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Hospitality Design Magazine Profile: Sara Baldwin

From Pieces of Dreams
By Michael Adams

Sara Baldwin spent her early life in Virginia, on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay, “running around in the woods and slogging through the mud.” She lived on a “rundown farm” bought by her city slicker turned-hippie grandfather, who moved from the north in 1947. “He wasn’t successful in trying to run a farm by reading books, and eventually ended up in real estate and insurance,” says Baldwin, “but the family stayed here. My father was something of an eccentric, and a fan of the Foxfire books, so we chopped down oak trees to make baskets, had an enormous garden, and tried to make syrup from Virginia maples.”

It was Baldwin’s mother who encouraged her artistic side, teaching her to sew and sending her to art classes. In college, “I got exposed to the world of Yankees at the University of Pennsylvania,” Baldwin says, who began her studies there as a painter. “But when I was getting my MFA, I had an epiphany at the Metropolitan Art Museum. I had been becoming disenchanted with painting‚”I wanted to do something more utilitarian and functional‚” when I stumbled on a collection of Roman mosaics and wondered‚”Why aren’t people doing these any more?'”

Immediately after grad school, and working from her kitchen table, Baldwin founded New Ravenna, soon to celebrate its 20th anniversary, to further this ancient art. Creating bespoke mosaics in stone and jewel glass, New Ravenna now employs 105 artisans and can be found not only in iconic private buildings (New York’s Gracie Mansion and DC’s Blair House, the President’s guesthouse) but also in major hospitality venues, including the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, the Four Seasons Resort in Bora Bora, and Locanda Verde restaurant in Manhattan.

New Ravenna uses not only the traditional technique of placing rectangular pieces (tesserae) individually, but also has mastered water-jet cutting that produces curved, sinuous edges. Baldwin has drawn her inspiration from eclectic sources. Her Jacqueline design evokes the lace of a wedding dress. Her collection of Ikat textiles prompted her to mimic those patterns in glass. “More and more,” she says, “the inspirations have come from further and further away.” An inveterate traveler, she is particularly fascinated by the Silk Road, the legendary trade routes that wove through Africa, Europe, and Asia. “I love those regions, I love their cultures, and I love camels!” she says, explaining the concepts of one of her most recent collections.

“The exchange of ideas and expressions, how they were transported one from the other, and how they influenced each other is fascinating to me. We all become transformed by our exposure to other cultures.”


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