Judy Wheeler never thought about being a mosaic artist, or any kind of artist, until she fell in love with a beautiful glass mosaic in a Minneapolis gift shop in 1990. She’d spent her career as a teacher and principal, and her only experience with art was putting together bulletin boards.
She grew up in the Sequoyah Hills area and most of her family lives in Knoxville. She had three grown sons when she married Al Wheeler and moved to Wisconsin. The couple was visiting Al’s grown children in Minneapolis when she spied the glass mosaic. She was immediately attracted to the color and light from the piece, so she made note of the artist, Sharra Frank. After reaching out, Judy and her husband began making regular trips to Minneapolis so she could take classes from Sharra, who became her mentor.
Judy devoted herself to mosaic creation after she retired in 1998. She and Al now live in Inverness, and the volume of mosaics and other art makes their waterside home feel like a gallery. Her studio is covered with shelves containing jars of glass in a rainbow of colors, along with sketches and photographs she collects for inspiration. Finished mosaics sit on shelves, hang on walls and adorn windows, taking advantage of the light.
She hasn’t found a network of mosaic artists in Knoxville. Here, the focus is on stained glass rather than mosaics, which are created by gluing glass pieces on a solid surface, then applying grout around the glass.
“I do it because I like it,” she says of the art form. “I like to piece things together, to see them come to fruition.”
It’s tedious work that uses many, many tiny pieces of glass, and handling cut glass comes with risk. Judy rates the success of each workday by the number of Band-Aids she needs. Still, she prefers to work barefoot in her studio, where a plush white carpet offers some protection from rogue glass fragments.
If you browse her work, it’s obvious that Judy is an experimenter. She often adds three-dimensional objects to her work, like a pearl necklace to a female subject, and a zipper to a portrait of her son. (Yes, she creates surprisingly realistic portraits using colorful slivers of glass.) She uses ceramics, slate and resin, and adds three-dimensional dogwood flowers that leap out of their colorful surroundings.
Her experimental nature has led her to seek instruction from a variety of instructors. She’s taken numerous classes regionally, and since the pandemic, has benefitted from Zoom classes and Facebook groups. Meeting people has been a big part of the joy of her art, she says.
“I have a bond with people as far away as Australia. I never would have met them if not for social media groups.”
The pandemic also gave her the opportunity to spend more time in her studio. It was a productive time, she says.
“I did not go anywhere. I just stayed right here. It was a blessing.”
She occasionally shows her art but says she’s too lazy to mail her work out of state. Her pieces have been displayed in Oak Ridge and at the Emporium in downtown Knoxville, and she will submit a piece to the Farragut Art Show, which is June 26 and 27 at the Farragut Community Center, 239 Jamestowne Blvd. Submissions for the art show will be accepted through Friday, June 18.
There are many talented local artists, like Judy, who create art for the sheer joy of making something beautiful. Thankfully, they’re willing to share that joy with the rest of us.
Town of Farragut marketing and public relations coordinator Wendy Smith is your reliable Farragut insider.