You can find art all over town — not just on gallery walls. In this series, we look at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.
Mosaic artist Kasia Polkowska and her partner, Kyle Cunniff, took their show on the road last year, teaching twenty weekend-long mosaics workshops to students around the country. The idea for traveling art classes came to Polkowska in 2014, while she was hiking in Idaho: She gets her best ideas in the wilderness, she says.
“I was thinking about what a fun time we had on the road trip,” Polkowska remembers. At the time, she and Cunniff were based in Boulder, and Polkowska was also thinking about rock climbers — in particular, the climbers who buy cargo vans and travel around to find the best climbs. When Polkowska told her partner about her concept of following their lead with a traveling art studio, he thought she was “a little wacky,” Polkowska admits. A few days later, though, Cunniff was contemplating a van conversion out loud, and watching YouTube videos on the subject.
Right before the start of 2015, the couple found a van, got approved for a line of credit and began converting their mobile space into a live-work studio. While Cunniff handled technical aspects, Polkowska added finishing touches; a friend took care of necessary electric work and installed a solar panel. They also added a heater, windows and a bed — plus storage for all of the glass they’d be carting around.
Last February, the duo left Boulder for what ended up being an eight-month-long road trip spanning 47 states. Polkowska arranged pop-up mosaic classes, and wound up teaching twenty two-day workshops where more than 200 students learned the ins and outs of cutting, snipping, gluing, grouting and finishing a stained glass mosaic. “People who couldn’t afford the classes would host at their houses, and get the classes for free,” Polkowska says.
At the end of the year Polkowska and Cunniff moved to Denver, and obtained a live-work loft at the 910 Arts Building in the Santa Fe Art District. Now the pair open their studio on First Fridays, and Polkowska teaches art classes there as well.
She’s been working with mosaics since 2007. Like many artists, Polkowska first took a job at a coffee shop to support herself and her art after graduating from Pratt Institute with a degree in painting. “I wanted to do something more creative,” she recalls, so she found a job on Craigslist at a mosaic tile company, where she cut thousands of square feet of glass, and arranged it in compositions sent to “casinos and higher-end places,” Polkowska says.
“Most of it wasn’t very creative. I was on the commercial side of the business because I was good and quick at cutting glass. I worked on very tacky designs,” Polkowska admits. But she also indulged her own creativity, taking home glass scraps from the dumpsters and making stunning mosaics after-hours.
“One thing led to another, and now that’s all I do,” Polkowska says, noting that since she relocated to Colorado a few years ago, she's tried “to make as much art as possible.” She started teaching in 2014, when she landed a job at the Art Garage.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
“The main thing I like to focus on is the great American landscape,” Polkowska says. In New York City and other urban environments, she’d struggled to connect with nature — but that changed in Colorado. “I want to show people, with my work, what a beautiful country we live in,” she says. “I’d like to inspire people to get out there, and to care about the land and take care of our natural resources a little more.”
Glass is particularly good for capturing the beauty of nature. When you start painting – as Polkowska did in school – you’re bound to mix up some pretty hideous colors, she notes. “When you’re learning, you make it all muddy and dirty,” explains Polkowska. “But when it comes to stained glass, it’s already perfect. You’re not going to mess up the colors. There’s nothing you can do to mess up the colors!”
Polkowska sources her glass at Glass Warehouse. “People don’t realize how big my work is,” she says. Larger pieces are four feet by three feet, and Polkowska intends to get bigger now that she has a van to transport larger pieces. She still cuts all of her glass by hand, though. “A lot of artists will use saws and grinders and machines. But up until now I’ve been able to cut everything I need,” she explains.
Cunniff – an artist, too, and industrial designer by trade – creates the custom boards that Polkowska glues her mosaics onto, and he’s helped his partner organize classes, too, and even stepped in as her assistant teacher. For more information on Polkowska and her work, visit her website or swing by the studio.