Quiet passion, consistent talent: Local artist Valerie Bretl

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By Ada Lang

Literally under our noses in Cedar Key, for the past six years,
mosaic artist Valerie Bretl has been going about her work - meticulously
creating fine art that will endure forever.
Working for eight to 10 hours a day on her
screened porch, she even received inspiration for
her current piece from one of the massive oak
trees in her yard. The dappled light, gravel
paths and beautiful landscaping are a
soothing backdrop to her work table covered
in marble pieces and tiles. Heavy
duty nippers transform the perfect
squares of stone or tile into fluid works
of art. The tactile qualities of the organic
materials inspire her work, not just their
colors or inherent patterns in the stone.
Valerie first sketches her ideas out in the
books that are all around her house. She then
transfers the designs onto cement board, however,
the designs evolve as she encounters particular
colors or pieces of stone that speak to her. It takes
approximately 100 to 150 hours of work to complete her
pieces that range in size from 12 inches around to as large is almost
four feet tall and her larger pieces sell in the four digit price range.
Raised in Colorado, she later moved east and received a Master
in Fine Arts from Newark School of the Arts. Her education covered
a wide variety of mediums, however, once she discovered and produced
her first mosaic in 1968, she realized she had found her calling.
Although the art form originated over 4,000 years ago and most
people think of Roman or Greek mosaics, hers do not fit one particular
style. They range from bold, graphic birds of paradise made
from large, shiny tile shards to the tiny, matte pieces of marble or
stone that made up her surprisingly realistic rendition of the now
extinct ivory billed woodpecker in flight.
A woman seems to grow from the reeds in her
piece entitled “Grandmother’s Garden”. The narrow
strips of Portuguese tiles make up the
piece. Although it was technically completed,
she wasn’t satisfied with it and had her
partner, Tony, remove a large section of
the grouted-in yellow tile pieces and is
replacing them with darker colored
She did not start on this journey with
fine imported Italian tiles. Instead, she
took a set of dishes out into her driveway,
smashed them to smithereens and began
putting them back together, creating her first
piece. It is becoming increasingly difficult to
find high quality tiles and stone pieces in the
United States and when she does, the cost of shipping
the heavy containers can be astronomical.
But her persistence and dedication to her art recently paid off
when she was selected by the American Society of Mosaic Artists to
be in the prestigious 2011 Mosaic Arts International, to be held in
Austin, Texas. Out of 300 entrants and 900 pieces, only 40 were
selected to be exhibited.
Valerie had applied to the show for five years and she supposes
that she was chosen this — her first time — because her art has
evolved. She “needed someone to pinch me” when she found out she
had been selected because it is such an honor to be recognized by her
Valerie and Tony, moved to Cedar Key in 2004. They live here
during the winter months and live in Rhode Island in the summer.
Her Bristol shop is called Mosaic Works and has a studio attached to
the building so that she can continue her work as the mood strikes
her. She has been practicing her art full time for 10 years.
Her work will be displayed at the Cedar Key Arts Center beginning
with an opening on Saturday, Nov. 20 from 5 until 7 p.m. You
will be able to meet Valerie and not only see but touch her amazing
But, please, don’t pinch her — just wish her well in Austin next
Feb. 15. If you are unable to attend, you may also view Valerie’s
work at MosaicWorksbyVBretl.com.