Song and Spirit: To Sit and Tile a While

I'm always drawn to the sparkly bits!I’ve gone only twice, but I’m beginning to love those Wednesday mornings. It’s a perfect loop: artistic creativity, getting to know an ever-expanding circle of women, an ample nosh, and best of all the knowledge that each of our creations will be sold to help those in need. The site of this wonderful Mobius strip of goodness is the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace in Berkley, Michigan. More on the Institute in a moment.

So what are these Wednesday mornings all about? Making glass mosaic tiles, something I’ve never done before.  I love it.

I love the bits of color and figuring out how to fit the various shapes into some semblance of visual cohesion. I love hearing the stories of the other women at the tables—the kind of intimate clothesline talk of kids and family, stories about work and relatives. And faith. I learn about Mary’s Mantle, “a safe haven for expectant mothers,” where one of the women at my table works.

Mary Smith (l.) and Claire Horton (r.) assure me that "grout is forgiving."

Marlene Smith (l.) and Claire Horton (r.) assure me that “grout is forgiving.”

“Grout is forgiving,” someone assured me my first day when I murmured that I wasn’t sure how my first tile was going to come out.

This led to a conversation about forgiveness—and how great it is to be involved in a kind of art making that comes with its own forgiveness!

And, they were right! When I saw my first finished tile, all those disparate shapes hugged together by dark grey grout, it did look pretty good.

I haven’t yet tried anything representational, choosing to stay within the safety of abstract  and more linear designs. Long-shelved quilt patterns return to me, eager for a second act.

A log cabin quilt pattern translated into glass mosaic,

A log cabin quilt pattern translated into glass mosaic.

Meanwhile, the veterans of these mosaic gatherings are creating hummingbirds that shimmer in flight above mosaic trumpet flowers, delightful butterflies, vases filled with flowers, sailboats, teapots and more. See more on Song and Spirit’s Art in Action page. 

There are mosaic tiles featuring crosses and Shabbat candlesticks, maize “M’s” on fields of blue and white “S’s”set off by green. From the same humble materials—glass bits, glue, tile cutter, paintbrush—jewels begin to rise to the surface, no two the same, just like snowflakes, fingerprints, human beings. 

And it’s the needs of human beings that lie at the center of this entire venture. The tiles are sold to help support the mission of the Song and Spirit Institute for Peace, which is dedicated to promoting greater understanding among people of diverse religions, cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

The center and its many programs are run by three extraordinary individuals:  Jewish troubadour, Maggid Steve Klaper, a professional musician; Brother Al Mascia, OFM, a Franciscan Friar whose Care’avan is a lifeline for parents and their children living at or below the poverty line; and Mary Gilhuly, Song & Spirit’s co-founder and Art Director who runs the Art-in-Action tile program. That’s the brief rundown. The longer and more deserving story merits more words than I can use here, so please please please, do your heart and soul a favor visit the Song and Spirit website and learn all that they do

Attending a weekend conference, Mary heard a recitation of a human being’s basic psychological needs: love and belonging; power and competence; freedom and choice; fun. She turned to her seat mate and said, “That’s what we do at Song and Spirit!  That’s what our tiles do for people!” She was exactly right.

I can’t wait for next Wednesday to get here.

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13 thoughts on “Song and Spirit: To Sit and Tile a While

  1. Mary G.

    Dear Debra,
    Thanks for the lovely story about mosaic tiling at Song and Spirit! It is a blessing getting to know you.
    But, more importantly: LOOK at your beautiful tiles!!! AMAZING efforts!
    I also love that you captured the camaraderie and support that is shared when people get together in creative pursuit. Walls are broken down every time you need to ask a stranger, “Could you show me how you cut that glass in a straight line?” or “Is this piece missing a touch of blue?” Even the idea that you “murmured” concern and two strangers leaped in to reassure you…. Perhaps that doesn’t happen everywhere, but wouldn’t it be too cool if it did??!!
    My Jewish husband explained to me years ago that the familiar Hebrew word SHALOM doesn’t just mean PEACE, but WHOLENESS – COMPLETENESS. I believe there is inherent SHALOM in mosaic art work and creating it in community as we do at Song and Spirit.
    Lots of little pieces – BIG impact!
    I look forward to you sharing time, talent and spirit with us.
    Peace. Shalom
    Mary G.

  2. Nancy T

    I enjoyed your thoughtful blog re tiling at Song and Spirit. So true.
    Many of us have started this mosaic work being way out of our comfort zone and grown and learned with each tile we make. Mary provides gentle guidance and inspiration and, surprisingly, our tiles turn out ok.
    It is a warm inclusive group that embraces everyone who is brave enough to try something different. I know I speak for many , in that we so look forward to Wednesday and don’t let anything else interfere with this time. It is a joy to be involved, but also , in our small way to help others.
    Hope to see you there again!

  3. Claire Horton

    Debra! What a nice surprise–being directed to your blog via Mary’s email. Your words have so wonderfully captured the essence of tile making and being at the Institute for Peace, Song and Justice. In this wonderful place I have discovered the joy of being creative and the satisfaction of knowing that with each tile made and sold, someone in need benefits. i take delight in the people and conversations that await each week. It seems to me that this tile-making is a metaphor for so many things—-from the brightly colored shards of glass, the sticky glue and the forgiving grout……..
    I know that my life is nicer for having been lead to this smorgasbord of GOOD-ness. Thank you for putting into words in such a readable and descriptive way.See you Wednesday?

  4. Julie D

    Debra, you captured the essence of Wednesdays at Song and Spirit! I, for one, have trouble explaining to others what the glass mosaic experience is all about and now I can refer others to your blog for a clear explanation! It is truly a center for peace, friendship, love, creativity, caring, contribution and so much more. Thanks for putting the experience into words! See you on Wednesday!

    1. Debra Darvick Post author

      You are so welcome, Julie! Putting things into words is what I do. Now only if I could
      put together tiles as well! Yes, please send your friends along to the blog post. I hope
      they enjoy learning more. Until tomorrow……

  5. Barbara Larose


    i have not met you as of this date, but I cannot wait. It is so heart warming to hear your comments about Song and Spirit. You are right, spot on. I am old enough to remember my mother over the clothes line talking to her life-long friend about everyday problems and joys. We have replaced the clotheslines with tiles. A better choice I think. Hope to meet you next Wednesday.

    Barbara Larose

  6. Laya Crust

    So- Now I get to see your tiles! I missed this posting while I was in New York. I love it! Keep creating, tiling, grouting, cutting- in whatever order works!

  7. Nora Condland

    What a fun read about love of mosaic work and fellowship for a good cause. I live just northeast of you and have just completed a “thank you for my life” mural for my local hospital. My next project is to have the staff make complimentary pieces for another wall.

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