The Whimsicals: Mosaic Artwork That Delights and Amuses

An Interview with Stained Glass Artist Sandra Forrest

By Meagan J. Meehan | [email protected]

Sandra (“Sandy”) Forrest is the creator of vividly-colored mosaic artwork which immediately grabs attention due to its vibrancy and equilibrium between abstract and figurative work. In her translucent glass pieces—which expertly use color, texture, shape, and light to create a cohesive composition—human figures lounge in pools, fly through the sky, or fan themselves femininely, typically surrounded by backgrounds of shapes and patterns and colors that hark back to abstract expressionist approaches to art. She is arguably best known for her “Whimsicals” series of multidimensional opaque glass mosaics that feature humorous scenes. This collection, more than any other, is a direct reflection and extension of Sandy’s book illustrations, which is another medium that she is passionate about.

“Lady With a Fan” by Sandra Forrest

Sandy is currently associated with the Brooklyn Artists Waterfront Coalition (BWAC) in Red Hook but she started her career in California where she earned a B.A. in Graphic Communications at San Diego State University. Upon relocating to New York, she earned an M.A. in Art Education from Brooklyn College.

Sandy recently granted an exclusive interview where she discussed her experiences working as an artist and creatively thriving in Brooklyn.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in art and how did you get into book illustration and stained glass?

Sandra Forrest (SF): I was a graphic design major in college and an illustration minor. I was an art director in children’s magazine and book publishing, including Golden BooksWeekly Reader, and others. I have illustrated over 60 books and co-wrote three, two of which are graphic novels. The mosaics, especially the Whimsicals, are a direct extension of my book illustrations, just using a new medium. Glass is a fascinating medium since light is one of the materials I use.

MM: You are known for your “Whimsicals” which are art pieces with a humorous edge. What are some of the most memorable pieces in this series?

SF: I made (and sold) several versions of “Coney Island Midway,” which are fun because of the characters, some quite real. One hot July day ten years ago I drove to Coney to take pictures of real people and turned them into ceramic. Also, I sent you a favorite called “Lady With a Fan After Klimt” which is a mix of ceramic and metallic mosaic pieces. I love the mix of colors and textures, flat and bas relief.

MM: How do you think visual art and humor can inform one another?

SF: I don’t see much humorous art in shows and galleries. Maybe if it’s humorous it’s not taken seriously, which is a shame. We all need more laughs.

MM: You are part of the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition (BWAC) in Red Hook. So, how did you get involved with that organization and how have they helped you further your work?

SF: BWAC has provided a strong and supportive venue to show and sell my work in member and juried shows. It’s exciting and rewarding to be a part of that art scene and being around other artists. We all work in such different ways that it’s thrilling to see new work from friends, especially when we reopen the gallery in April and we have had a chance to work over the winter. I am the Vice President, so the winter is also really full getting organized for the 2024 shows, there were six Zoom meetings last week alone. So much goes into the background: member committees work on publicity, grant-writing, exhibitions and events, membership, governance issues, and strategic planning. Once the show season starts there isn’t as much time to do all that. We also do a lot of community outreach, such as with the Red Hook Business Alliance, Brooklyn Public Library events, Park Slope Windsor Terrace Artists, and more.

MM: Do you feel that the vibrancy of Brooklyn—especially Red Hook—inspires you and what’s your favorite thing about being a Brooklyn-based artist?

SF: Brooklyn overall has become an exciting and, as you say, vibrant art scene. It seems that wherever you go—Provence, Rome—everyone knows Brooklyn is a cool, creative place. You don’t even have to say Brooklyn, New York. Just Brooklyn is enough. Red Hook has an outlaw vibe which I really like. It’s in New York but in some ways, not really. I look at the Civil War-era warehouses where the gallery is and wonder what crazy/wonderful and large work is being done there. Artists come by and tell us they are making big wood sculptures just down the street, or baby clothes! It’s all about having the space. And the visual drama of the area is just inspiring. The sunsets! OMG!! That statue! As far as visual inspiration, I have made many mosaics of the bridges but finally moved on to other subjects.

MM: How do you go about finding opportunities to exhibit your work?

SF: Ten years ago, I applied to every craft fair within an hour of Brooklyn: New Jersey, Connecticut, Brooklyn, Westchester. Sometimes eight or ten a year. I sold well in those shows and it was fun talking to customers, but many were held outdoors, and expensive so when it rained it was a disaster. Putting and taking down the tent was difficult. I stopped doing that this year. The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce has a new shop with a gallery show in Industry City. Fifteen BWAC artists were featured, which is very nice. Also, I am in a Salon Show at the Williamsburg Art & Historical Center which opens today.

MM: Be honest, out of all of your creations, do you have any particular favorite piece?

SF: “Lady With a Fan After Klimt.” I sold it, but regret selling it. “The Path,” a translucent mosaic of a path through birches with strong shadows. “Aerial View of Manhattan” as seen from a plane at sunset, at sunset.

MM: What would you say has been the highlight of your artistic career so far?

SF: I always think the highlight is whatever I just finished. The graphic novels were really fun because I worked with my two best friends (both writers). “Franceso’s Fountain” and “The Mysteries at the Vanished Villa” required several trips to Rome, Venice, and Naples, not as a tourist this time, but with a purpose.

MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?

SF: The challenge is always asking myself: what’s the next idea? Right now, I’m trying to come up with another ceramic/mosaic concept. I can’t copy myself as that’s boring.

Brooklyn Poetry Feature: Charles Elliott, Ann Bar-Dov & Jacob R. Moses

The following appeared in the Feb. 1, 2024 print issue:

In December 2023, the New York Times Magazine announced that it was ending its poetry feature after nine years. We asked Brooklynites to submit their poems to be published here. Due to the popularity of this feature, the series has been extended from its original January 2024 dates. Want to see your words on these pages? Make haste and send your submissions to [email protected]. This series will run as long as interest in it remains. Submission of poetry  does not guarantee publication. All accepted poems will be formatted in a way that best aligns with our newspaper layout.

This week’s featured poets are Charles Elliott, Ann Bar-Dov, and Jacob R. Moses.

“Born at Bushwick Hospital”

By Charles Elliott

January 12, 1946 was the day I was born

at Bushwick Hospital in Brooklyn – a charity

hospital not taking cleanliness seriously.

The place where my mother contracted

an infection then called “lying-in sickness.”

That day, the Brooklyn Eagle reported (on page 4)

that J. Edgar Hoover, even then the long-serving

director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI),

had endorsed 1946 Youth Week, sponsored

by the United Christian Youth Movement to promote

religious education. Hoover warned that churches

were reaching too few young people with their

indoctrinations and “this failure to make contact

with the citizens of tomorrow is producing

a fertile field for future crime. Youths too young

to vote accounted for 21.4 percent of the arrests

last year. Unless a concerted effort is made now

through the media of the church and the home,

these same juvenile delinquents may be

the hardened criminals of tomorrow.”

We lived in a third-floor walkup apartment at 472

Bainbridge Street until I was six years old.

Attended Bedford Central Presbyterian Church,

enjoyed the music of its beautiful big organ

(now wonderfully restored) until we joined

the White Flight to Levittown. My parents,

evangelical Christians, took me to church

in Brooklyn and elsewhere four times

each week for many years. But I was never

more embarrassed before my friends than

when my mother forced me to ride on a float

in the annual Sunday School parade

through our Brooklyn neighborhood. My parents

did everything they could to set me on the right path,

including shoving me into the aisle during

an altar call at a Baptist church, to make sure

I got “properly baptized.”

And yet, in 1971, I was the young journalist

(but no delinquent) who investigated J. Edgar

Hoover for columnist Jack Anderson. Rummaged

in Hoover’s trash at his home in Georgetown

(then no crime), staked out his house, interviewed

his neighbors and drew a scowl of disapproving

recognition from Hoover as he and Clyde Tolson

lunched at the Rib Room of the Mayflower Hotel

up on Connecticut in D.C.

The historic Bushwick Hospital building of my advent

still stands. At 41 Howard Avenue, the structure,

in an Italian Renaissance revival style, now

re-tasked to a purpose that some might suggest

is appropriate to my birthplace, re Hoover’s

remarks. By the time New York State acquired

it in 1968, the failed hospital was gone.

The building born again as the Bushwick

Nursing Home. But after that, according to

an October 29, 2014 news report: “It’s now

a placement center for juvenile delinquents.”

That mission renewed, continues. Now

a Youth Bureaus facility – the Ella McQueen

Reception Center for Boys and Girls.

My proud birthplace.

Charles Elliott’s poetry has appeared most recently in Synkroniciti Magazine and the American Poetry Journal. his work also has been featured in the Paris-based journal Levure littéraire, Chiron Review, Potomac Review, Aethlon, the New York Times, and two anthologies. Elliott reads his poems at https://www.youtube.com/user/beautyseer and administers https://www.facebook.com/The.Poetry.Cabin and a related Twitter account, @ThePoetryCabin. Elliott also has published three history books on Southern California topics and won awards for poetry, journalism, and fine art photography.

 

“Sheepshead Bay, 1976”

By Ann Bar-Dov

Sheepshead Bay, eight p.m.

Evening fog comes drifting in.

Familiar streets and houses, lost in a cloud…

Hoot of a foghorn, screaming gulls,

dirty green waves slapping at fishing boat hulls,

shouts of the fishermen echo across the water.

Old frame houses facing the bay

slide a little more sideways every day.

Screen doors and shutters creaking in the wind…

Sidewalk’s broken and buckled. Weeds grow in the cracks.

There’s sand in the gutters, and empty six-packs.

Someone’s old Chevy’s rusting by the side of the road.

I’d spend my days knocking ‘round Manhattan,

pushing and being pushed around.

Then I’d take that long train ride back to Sheepshead Bay,

walk around the streets and feel myself calm down.

Sheepshead Bay, eight p.m.

Evening fog comes drifting in.

Familiar streets and houses, lost in a cloud….

Sheepshead Bay, lost in a cloud.

Originally from Brooklyn, Ann Bar-Dov has lived in Israel since 1976 and in the Galilee since 1983. After 38 years spent teaching everything from kindergarten to yoga to Public Health, she has finally retired and can devote real time to writing.

 

“Sheepshead Bay, 2020”

By Jacob R. Moses

Took the Q train to

Roll-N-Roaster just so I

could get lemonade

Jacob R. Moses is a poet and spoken word artist from Staten Island, NY. Publications featuring his work span 18 countries. He is the author of the full-length poetry book, Grimoire (iiPublishing, 2021). Jacob is a recent graduate from Southern New Hampshire University with an MA in English and Creative Writing.

Art competition to benefit cancer patients

An art contest is uniting diverse artists from Queens and beyond with a mission of bringing hope for cancer patients.

On April 30 at 5:30 p.m., Paddle For The Cure founder Leah Dulce Salmorin and this columnist will co-host an art show on Zoom and Facebook from the landmarked Ridgewood Savings Bank at 107-55 Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills.

“Arts For Life” will feature numerous artists competing in the categories of painting, photography, and drawing.

Winning artists will donate their artwork to be displayed at the Hope Pavilion Clinic. Entries will be judged by Mervin David, an artist and nurse practitioner with Elmhurst Hospital.

They will also receive $100 donated by Ridgewood Savings Bank. Artists who enrolled paid $20, which will benefit Elmhurst Hospital’s Hope Pavilion Cancer Clinic and Paddle For The Cure.

“Ridgewood Savings Bank has always been a bank that prides itself on its community.,” said branch manager Nancy Adzemovic. “I want to go out into the community and search for more partnerships.”

Over the years, the bank has funded history murals, sponsored the 112th Precinct’s Night Out Against Crime, organized blood drives, and coordinated a carnival-themed family festival.

The contest was inspired in part by an exhibit at Jade Eatery in Forests Hills Gardens by this columnist titled “Reflections of Historic Forest Hills.” Since 2019, it has been the center of several fundraising events for Paddle For the Cure.

Salmorin is herself a breast cancer survivor. She founded Paddle For The Cure, which supports fellow survivors through recreational opportunities to foster a healthy lifestyle and offer emotional support and team spirit.

“I vowed to give where I can, to help others affected, and I feel that I cannot waste the rest of my life without making an impact on this planet,” said Salmorin.

To maintain a healthy body and state of mind, Salmorin swims, bikes, does yoga and acupuncture. She serves as a lector at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Joan of Arc.

Her story, “Humility & Faith,” discusses her two lessons as a survivor and was featured in “Faces of Inspiration,” a book that spotlights breast cancer stories.

“Giving me the gift of life is also my way of giving back to Elmhurst Hospital, my home away from home where I was treated. I will never forget the first time I stepped into the doors and the entire staff welcomed me with beautiful smiles.

“I also believe that there are many artists who need to be recognized, and this event brings every individual together as one for a great cause,” she added. “Art is the key to healing that can touch one heart to another.” Purchase tickets for the virtual event here.

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