When you walk into Joice Thomas’ home, you’re immediately met with stunning mosaic art all over the walls. Intricate faces, symbols, religious imagery, and flowers. Her living room doubles as her own private gallery.
Joice Thomas couldn’t find African-American garden art – so she started making it herself.
“What it means to me to be an artist, is to share what I see with other people,” Thomas says. “It’s relaxing for me, I can put a message in it, it speaks to how I believe. For me it has to have a meaning so I’m able to share that with other people.”
Thomas became an artist out of necessity. “The journey to become an artist started with my desire to decorate and to be a pseudo gardener,” says Thomas. She planted a garden with beautiful flowers and wanted to accessorize. She set out to find statues of children with African-American features but came up empty. “I thought, ‘I’ll make it myself.’”
She quickly learned that making statues would be too complicated and settled on learning the art of mosaic instead. Blackscape Studio was born. “Blackscape Studio is my way of sharing my history, culture, and lifestyle - all that went into the pieces I designed for my garden,” says Thomas.
Thomas’ basement art studio is extremely organized. Every tool is neatly put in its place and glass mosaic tiles are organized in boxes by color and size.
Thomas loves the process of creating art, watching the pieces come together into something cohesive. Sometimes she’ll use a pattern, other times she won’t.
She started to learn mosaic from books, where the examples were butterflies and flowers. “It just didn’t attract me,” she says. She wanted to create art that was more culturally specific to her. “I was familiar with adinkra symbols and I thought ‘instead of putting a star in there I’ll put an adinkra symbol’, and that’s how it started.”
Adinkra is a symbol language from west Ghana, Africa. Thomas explains, “a simplified version is that it explains how a person might have lived or how a person might think.”
Thomas explains the process, starting with a sheet of glass pulled from one of her neatly organized shelves. She cuts the glass into pieces using a special knife and a wet tile saw. She grinds the sharp edges with a grinder, wearing gloves and googles. She cuts them into triangles, the beginning of an adinkra symbol called “House of Peace.” Once the pattern is arranged, she attaches the tiles with strong glue.
“The fun part of mosaic is you get to play with this stuff called grout, and you get to smear it all over the glass.” She mixes up some grout from a powder and water until it’s the perfect consistency. Then she smears it onto the surface until it fills in all the gaps.
“All these abstract pieces of glass come together and after you smear all the grout on, and wipe it away, and you shine it up, you’re like, ‘Wow. It’s done, it’s beautiful.’”