Mosaic shop designed to coax everyone's inner artist to surface

Sunday, October 19, 2003


Mike Yoder/Journal-World Photo

Deb Chaussee, owner and artist at Riverfront Mosaics, 239 Elm St. in North Lawrence, has created a space that demonstrates the unique forms of mosaic art and offers customers a chance to create mosaic pieces of their own. Above, she's reflected in a mosaic mirror created by a customer.

When Deb and Paul Chaussee bought this cozy shop just north of the Kansas River, the walls were painted "shop white," and the environment, once inhabited by an ATV repair shop, sang sterility.

Armed with brushes, sponges and bright-colored paint, the couple transformed the space into a whimsical spot where complete strangers feel comfortable creating art during the day and where the Chaussee's sometimes stay until the wee hours of the morning working on their own projects.

"We get wrapped up in our own business," Paul says. "It's like a kid in a candy shop."

In fact, Deb describes Riverfront Mosaics, with its retail space in front and studio space in back, as "the salad bar of mosaics."

Shelves lining the studio walls are stocked with plates, bowls and trays full of broken ceramic tiles, dinner plates and shattered stained glass in every imaginable hue. Beads, tiny toys and marbles -- you name it, the Chaussees have it on hand for guests to add to mosaics. Visitors can even bring in their own items to personalize projects.

To help creative juices flow, the Chaussees infused the studio with color. The walls are sponge painted in tones of bright orange and gold, and swirls of white clouds drift across the sky-blue ceiling. Photographs of other patrons' completed projects hang on the walls next to paint brushes and other tools. Even the work tables are painted with whimsical designs.

"We wanted to make as creative an environment as possible and inspire people to get creative," Deb says. "Sometimes people need that little push."

The Chaussees opened Riverfront Mosaics less than a year ago, and it has become a popular spot for birthday parties, dates and fun afternoons for budding artists young and old. The retail space also carries work by several regional artists and serves as a showcase for the Chaussee's own projects. Deb's most recent endeavor -- a stained glass mosaic depicting a beach and sail boat scene -- catches sunlight in the shop's front window.

She and Paul used to take their mosaic creations to art shows and had such a positive response they opened a shop dedicated to the craft.

"It's a real joy not to have our kitchen monopolized by this anymore," Deb says.

The best part of running the shop, though, is coaxing the inner artist out of everyone who comes in, the Chaussees say.

"So many people come in and say, 'I don't have a creative bone in my body,'" Paul says. "I say, 'You just sit down, and I'll prove you wrong.' We don't allow anyone to fail."