Meet Mina Barnes: A mosaic artist who uses her studio to create a sense of community

LONG BEACH — Mina Barnes says she’s not an artist, yet she’s created a stunning piece of art at her Bluff Heights studio and gift shop, Visionary Artware.

Inside the yellow Craftsman bungalow, located on Broadway east of Temple Avenue, Barnes used one of the bathrooms as her canvas to produce an amazing mosaic design inspired by Sandro Botticelli’s mid 1480s masterpiece “The Birth of Venus.”

CREATING MOSAICS

After being laid off from a research analyst job, Barnes found her artistic voice in 1993 when she started working in mosaics. She’s a self-taught artist.

One of Barnes’ early talents was to hand cut pieces of tile into a variety of shapes and sizes, eschewing the traditional form of smashing them with a hammer.

Barnes’ talent and unique artistry has garnered commission work from Universal Studios, Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital Long Beach, and Riot Games.

CREATING SENSE OF COMMUNITY

As Visionary Artware approaches its 20th anniversary in December, Barnes continues cutting tiles and also shares her skills by teaching mosaics in her studio.

Visionary Artware is an art studio and gift shop in Bluff Heights. Photo: Q Voice News staff photo.

Not only does Barnes have a passion for teaching art, but also creating a sense of community. Many days during the week, the Visionary Artware studio becomes an unofficial community center. People of all ages and experience talk, laugh, and make art, while Barnes dishes out inspiration, advice, and jokes.

In an interview with Q Voice News, Barnes, 58, who identifies as a lesbian, talks about breaking into mosaics, her love of teaching art, and the mechanics of mosaics.

Here are some excerpts.

On being reluctant to call herself an artist

“I’m always reluctant in calling myself an artist. I am a technician. I’m very good at cutting. I have a good eye for color. I have good ideas,” Barnes said.

“My mother was a fine artist, and I did not take after her in terms of drawing and painting. I never liked coloring books or paint-by-number things. I did not even take an art class in high school,” Barnes said.

On making the switch from research analyst to artist

“It was more of an emotional-creative decision. It just popped in my head one day, literally, because I never did any art,” Barnes said. “One day it was like, Oh you know what? I think I’ll do mosaics. I had gotten a kiln because I thought I was going to be painting on tile, but I was sorely disappointed in the painting on tile. But then I thought, Well, I can glaze tile. That’s kind of how it was born.”

On mosaics

“This is an art form that a lot of people who have never done art take because it’s mechanical so it’s comfortable,” Barnes said. “People like pieces of things that can be put together so it’s really hard to make a really horrific, horrific piece.”

On her love for teaching

“The greatest gratification I get is from my students. The majority of my students are not artists. I don’t collaborate with very many artists. It is by the grace and kindness of my friends and students and customers that I’m still here, and I’m very devoted to them. So I work with them and help them create things.

“I by far get my gratitude out of what they create more than what I create, so I really try to get my students to get it. I’ve been told that I take this way too seriously, but I would do that with whatever I taught, even if it was about cleaning a toilet. I would have that same kind of seriousness.”

Mina Barnes helped create this mosaic. On display at Visionary Artware in Long Beach, it was inspired by Sandro Botticelli’s mid 1480s masterpiece “The Birth of Venus.” Photo: Q Voice News staff photo.

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About the author

Karen Robes Meeks

Karen Robes Meeks is an award-winning, Long Beach-based business writer who has spent almost 20 years chasing stories around Southern California. These days, Robes Meeks spends most of her time chasing her toddler daughter around town, which makes great cardio. Her stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register and the Press-Telegram, where she was the trade and transportation reporter.