waywell and Bosna to create art using items from their own collections, as well as custom pieces using a customer’s own shells and sea glass.
While some of the sea life mosaics are purely decorative, others have a functional purpose. For example, their privacy windows are used in kitchens or baths or wherever someone wants privacy without sacrificing natural light. The special resin technique results in a window with slightly opaque glass, adorned with coastal elements incorporating shells, sea glass, starfish, and more.
“We’ve done privacy windows where the builder takes the actual window we’ve made and installs it as a regular window or we make a frame that can be installed or hung with hooks in front of an existing window,” Waywell says.
The sea life mosaics also lend themselves particularly well to furniture, where glass inserts turn tables into unique works of art. Whether they use their own found or bought items, or a customer’s collection, each piece of furniture tells a story.
“There was a woman who came to us and she had all of these shells from Captiva, Fla., in jars,” says Waywell. “So, I took her shells and I made a beautiful coffee table with them. I also took some of the other shells she had, and I made a framed piece to coordinate. And she keeps the rest of the leftover shells in jars and the framed piece hanging over the coffee table. Now she has her whole collection and she has a purpose for it. We take the shells and we make something purposeful instead of people just hanging onto these shells and not knowing what to do with them.”
Hand-cut glass mosaics, along with her sea-life mosaics, made by Valerie Waywell are on sale at local art stores including Island Home Renovation and Design, and Small Crafts Advisory.
For custom pieces, whether its framed art, a privacy window, or a piece of furniture, “we meet with the client and talk about the design,” Waywell says. “Do they want something specific like a fish or an octopus, or do they want it free form? If they have just the glass or just shells – what else do they want added to that? If it’s a privacy window – do they want it in an old window? Or do they want it in a custom-made frame that we provide? How dense or translucent do they want it? Do they want to be able to see through or have super privacy? We discuss every aspect of the design.”
Designing pieces for clients’ homes is second nature to both Waywell and Bosna. For her part, Waywell spent years in different homes as a decorative painter and muralist, and she also helps run Island Home Renovation and Design with her husband, Mike Peirson. Bosna also does home staging work. Between the two of them, they’re exposed to many different tastes in many different homes.
“We both come from the design side of it,” says Waywell. “We understand what people really want instead of trying to guess. By being in homes and seeing the different kind of art that homeowners value, we’re able to take a lot of that and put it into the art that we’re creating.”
And the team creates a lot of art. Last year Waywell and Bosna sold more than 500 of their 3-by-3-inch framed mosaics in shops and galleries throughout the area. Their work is sold at Small Crafts Advisory in Stone Harbor, Island Home Renovation and Design in Avalon, Seaglass Home and the West End Garage in Cape May, the Red Door Gallery in Cape May Court House and The Brush Factory in Lewes, Del.
With the art in high demand, it’s a good thing Waywell has no trouble finding creative inspiration. From an aquarium visit to her own backyard, ideas are everywhere.
“Sometimes I carry ideas around with me for years,” she says. “For example, my daughter had been going to The Wetlands Institute and they got a new octopus, and there was a contest to name her. Our name was Octavia – but we didn’t win. But I had Octavia in my head for years. So, when Catherine and I were talking about making these surfboards, I said, ‘You know I’ve been thinking about this octopus for a while.’ I wanted to do a big octopus, and I always wanted to do Octavia, and I knew exactly what it was going to look like in my head.”
Her head is also filled with visions and inspiration from this coastal area she loves so much.
“Where I live off the Delaware Bay, I get to see the horseshoe crabs come in and the full moon, and I get to be a part of that every day,” Waywell says. “I get to drive the back bays – I like coming over in the morning and the sun is sparkling on the water. I never get tired of it. Some people drive and they don’t notice. I always wonder when people are driving, ‘Do they see those clouds?’ I’m never on a mission so much that I don’t notice that kind of stuff.”
On that note, don’t be surprised if someday soon you notice some cool cloud-themed mosaics popping up around town. With a painter’s eye, an artisan’s skill, and a mind full of ideas, Valerie Waywell can “paint” almost anything with glass.
Revoir’s Treasure Trove
Last fall, Cape Glass and Mosaics became the lucky recipients of Victoria Revoir’s vast sea glass collection. A local artist and painter, Revoir worked as a civilian at the Coast Guard station in Cape May for many years. “She collected sea glass on her lunch hour,” Waywell says. “Since only certain people had access to that section of beach, she was able to collect quite a bit of it. I don’t even know how to describe the amount of it.”
As acquaintances in the art world, Revoir became familiar with the work of Waywell and Bosna, and their Cape Glass and Mosaics business. So, when she was moving, Revoir decided to donate a large amount of her collection to them.
In the collection, “we have a lot of Atlantic City bottoms of bottles. Some of it had wire in it and the wire got a little rusty, it’s kind of cool,” says Waywell. “I’m saving that for a piece.”
One thing is for sure, as prolific glass mosaic artists, Waywell and Bosna will put Revoir’s collection to beautiful use, and they and their patrons will always be grateful for her sea glass hunting skills and her generosity.
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