Working solo on a commission or with a crowd on public installation art – apart or together – mosaic artist Sharra Frank enjoys working in both ways. On a current project she is wrapping up this spring at Bryant Square Park, she collaborated with over 100 people to create five mosaic panels for the Southwest Senior Center in Minneapolis.
Frank began to follow her mosaic path as an art student at the University of Minnesota. In 2000, she was immersed in a two-dimensional art class at North Hennepin Community College. When she created a still-life from scraps of painted paper. It opened a new direction for her. “The process of creating a whole from practically nothing sparked a passion,” Frank says.
After transferring to the University, where mosaics were not taught in the fine arts division, she began to teach herself this ancient craft. “It forced me to experiment and find my own creative voice in this art form. I couldn’t wait to get through college to be able to focus on my mosaic work.”
At the time, there were no mosaic classes to be found. Frank found inspiration in books and an online Yahoo mosaic group where she learned of a range of mosaic possibilities with stones, glass, found objects, plates, clay. “I tried them all,” she said. After she found a stained glass outlet near her home in Uptown Minneapolis, she discovered her favorite medium.
“For a few dollars I could buy a whole sheet of glass and cover a lot more surface area. There is so much range of color and texture in glass, and always transparency. You can play with that quite a bit,” she says. Today, glass and beads are her primary materials.
The joy of many hands
In 2006, Frank was tapped to work on a mosaic mural project through COMPAS, a statewide program that connects artists with communities. She was 26 years old and didn’t have experience working with groups of volunteers, “but they took a chance on me … and I proved myself,” she says.
Her first community project was with a group of teens at the Neighborhood House (also known as The Paul and Sheila Wellstone Center) in West St. Paul. It established a decade-long pattern for Frank of working with groups to create public art installations.”A lot of the kids I started working with that summer were 14 years old at the time,” Frank says. Many have now graduated from college and are working as artists with their own studios. “I get goose-bumps talking about it. The program plants seeds. It was not just about making art, but teaching how to work as a business person and entrepreneur. We talked about how to price and market your work, how to approach galleries, how to set up your own studio.”
It surprised her to find out that she is good at working with big groups of people on mosaic projects. “I love the collaboration, the challenges and problem solving in ways that bring everyone together,” Frank says. “Mosaics are time intensive, so it’s good to work together, to have a lot of hands involved. And then [the artwork is] put up in a public place and celebrated. It all comes together.”
In January 2010, Frank says, she was “lost in motherhood bliss” – her first son had been recently born. She earned the opportunity to create a mural for the Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota, Minneapolis campus. The result became the mosaic piece called “Moondance,” featured on this magazine’s cover. This solo creation was designed to depict a sense of dance, nature and movement. Frank wanted to capture the childlike essence of magic and freedom.
“I wanted it to be uplifting and have energy and spirit. I was thinking of being a child, like when you’re playing in the dark and it feels so magical,” she says.
Frank lives with her family in Minneapolis – a second son was born in 2013. She has a studio in the Northrup King Building in Northeast Minneapolis. She is looking forward to taking a hiatus later this year from community projects, private commissions, and teaching mosaic classes and workshops to focus on her own mosaic work and online teaching. “I have big ideas and a vision of a different direction to take my personal work.”
Editor’s Note: You can watch a MN Originals video of Sharra Frank creating “Moondance” on TPT’s website: