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Heather’s Purpose

Portrait of Heather Gordon by Maria Ames of Andamooka, 2021.
Portrait of Heather Gordon by Maria Ames of Andamooka, 2021.

My ten-year plan was to transform the exterior of my very ordinary 1970’s cream brick home into a tranquil, extraordinary, mosaic-covered retreat.

This ambitious plan was dreamed up during July 2010 as I struggled to cope with a flare up of psoriatic arthritis. Bedridden and under the influence of self-prescribed pain medication, I realised that I needed a Project (with a capital letter) to focus my thoughts.

A project I could look back on as evidence that I had travelled through a difficult time and come out the other side with something to show for it.

I’d recently finished some mermaid mosaic works for Exhibition at Bethany Wines, and I had lots of pencilled mermaid designs in my sketch book. One was of a mermaid lolling against a fantasy rock while holding a mirror up to her face.

I was studying a Graduate Certificate in Career Development at that time, with Reflective Activity being a component of the qualification. The inspiration of challenging the stereotype of a narcissistic mermaid with being ‘thoughtfully reflective’ appealed to me. (Or maybe that was the influence of the pain medication?)

In the past, I had participated in Yoga sessions. I re-embraced the discipline of the breathing practice while physically resting and visualising the mermaid designs, telling my body what to do and how to do it.

Each day, I shuffled outside to the carport, wrapped tiles in a towel, struck them once with a small hammer and then fixed broken tiles directly on to the cream brick wall. For some months, half an hour a day was all I could cope with before I shuffled back inside. When people visited, I waved my arms in the general direction of the 8m x 2m brick wall and verbally outlined my plan.

When I talked about using permaculture design principles to turn a problem into a feature by transforming the air conditioner on the wall into a motorboat, most people just nodded their heads although I could tell they were dubious. Then my younger brother (Little Brother Creations) visited, and he immediately understood what I meant. Using his 1 metre spirit level, he outlined the shape of the boat hull and pencilled in a rudder under the air conditioner.

Two long term friends visited to see if I needed help with daily living – could they shop, clean, do anything for me? I said I needed them to pose on the floor (it was winter; so fully clothed, of course). Then I would trace their shapes on the newspaper, cut that out, and with their physical help, transfer it to the wall.

Voila! Two life-sized twirling mermaids!

By December, I was moving slowly and coping with additional physical activity, but I was still unable to reach the higher parts of the wall to create the water meeting the sky. Again, friends and relatives assisted. Not only did they tile the higher aspects of the mosaic wall, but many also turned up for a “grouting party” in lieu of my August birthday party and grouted the sea and fantasy rock as well as Lola, the lolling mermaid.

The diving mermaid has the names of everyone who assisted with the Mermaid Mosaic engraved into the scales of her tail.

By July 2011, the carport wall was completely covered in mosaic. During August 2011 a large group of Australian and international mosaic artists visited the Mermaid Mosaic as an add-on to the MAANZ (Mosaic Association of Australia and New Zealand) Symposium in the Barossa.

It was quite the daring adventure for me to launch my carport as the Rhagodia Mosaics Studio and for the first time to publicly present my ten-year plan of transforming my ordinary cream-brick house to a shimmering, glittering, extraordinary home with the external walls covered in mosaic.

 

“Rhagodia” is an Australian shrub. All Rhagodia species are drought hardy and salt tolerant. I particularly like Rhagodia parabolica, also known as ‘fragrant saltbush’.

An unanticipated bonus from that initial MAANZ launch was access and inclusion in the broad, big-hearted community of mosaic artists – local, interstate, and international – especially via social media.

A whimsical approach to decorating the windowsills at the front of the house led to researching and installing encouraging quotes within the mosaic.

This quote by Robyn Archer is mosaiced into the house foundations.

“Art is not a frill on the frock of life, it is the very fabric: without it we are naked to the often cruel, harsh and unjust elements of life.”

I’m a long-term admirer of Eva Johnson’s writing and included one of her quotes into the foundation wall.

“I once walked along the trails of my ancestors through deserts, mountains, rivers and sands where food was plenty.”

Included on the vertical edge of a wall is a quote by Robyn Davidson,

“I had to learn how to be cheerful in the face of adversity.”

When Poh Ling Yeow visited during 2014 to film an episode of Poh & Co I asked for a quote. Poh generously provided,

The thing I absolutely love about food is it’s a common thread that connects us no matter what culture we come from.”

The Rhagodia Mosaics Studio has opened for South Australian Living Artists (SALA) Festivals and for the national Open Garden program. Coach loads of visitors have arrived as part of Mystery Tours or as a leisure outing for various groups of gardeners, artists, and tourists.

Many have openly expressed their surprise at the changes to the cream brick (‘scandalous!’, say some; ‘amazingly exceptional!’, say others).

There’s a floral theme to the external walls including birds, bees, butterflies, and ladybirds. Pieces of tile, mirror, glass, and crockery are mosaiced on to the external walls. Pavers are decorated with broken crockery and tile; there are mosaic seats and sculptures in the garden.

I am immensely grateful to my marvellous friends for their contribution of time and effort assisting with tiling and grouting, and collecting mermaid accessories such as shells, old tiles, and used crockery.

I wanted to create a counting book for my grandchildren. I was having difficulty deciding how to achieve this with photographs, so I decided to mosaic a wall with Australian animals. Mosaic work on the wall commenced – although rather randomly as my mood, capacity, and inspiration allowed.

Working in situ is always subject to weather conditions, so the work did not have a linear focus: the section at the base of the ramp is open to the weather, while the top of the ramp is under cover.

As well, I was still studying in Adelaide. Once a month on our way home, my friend and fellow mosaic artist, Mindy Turner, and I would call in at the Mexican Living Shop and I would be entranced by yet another item that I needed for the Bushland Mosaic.

While the Bushland Mosaic was experiencing intermittent progress I collaborated with another friend, the very talented artist Moira Brennan, on our first children’s book, Barossa Nanna and the Lonely Chook.  Although published as a work of fiction, it was based on a true story from my back yard about grief and loss and finding new friends. The book was published in 2014.

It wasn’t long before Moira and I had a draft version of Barossa Nanna and the Counting Book underway, and I had grand ideas of a series. We were delayed (separately) by a range of significant setbacks, and it is a testament to the strength of friendship, persistence and shared passion for art that Barossa Nanna and the Counting Book was successfully published as an eBook in 2020.  The book features the Bushland Mosaic on the back wall of my house.

I am grateful to the support of friends, without whom the enormous mosaic project would have languished.

I learned the hard way that a purposeful vision and stubborn refusal to give in can only get you some of the way – but the experience truly made me realise the depth of support I had to draw on.  Because of the generosity and assistance of friends, the external walls of “Rhagodia” are covered in dazzling mosaic, well within the original ten-year plan.

Every morning, as I make my first cup of coffee, I look out through the kitchen window at the creative artworks, the mosaiced paving, and the inviting seating, and see the evidence of their love and support around me.  Each time I pull into my driveway I am reminded, by the mosaics on the walls, of the people who helped me on my journey.

And hiding in every piece of tile, every carefully curated highlight, every shining sparkle of mirror, I find the glow of satisfaction that comes from following your dreams, even when all that’s keeping you going is the stubborn refusal to give in and crumble.

Heather Gordon

Artist, Author

October 2020

acknowledging working on Ngadjuri, Peramangk, Kaurna Country in the Barossa and Kokatha, Barngarla, Kuyani, Adnyamathanha Country around Andamooka and Lake Torrens