Karen Rycheck was painting a wall of the soon-to-be-opened City Museum in St. Louis, Mo., when she was enlisted to help install a mosaic in the multistory building.
"I set my bucket of paint down and never picked it up again," she said of her 1997 introduction to the art of mosaic.
In 2004, Rycheck moved out West and got a job with Illahe Studios and Gallery in Ashland.
Working with Illahe owner Sue Springer, Rycheck honed her skills working on a mosaic commissioned by the Oregon Zoo.
Later Rycheck helped Springer install a ground-level mosaic titled "Rio Amistad" as a public art piece for the city of Ashland. Located at the top of a staircase that connects Granite Street to the Calle Guanajuato and downtown Plaza businesses, "Rio Amistad" features salamanders, great blue herons and other water-loving creatures.
Rycheck eventually struck out on her own and now has a Talent-based mosaic and art business, Our World Designs LLC. She also sells her pieces via the international arts and crafts website etsy.com under the moniker "Miss Mosaic."
One of her latest large-scale pieces is now on display through November at Hanson Howard Gallery, 89 Oak St.
Rycheck created a functional chaise lounge chair out of insulation foam board and cement with a welded steel frame, then covered it in tiny tiles to create an image of a nude woman reclining gracefully on the chair.
Gallery owner Judy Howard said the chair, which is more than 6 feet long, is an amazing piece that has to be seen to be fully appreciated.
For her part, Rycheck said she didn't start out with a plan to depict a woman on the chair.
"My original plan was to make a pretty couch. I was just sketching the idea of having someone sitting on it. It came out naturally," she said. "My first idea was to have a woman with a gown on. Then I started thinking of reclining nudes from paintings I have seen."
The heavy lounge chair is equipped with rollers so that it can be moved more easily.
Other pieces by Rycheck can be seen around the Rogue Valley.
One of her most stunning installations is a scene of an ancient Greek feast that decorates the outdoor kitchen of a home in Ashland's Historic Railroad District.
The length of a full kitchen counter, the mosaic features grapes and grape leaves, apples, eggplant, lemons, olives, a pheasant, ducks, a rabbit, a rooster and Greek vessels.
"They wanted an ancient Greek market theme. Their first thought was to have a pig on a spit, but they didn't want to offend their vegetarian neighbors," Rycheck said.
At Downtowne Coffee in Talent, her mosaics enliven the building with scenes of buildings and flowers, some of which bloom with real coffee mugs embedded in the artwork. She struck an unusual payment arrangement with the coffee shop.
"They gave me free coffee for life and I did those panels for them," Rycheck said.
For more information on Rycheck's work, including commissions, public art installations, fine art pieces and functional art, visit www.missmosaic.com or call 541-621-6239.
Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 541-479-8199 or email@example.com.