Made in Sarasota

By staff June 1, 2006

Lynda Kiansten was browsing a hobby store with a friend when a loud crash startled shoppers. Someone had broken a plate. "Lynda, there's your favorite sound," her friend quipped.

That's not far from the truth. Kiansten is a mosaic artist who creates one-of-a-kind tables that serve as art, travelogue, photo album and furniture all in one. Old plates (that don't survive too long under Kiansten's tile nippers) are often the medium of her expressions. Aptly titled Wanderlust Mosaics, Kiansten's mosaic studio on Fruitville Road is a repository for her collection of tiles, glass and baubles, and the place where she translates her passion for travel into her passion for art.

Kiansten creates mosaic landscapes and wall collages as well as unique custom tables, such as the large concrete and wrought iron one she recently made for a client's garden. Using a process called heat sublimation to scan and transfer photographs and memorabilia onto tiles, Kiansten covered the circular table in pieces of tile made from photographs of her client's friends and family, theater playbills and college sports souvenirs, even poetry and some of the husband's sayings. The table is a remarkable snapshot history of the couple's life.

In Kiansten's studio is a piece she calls Road Trip. Made of shards of 22 vintage souvenir plates from tourist attractions around the country, the tabletop (set on an antique Adirondack base), is a quirky road map of America with unusual, retro detailing such as the copper edging and wheels from a '50s toy truck. For another project, a couple of Cape Cod souvenir plates and bits of Pierpont glass rest on top of a bare New England twig table, awaiting the nippers.

"I like the aspect of finding something that has outlived its usefulness and been thrown away, and putting it back together and creating something nice out of it," says Kiansten.

Almost everything she does reflects her love of globetrotting. The Boston native worked as a corporate travel agent for 18 years, booking complicated trips for clients such as Harvard University and Boeing. Art was a hobby she slowly began to take more seriously as she immersed herself in great works in European museums. She eventually quit the travel industry but still gets around; now, instead of staying at The Ritz-Carlton in whichever country she visits, she hunts out small bed-and-breakfasts and drives out into the countryside. It was during a trip to Italy that she became fascinated with mosaics, and a class at the Massachusetts College of Art convinced her that it was time to switch directions. She lived in Italy and France while she took private tuition in mosaic work, and recently returned from a trip to Barcelona, where she feasted her eyes on the work of Gaudi, one of her greatest inspirations.

In her studio are the tools of her trade that also serve as tangible memories of trips she has taken and places in which she has lived. As well as the vintage souvenir plates and glasses, she has racks and racks of crockery, starting from her earliest days as a "flea market hunter-gatherer" when she lived in England and bought stuff from a man who dug things up in Victorian dumps. There are bits of old pottery she picked up from a beach in Barcelona, jars of glass and beads and tile, boxes of strange eBay finds, including a bin of tiny porcelain dolls (castoffs from a doll factory) and another of tiny animals, whose heads she sometimes uses in her collages, such as a miniature deer that made its way onto a Vermont piece. Kiansten is careful to work geographical relevance into her mosaics; she'll spend hours online researching signs and images and even details such as a vintage Vermont license plate that she then scans and uses to create her own tiles.

The only problem is, when it's time to part with a piece, it's often hard to let go; each tiny shard represents a memory.

"I'll look at a collage and go, that's from a plate I bought in Sweden eight years ago," she says. "But you know you really love something when you look up and eight hours have gone by, and you haven't even noticed."

Kiansten's mosaic tables start from $175 to $225 per square foot, depending on the material. For more information, contact her at (941) 356-1732 or [email protected]

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