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Local artist feels the pressure to deliver a “mosaic masterpiece”

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

When Claremont native and local artist Alba Cisneros read the description of what she was to deliver to the winning bidder of her item at this year’s Claremont Heritage online auction, she was a bit taken aback.

Although the 68-year-old artist is no stranger to creating both small and grand scale mosaic murals, having done so across the cities of Claremont, Pomona and Walnut, Cisneros felt a new kind of pressure to deliver on her latest commission. Mostly because of the strong wording in the prize description.

“Alba will work with the winning bidder to create a mosaic masterpiece,” the description on read. “Own a piece of instant Claremont Art History that will be treasured for generations.”

“No pressure, am I right?” she chuckled last Wednesday in of her backyard art studio space in Pomona.

For those unaware of Cisneros and her artistic legacy, her mosaic work spans through and beyond the City of Trees. Her career began in 1975 under the direction of local legend Millard Sheets, and over the years she learned from Denis O’Connor and Sue Hertel. Over her career, Cisneros became somewhat of a guru when it came to creating custom residential house numbers from mosaic tile, and has been credited with hundreds of them in the area.

Mosaic artist and Claremont native Alba Cisneros works indoors at her Pomona home on a design for an upcoming project last Wednesday. COURIER photo/Andrew Alonzo

 

She also produced the mosaic bench at Claremont’s Griffith Park, installed the mosaic mural visible on Pomona’s appropriately named Mosaic Apartments, and created four mosaic prints for the campus of Mt. San Antonio College for its Art Complex Mural Project a few years ago. And that’s just a sampling of her works.

The artist has always been one to give back to her community, especially local organizations like Claremont Heritage. She has known Executive Director David Shearer for a number of years, so when he called to ask several favors from his old friend, Cisneros was happy to oblige.

“He texted me not too long ago and asked if I’d like to be a speaker for a group … a couple of people that we going to be speaking about the barrio in Claremont and how that came about,” Cisneros said. “I said ‘sure.’ And then he said, ‘By the way, would you want to contribute to our live auction for the gala?’”

Thinking she would be making another nice and simple house number for the winning bidder, she agreed. But the pitch from Shearer soon ballooned into a much bigger piece than she was expecting to create.

Cisneros’s “mosaic masterpiece,” described as a two-foot tall by three-foot wide mural, valued at close to $3,000, generated quite the buzz among bidders during its dayslong period on the auction market.

When the auction closed on June 12, the winning bidder ended up being Claremont resident and local arts lover Valerie Martinez, who admitted it was a three-horse race down to the wire over who would get the opportunity to work with Cisneros on the mosaic.

“It was a food fight,” Martinez said recalling the bidding battle. “It was a pretty heated competition to win that.”

Martinez spent well over $2,000 for the auction item that doesn’t yet exist. But despite not knowing what the initial pitch or final product is going to look like, Martinez has faith in Cisneros to deliver a “mosaic masterpiece” that will fit nicely with her Claraboya home’s aesthetic.

Martinez is quite familiar with Cisneros’s work around the city, as well as her passion for incorporating nature into her works, which she hopes the artist will do with the mosaic that will be displayed on her backyard patio wall. Martinez has several paintings from local artists hanging inside her Claraboya home already, and shared that she’s excited to add the local artist’s mosaic work to her collection of pieces by famed artists.

As of last Wednesday, the mosaic mural was still in its design phase, according to Cisneros, with not much work, other than what’s been sketched out in her brain, having been done.

“I’m just doing conceptual drawings right now,” Cisneros said last week. “Once [Martinez] says, ‘Out of these three, I’ll go with that one,’ then I’ll come in here and start picking all the tile and figuring out which part of the design I’m going to do in ceramic tile, if I choose to do that.”

“You’re kind of catching me before I’ve really even done anything,” she added.

Cisneros plans to take her time on the piece, so that she can have a dialogue with Martinez about its progress. Though Cisneros is still envisioning this project, in some way, just like with past projects, she plans to incorporate nature into the final product. Martinez is aware of Cisneros’s passion for mother nature and is excited to see what the lifelong artist comes up with for the mural’s space.

Martinez gave Cisneros 100% control over the design and execution of the mural and knows whatever the artist comes up with is going to be worth every cent.

Cisneros said that if she had estimate the project’s possible completion for the record, that would be six weeks to two months from now.

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