Located on the hidden gem that is Virginia’s Eastern Shore, we are surrounded by plentiful natural beauties of open landscapes and all the benefits that come with life between two vast bodies of water. As inspiring as our nautical surroundings might often be (the best place to develop a line of “Sea Glass™” mosaics is definitely the beach), Sara, New Ravenna’s founder and creative director, didn’t strike inspirational gold until her visit to the parterre gardens of Château de Villandry. Pedaling through the hillsides and stopping along the way to envelop herself in the culture, Sara was able to experience firsthand the beauties of a place plentiful with lush, pristine gardens that was far from the comforts of home.
Several hundred years prior, in 1532, Jean Le Breton arrived to the same grounds and replaced the ancient fortress that once housed the signing of the peace treaty, “La Paix de Colombiers” of 1189, with the great chateau that still stands to this very day. Although he did not carry a status with royalty, Le Breton, the architect and resident of Château de Villandry, did hold a number of esteemed titles including the Minister of Finance for François I and the French Ambassador to Rome. His desire for architectural order branched beyond the building itself. The lush gardens, inspired by trips to Italy, offered a smooth transition between the chateau and the untamed landscape surrounding it. Keeping up with the current ideology of the Renaissance, symmetry was (and still is) key.
Amidst the rich history of grandeur and the refined beauty of the royal gardens, Sara submerged into design-mode. “Everywhere I turned I was surrounded by elegant design,” Sara recalled of her walk through the gardens, “Everything was just as it should be. Not a leaf out of place. As if each bud carried its very own intention.” After returning home, she reaffirmed her alliance with friend and fellow designer, Paul Schatz. Alongside the team of designers at New Ravenna, Sara translated her memories of the cultivated French landscape into yet another line of cutting edge (pun intended) mosaics.
The outcome became New Ravenna’s Parterre Collection, eighteen innovative patterns with European roots, all designed and manufactured on American soil. Paul Schatz’s pattern, Jardin, a stone waterjet mosaic, is perhaps this collection’s most literal interpretation of a royal garden. The earthy greens of Verde Luna call to mind perfectly trimmed shrubbery that are contrasted by neutral tones of Calacatta and Cararra which outline the “shrubbery” as pathways for the eyes to follow. This gorgeous combination looks just like an aerial view of a perfectly manicured estate. To have this design in one’s home would evoke similar feelings of scanning the ground from the terrace of Kensington Palace in London, or looking out the window from an extravagant château, like the Palace of Versailles.
Although the foliage and shrubbery receive due credibility, the deliberate lines created by gravel pathways that separate a garden’s flower beds are of equal significance. If not for the space in between, a place to rest and regroup, the gardens would be just as overgrown and unmanaged as the wild plants in a forest. In Abigail, the hand-nipped Calacatta pieces create a smooth stone pathway that weaves through the waterjet cut pieces of the vibrant blue Aquaberyl Serenity glass. The final result is a graceful design that eludes to a delicate footpath winding between pools of clear water.
Throughout the germinating process of New Ravenna’s Parterre Collection, efforts of trial and error unearthed the parallels between the act of gardening and the creation of mosaics. In a sense, both practices are an effort to tame and systematically organize elements of nature. To think of the process with a sense of romance, we, the workers at New Ravenna, toil away the hours weeding and pruning. We hand-pick, select, add, then eliminate, until we have our perfectly manicured mosaics. Perhaps it is just the human mind trying to turn that which we perceive as chaos into order, to find the rhythms and patterns in our natural world. We elaborate as a means to simplify in the mind’s eye. Whether or not the preferred medium is organic matter or a mineral, inspired design still requires artisans who carry the same attributes: a good eye, wandering feet, and a willingness to get one’s hands dirty.