Thrilled to Pieces

They’re the jigsaw puzzles you won’t want to throw across the room

“Anything can be transformed,” says mosaic artist Debra Mager. 
Photo by Matt Rose

Debra Mager was a successful corporate-marketing consultant who took a mosaic workshop for fun and couldn’t turn back. Now, eight years later, she’s a full-time mosaic artist who teaches workshops in her WNC home studio and throughout the U.S.

Don’t you incorporate rather nontraditional materials or tesserae into your mosaics?

I use mostly glass, but also vintage jewelry, beads, and found objects. Anything that I can make do. Anything can be transformed into a bird or flower. I love the freedom that I can create without restrictions. I use a lot of vintage jewelry I break apart to make eyes for fish. I put baubles and beads on shoes. I will use the most unusual things for bird feathers: I made one bird and put this vintage symbol on his head that looks very regal. When I make my creatures I put their eyes on first, and then I talk to them and make them beautiful.

The artist fills her studio with thousands of baubles.
Photo by Matt Rose

You actually talk to them? 

Yes. But the conversations aren’t lengthy [laughter].

Photo by Matt Rose

You do substrates (a mosaic’s underlying surface) in a unique way too, right?

Most mosaic artists make their substrates. But my approach is to take what’s already out there and cover it. I find things in thrift stores, like shoes, and use those. I feel there is enough stuff in the world that needs to be made more beautiful. They become renewed, and it’s a very gratifying feeling.

A kind of upcycling?

I think it transcends just upcycling, because there is something about the unity of pieces and the enduring quality of the materials. For me it goes beyond the goodness of making use of discarded objects. Puzzling the pieces together is so gratifying to me. It makes my heart sing. 

Photo by Matt Rose

Your studio is filled to the ceiling with materials …

I have so much stuff because I feel like you have to have choices. If I have a thought in my head, I want to have the material to do it. My husband says, “But do you have to have that many choices?” I also want it so I can share material with my students. They love being in my studio space; for them it’s like a candy shop. 

Which is most rewarding, making or teaching mosaic art?

If I had to give up making the art, that would be painful. But worse for me would be giving up teaching. Teaching is the best reward. Students come out of their shells and create when they didn’t think they could, and that is really an enriching part of what I do. We have a ball, and it’s like a therapy session.

Photo by Matt Rose

Debra Mager Mosaics, Fletcher. To learn more about workshops, see the artist’s website ( and also “Debra Mager Mosaics” on Facebook and Instagram. She can also be contacted by phone (404-862-2244) and e-mail ( Mager will exhibit at the Village Art & Craft Fair in Biltmore Village Saturday, Aug. 3 and Sunday, Aug. 4 (newmorninggallerync/village-arts-and-crafts-fair).

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