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Posted June 12, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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An eye for art: Woman realizes talent for hobby makes mosaics for family, friends
By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily
STRASBURG -- Tile by tile, shard by shard, Edith "Louise" Furlong pieces together scenes from the Shenandoah Valley, from her past and from great works of art, into mosaic masterpieces.
"I started the year I turned 80," she said in the living of her Strasburg condo. "[I was] bored to death. I moved into a condominium and [had] nothing to do. I started watching [Home and Garden channel] HGTV craft shows. Every time I saw somebody doing the mosaic, I kept saying to myself, 'I can do that.'"
After about a year of listening to herself say she could do it, Furlong, who has been mostly deaf since illness stole her hearing at age 3, decided to take up the craft.
"I started very simply," she said.
One of her first pieces is a fairly straightforward scene with flowers and a dragonfly. Most of Furlong's work is made into tabletops.
"I never buy new furniture," she said. "I go to the thrift shop and buy these tables and decorate them. I would never use good new furniture."
Nearly all of her pieces have been given to family members, including her daughter-in-law, Diane Furlong.
"I'm very proud of these three here," Diane Furlong said, pointing out patio table tops. "She knows that one of my favorite artists is Georgia O'Keefe, and she used Georgia's work to go by [for] this. I was just astonished by them. It's just a masterpiece."
She requested an interpretation of O'Keefe's "Ladder to the Sky."
"That's where I started going crazy with swirls," Louise Furlong, 84, said. "I know that most mosaic people, they might use larger pieces, but I'm just into cutting pieces. It's calming to be cutting away."
She demonstrated how different clippers can be used to cut ceramic tiles and glass tiles. A 7/8-inch tile can be cut into 16 pieces. Louise Furlong also works with plastic clay that she shapes, bakes and cuts.
For portions of some of her art, such as rivers, she'll paint the surface and then place over top of it shards of safety glass she has smashed.
Originally from Saskatchewan, Louise Furlong "fell in love with the Shenandoah Valley" when she and her profoundly deaf husband, whom she met at Gallaudet University in Washington, moved to the area in 1988.
"This is my beloved [Route] No. 11 highway I love so much," she said, gesturing to the large pastoral scene on one coffee table.
It includes Narrow Passage and Signal Knob and has the sun rising over the mountains surrounded by pinkish clouds.
"This is our first home in Manassas," said Louise Furlong, pointing to a mosaic atop a black wooden bench her father made.
One of her four children, Landon, Diane's husband, requested the mosaic featuring the red home, which is made out of pieces of wood, as well as a goat shed and chicken house. It also has the state tree and bird, the dogwood and cardinal.
One sparkly, mostly purple piece is a wall hanging rather than a tabletop. It, too, was requested by her son.
"Because he loves Van Gogh so much, he asked me to do a twirly piece for him and I put in these little stars [for] 'Starry Night' for him," she said.
One of Louise Furlong's more unusual mosaics is done on a guitar. One side has mostly brown and amber-hued tiles, while there is a mosaic portrait of The Who's Pete Townsend on the back of the guitar.
She did that because he's her son's favorite singer.
It takes Louise Furlong a good three months to finish a project "because I do it in my spare time."
She also sews and does handwork, although her eyes aren't what they used to be.
"She's also an excellent carpenter," Diane Furlong said. "Her true love is architecture."
As a child playing with crayons, she would draw houses and rooms, Louise Furlong said.
"I think I was once an architect in my former life," she laughed. "I didn't draw people or dogs or cats. I just drew houses."
Louise Furlong estimates she's made 25 to 30 table mosaics. She isn't currently working on one. She refers to her art as a "craft."
"If any of my grandchildren want, I will [make another]," she said. "I do have to have an inspiration."
After she gets a request, Louise Furlong draws out the mosaic on paper, and then she draws a larger version on the table surface. If it's based on another artist's work, she gives credit to the artist on the back of the mosaic.
Despite prodding from her daughter-in-law, Louise Furlong isn't interested in selling her work. Diane Furlong has even suggested she make mosaic flower pots and bird baths.
"I've never tried to [make art for a profit]," Louise Furlong said. "I think that would put too much pressure on me. I just like to give them away. I would try to do it so perfectly, it would take the joy out of it. But my kids accept whatever I do."
Diane Furlong described her mother-in-law's style as almost outsider art.
"That's somebody who creates their own art without the influence of any other artists or teachers or schools of training," she said. "It has a folk-like look to it, a Grandma Moses type effect. It's always what she loves. She does what she loves, the landscapes and the swirls. But, it has to be a gift for someone almost. It has to be somebody in her family that she wants to like hand this down to."
An avid reader, Louise Furlong said she got sick of reading in her small home, and that's when she started watching craft shows.
"I would've gone stir-crazy if I hadn't had something like this to fall back on," she said. "It saved my mind really."
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