Upon reading the hidden stories of a mosaic you get lost in the imperfect cuts yet logical placement. There is an architectural structure built through art that could last a lifetime creating and inspiring longevity. Linda Billet, a glass artisan and innovator has taken glass and mosaics to another dimension in life incorporating a legacy that does just that. She is also a mother and while she loves to fuse and mix glass tiles making mosaics, she believes her true legacy is her children, her decent human “beans” that like her, do their part to propel evolution.
“I do believe the world is a kinder, more gentle place because of those two. I could pass at any time and feel fairly accomplished, having had more fun already than I thought possible. I figure I may only have forty years left so I am busting my ass trying to also leave behind some big mosaics. Part of the reason I have chosen glass as my medium is the longevity that I can hope for in my art. Maybe it will outlive the next few generations...A lot of my work is done in residencies, making mosaics with other people. Often I hear from them that this work has changed the way they think. I hope that effect outlives me too.”
Linda was born an artist and as a child had an enormous interest in art but felt that she lacked talent due to not being skilled at drawing. Jim Henson was an inspiration to her and she was always so excited to see how someone could do so well in the arts and as a career. She is a huge fan of James Hance and later on as an adult she created her own spin of a Hance portrait of Henson inspired by his brilliance in upbeat quirky art. She loves that he can take something popular and put a new spin on it in collaboration with something else.
When Linda reached high school, she felt the best way to choose a career was to find the least amount of effort that could generate a decent amount of money. Although she had seen at a young age artists such as Hance and Henson excel in their career as artists, it never crossed her mind that she too could have an opportunity in a career that she could love.
“It never occurred to me that a person should think about what they enjoy and find a way to do that to earn a living. About 15 years ago, I was a mailman. I decided to go to college even though I had no viable plan for what to do with a degree. My guidance counselor questioned why I was taking so many art classes when I had told him I wanted a degree in biology. He advised me to take a course in career development, saying it was for 40 year olds that don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. About the same time, I noticed the community college that I was attending had a glass course. I saved up enough vacation time so that I could take off every Friday to attend the glass class. Shortly after, I quit college and my job at the post office and never looked back.”
When Linda first started art as a career, she was anxious about signing her name because she was making bowls and didn’t want to mar any surfaces. Now, the signature is one of the first things she thinks about when creating a mosaic and her signature tiles are some of her mosaics’ best features. Creating collages out of material things can be done in many mediums and with all the opportunities to mesh unlike materials and stories together. Linda is an innovator.
“Although glass is my medium, I play around in other stuff too. Whether I work in fabric, wood, resin, or whatever… I like to mix things together. If I can repurpose something, that’s an even bigger thrill. The purse I carry is made of my old wetsuit, my old love seat, parts of a Comcast promotional bag and regular fabric. It looks like my mosaics. My living room floor is recycled wood and also looks like my mosaics. I incorporate little things that make me smile. I try to figure out ways to add stripes and bubbles to everything.”
When others look upon Linda’s creations they often share how happy her art makes them feel. Being a happy person herself, she strives to implement emotion that stirs the senses bringing love and light to a new surface.
“I really love mixing prints and textures. I think that is why I have chosen mosaic. Even though I cannot draw, I am able to lay a few things together and it makes a picture. My thing is tiny little details. I am obsessive about texture which is a huge part of why glass appeals to me. I’m just going to admit that I have a great advantage in glass because it is so beautiful before I even touch it.”
Linda continuously stores projects she would like to realize in her mental files in her mind. She has new opportunities often being part of residencies that help hone her craft and passion for what she does and is well worth her time. Although it is far less challenging to be able to work with her own hands, she loves the residencies that makes art with kids that have no experience or have special needs helping build confidence in another regardless of the profession they choose later.
“I have spent over ten years learning skills and acquiring tools so that on my own, I am capable of making some fancy glass. I am now in the process of trying to combine my work with residency work. I’m not really sure how this will play out but I am excited. I envision, for example, an eight foot portrait of Sylvia Earle where I do her face and kids do the jellyfish and water. I wish you could see how proud kids are when their work is hung. So imagine that in a more public place instead of their school.”
Cheerleading for the people is a true passion of Linda that she loves to reign in and though not everyone may want her two cents she is close by for anyone that asks for advice. She knows her perpetual cheerfulness can as she would say “chap people’s asses at times” and has tried to limit herself to only cheerleading upon request. The people who did ask for her advice would ask the same questions often so she decided to write a book called ‘My Meteoric Rise (To Here): The Path of One Glass Artisan. Like the kids she helped in her residencies, she was also spending much time answering these same questions in her book at outdoor shows.
“I am saying the same things to kids in residencies. I try to get done a day earlier than contracted so that I can talk to them about making a living in the arts (or whatever.) It is in everyone’s best interest for you to do what you love for a living because people that are happy and love their work, do a better job. While someone may look at the hours I put in and think I work really hard, I say, “Do you really want to call what I do WORK?” I’ve had a window washer, doctors, a plumber and countless other professionals tell me the same thing. They feel like they are not working because they enjoy it so much. That’s the holy grail.”
Linda Billet shares that a world without art would only mean more time spent outside. She believes that no art can compare to nature for nature is art in itself. If you cannot be outside all day, art is a distant second best way to feed your soul. She believes that the world could use a bit more consciousness and in saying that reminds herself how silly it is to think she is always right. Nature can enhance one’s realization that there is more to us than our own creations and thoughts.
“If I am right, it does not mean that the other person is wrong. If the other person is wrong, I need to find intelligent ways to show them, and accept the fact that they still might not see. Thankfully, there have been really patient people that made the effort and took the time for stubborn old me to see. There is so much polarity right now. Sometimes we get on our high horses, pointing out others’ shortcomings and we don’t notice our own. I see a lot of people being hateful as a way to force other people to stop being hateful. It’s not working, is it? A lot of artists use their work to convey a message. MAKING art can be an entirely different form of help and that is what I choose to do.”
The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts has provided Linda funding to do residencies with different groups of people. She takes these projects on to help people see how much fun it can be to cooperate and collaborate, even with un-like people. Generally, it is in schools but one residency was in a max security prison and one was with mentally ill adults. Linda sees these projects making a difference and any difference that impacts change in our world is a step to making the world a better place.
Written By Skye Amber Sweet
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