Mosaics has been used for decoration for over 4000 years. These oldest examples come from the Mesopotamian Empire (a region located in Modern day Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey). Many other ancient cultures decorated their temples, civic buildings and even the homes of the noble classes with mosaics on floors, walls and even ceilings. The earliest mosaics were made with bits of colored stones, glass and other materials.

Mosaic as an art form developed even further with the Greeks, who took the stones and pebbles and pushed them into clay to create more intricate designs. However, they reached a new high with the Romans, in Africa and Syria, the wealthiest Roman provinces. Beautiful floors have been found in Herculaneum and Pompeii. The mosaics in the Roman Empire featured domestic scenes, geometric designs and depictions of the gods in their pantheon.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, mosaics in the Byzantine era (which refers to the Eastern inhabitants of the Roman Empire that grew into it’s own civilization.) went from mainly floor decorations to beautiful and intricate wall pieces that depicted religious subjects. Until now, most mosaics adorned floors and so were usually made of colored stones that could withstand people walking on them. Because the Byzantines put mosaics on the walls, they could also use fragile materials, like mother of pearl, gold and silver leaf, and glass of different colors. Small glass tiles, (or tesserae) were placed at angles to catch and reflect the light, creating a sparkling, richly colored glow.

At the same time, further east in the Islamic world, mosaics were also developing, with stone and depictions of geometric figures and mathematical principals. The Islamic technique was slightly different. Artisans would carefully create tiles specifically for the project, handworking each tile to ensure a custom fit instead of choosing a stone or tile that fits well enough into the piece and working around it.

Today’s artisans and crafters work with stone, ceramics, shells, art glass, mirror, beads, and even odd items like doll parts, pearls, or photographs. While ancient mosaics tended to be architectural, modern mosaics are found covering everything from park benches and flowerpots to guitars and bicycles. Items can be as small as an earring or as large as a house.

Today we will use tesserae or small tiles to make our own mosaics. Because grout is messy and a little difficult to use, we will glue our tiles down and leave them ungrouted like the Byzantines. (Grout is a glue made out of sand that cements the tiles together.)

1. Pick a round or square board for your mosaic. Lay it down on top of a piece of wax paper to protect desks from glue and give you something to handle while the mosaic is drying.

2. Lay the tiles out on the board and arrange them to make a deign. DO NOT glue until you have figured out the design and have it exactly how you want it. The tiles can go off the edges a little, but you will want all of the tiles to have a good backing so they don’t pop off.

3. Pick up each tile and squeeze a good amount of glue onto the back, then carefully place it back on the board.

4. Pick up your whole project by the wax paper and carefully place it in the drying area your teacher recommends. They will be very fragile until the glue has dried. (They won’t be ready to take home until tomorrow.)