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Sherman Gardens opens summer mosaic art exhibit ‘Inspired by Nature’

"The Four Seasons," by mosaicist Irina Charny.
“The Four Seasons,” by mosaicist Irina Charny, for the “Inspired by Nature” exhibit at the Sherman Library & Gardens. The exhibition opened on Tuesday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Irina Charny sees a new masterpiece waiting when she observes a woman clad in a floral dress, a colorful bouquet or a butterfly alighting on a leaf.

Sometimes the mosaic artist’s imagination is sparked by something a simple as finding a rock on the beach she happens to really like and decides, then and there, to create an entire piece around it.

So, it isn’t surprising her exhibition at the Sherman Library & Gardens in Corona del Mar is titled “Inspired by Nature.”

The gardens’ summer art exhibit opened Tuesday and will remain on display through Sept. 21. Viewing the exhibit comes free with garden admission, and the mosaics are available for purchase, with 20% of the sales benefiting the gardens.

Charny confirmed she made several of the more than 45 works on display specifically for the show, including a mosaic butterfly with a 6-foot wingspan.

Mosaicist Irina Charny poses in front of one of her mosaics displayed at the Sherman Library & Gardens.
(Courtesy of the Sherman Library & Gardens)

“Irina’s love of botanicals and nature informs her work, making her the perfect choice for this year’s summer art exhibit,” said executive director Scott LaFleur in a statement. “Guests will especially enjoy posing for [pictures] in front of enormous mosaic butterfly wings Irina created exclusively for Sherman Library & Gardens.”

Charny’s works vary in size and scale, though she said the vast majority of them are about 3- to 4-feet tall and 2 feet wide. Smaller ones are being sold in the gardens’ gift shop.

Some of the eye-catching pieces scattered throughout the garden incorporate materials like glass, porcelain, shells, mirrors and beads.

“It’s everything but the kitchen sink,” joked Charny. “If I could put the kitchen sink in, I probably would, but it’s a bit heavy.”

Charny said she is self-taught, having picked up the art of mosaics after her fireplace tumbled when she lived in Pasadena during the 1991 Sierra Madre earthquake. She said she saw a fireplace in a magazine done in mosaic and thought she wanted to give it a go herself.

So, she did, and now she works on mosaics full time.

'Cocoons & Enormous Butterfly Wings' by mosaicist Irina Charny.
“Cocoons & Enormous Butterfly Wings,” by mosaicist Irina Charny for the “Inspired by Nature” exhibit at the Sherman Library & Gardens.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Based in Irvine, Charny said Sherman Gardens venue manager Beverly Morgan reached out to her in November. She said she had met Morgan prior to the pandemic and kept in touch.

“When everything started opening up after COVID, Beverly reached out and said, ‘We have a summer art exhibit. Are you interested?’ and I was over the moon at the idea because [the gardens] are such a beautiful setting for the mosaics,” said Charny.

“I always enjoy looking at art pieces, and it’s great to go to a museum, but to find them in a surprising location, you’re going to go look at a botanical garden,” said Charny. “You’re not expecting an art exhibit; it’s a great surprise. I’m hoping people are pleasantly surprised by it and that they enjoy looking at it.

“I’m always excited to introduce people to this art form. On one hand, everyone kind of knows the word ‘mosaics,’ but not a lot of people have encountered it as an actual art form. I’m very excited for people to see what an art mosaic looks like.”

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