Before Hurricane Katrina, creating mosaics was little more than a hobby for Trina Davis, a native New Orleanian who had a hair salon on Magazine Street.
“I just did some mosaic work for myself,” she says. “I did some countertops and other things of mine just for fun.”
Davis was toying with the idea of doing a mosaic on glass when the storm hit, forcing her to St. Louis.
“While I was evacuated to St. Louis,” she recalls, “I went to the Cathedral Basilica, and it’s just covered with mosaics. I flipped out! It was so inspiring!”
Along with the inspiration was the opportunity: “I’d always wanted to do a mosaic on a window because I love how glass looks with the light coming through it, and then in St. Louis, I saw a woman selling huge glass windows. And I had a lot of time –– and a lot of wine bottles –– on my hands, so I just started doing it.”
And, sadly, there was no shortage of materials when Davis came home, either. There were broken windows and piles of broken objects everywhere, so she just started using them.
Although she had an abundance of materials with which to create her art, Davis didn’t –– and still hasn’t –– quit her day job.
“I’m originally a hairdresser, and I love doing that,” she says. “It’s artistic in its own way, and it lets you work with your hands, but it’s more precise. Doing mosaics is more fun because it’s freer and you can express more, but I still love cutting hair.”
Nevertheless, Davis kept making her window mosaics and started to display some of them in her salon.
“And then people started wanting to buy them,” she says. “It never occurred to me when I put them up that anyone would want to buy them; I just thought they looked nice. But when they asked if it was for sale, I said, ‘Yes!’”
Soon Davis found herself accepting commissions, and in late 2007, she opened Mosaic Salon and Gallery, a space she uses to display both her work and the work of others. She also shows her work at the monthly art market in Palmer Park and sometimes at the one in the Bywater, and she had a recent exhibition at 3 Ring Circus Art Education Center’s Big Top Gallery.
“Her work is collage-driven and so unique,” says Patrick E. Perret, board president of 3 Ring Circus, who curated a show that included Davis’ work. “What struck me about Trina’s work was the artfulness of it and the obvious imagery that she imposes on it.”
An artist with no formal training herself, Davis is often asked to teach other people how to do mosaics like hers. She says the process itself is fairly simple: She takes an old window and cleans it up just a little, then creates the design on the glass using hardware, keys, found objects, broken glass, wire, whatever strikes her fancy. Once the design is in place, she pours a resin hardener over it and lets it set.
But though Davis can easily explain the mechanics of what she does, she says the artistic part of the process isn’t something that can be taught.
“Anyone can do it,” she says, “but I don’t know how to teach it. It has to come from inside.”
From personal experience, Davis knows that the pieces she puts together have their own story to tell, and they definitely guide her work.
“A lot of times, I just start with objects,” she says. “I say, ‘I want to use hardware,’ or ‘I want to use old nails,’ and I just let the piece work itself out from there. It evolves as I’m doing it. It’s really weird, but it all does just fall into place. A lot of times, I just stop and wonder, ‘Where is this coming from?’”
Recently, Davis was working on a mosaic that she intended to be a showgirl. Her 12-year-old son, Max, had seen a poster with a showgirl on it and said, “Mom, make this!” But as she worked tore-create the poster, she realized that this piece did not “want” to become a showgirl. Instead, the colors on the window frame reminded her of poison ivy, and with a bit of wire and some ceramic leaves, that’s just what it became.
“That kind of evolution just happens sometimes,” she says. “I plan a lot of pieces, like a fleur-de-lis or a copy of a van Gogh or an old masters’ painting, but sometimes I start it, and it totally changes.”
Along with illustrating the changes that happen as Davis’ art takes form, the showgirl anecdote hints at another common factor in Davis’ work: Max’s help and input.
“My son and I go Dumpster-diving all the time,” she says. “He’s always saying, ‘Use this, Mom!’ He helps a lot because he finds a lot of interesting things and doesn’t mind getting dirty.”
Even Max has his limits, though: “There were some windows outside his school, just being given away, and he did not want me taking them. I said, ‘Max, I need them,” and he said, ‘Not right now, Mom. Let’s come back for them later.’”
Despite embarrassing her son –– which is inevitable anyway with a 12-year-old –– Davis still loves what she’s doing.
“It’s the perfect art form for me,” she says. “It’s definitely not stained glass because stained glass, for me, is too perfect. This is more free, more funky. But I can still work with my hands, and I love working with different pieces of people’s lives, with salvaged, beautiful things. And sometimes I come into work to find a box on my doorstep full of hinges or broken bottles or old nails. It’s just so fun!”