In Love With Texture & Tiles

Artist Colleen Barry’s house looks like no other on the block. Light blue with globe-sized mosaic finials resting atop a matching cobalt blue wrought iron gate, its design is whimsical, subtly beckoning to the curious, “Come, take a look inside!”

Barry’s art has been exhibited at galleries and museums nationwide, including the Smithsonian, and her works are included in collections internationally. She is best known locally for her “Mosaic Oasis” and “Frog Island” installations at Turtle Bay Exploration Park’s McConnell Arboretum.

“The Children’s Garden site was one of the few areas at the time with mature shade trees,” says Barry. “I envisioned an oasis, a place where families, school groups and garden visitors could meet and relax, and where children could play.”  The end result is a brightly colored, richly textured discovery zone where visitors can rest or explore the mosaic’s narrative details.

Art on the Outside

Barry’s home, breathtakingly appointed inside and out, is its own artistic discovery zone. A mosaic fountain sits at the north end of the backyard, while to the south a ceramic school of fish hangs delicately on the trunk and limbs of a stalwart oak tree growing upward through the center of a deck. The fish are made by Shasta High School students as a fundraiser for their ceramics program – Barry buys a few every year to add to her collection.

Behind the tree more art hangs on a high exterior wall that’s painted a contrasting fuchsia, matching the paint on the underside of the house’s eaves. Beyond the deck, at the end of a narrow downhill path lined with stepping stones, sits an area adjacent to the garage where Barry stores materials too large to fit into her 500 square foot studio.

As she sifts through a neatly stacked pile of cast concrete leaves, she explains that the pieces will cure for six months before being colored and assembled into her newest work, a 9 x 9 foot tactile and textured interactive sculpture titled EarthStone, which she describes as “a large fossil slab.” The sculpture, commissioned in memory of Donald Oestreicher, will be installed at the Turtle Bay Botanical Gardens.

Art on the Inside

On the other side of the garage lies a narrow flight of stairs leading up to Barry’s studio. An eclectic mix of buttons, ceramics, tiles, books, colorful handmade paper, and the incalculable “flotsam and jetsam” (a term she uses to refer to any material discard that lends itself to fascinating art) are stored neatly in drawers and cabinets, and on shelves.

In one corner sits a massive display of discarded pencils now artfully repurposed: thousands of them meticulously layered, flowing upward from the base of a large pot, rising like a dome of colorful sherbet atop an ice cream cone.

Beyond the studio doors lies the main floor of the split-level home she shares with husband Don Rath, and their two Jack Russells, Luci and Daisy. Here every wall, table and corner offers something exquisitely unique.

An elaborately designed driftwood framed mirror hangs on the living room wall, Barry’s ode to the baroque period. A festive button inlay silhouettes the edges of a trunk table. A mixed media bust leans in a corner of the living room. Techno geodes – Barry’s interpretation of rock geodes using a concrete base and old computer parts like coils and wires at the center – are displayed prominently on a shelf under the dining room window.

“I like having a lot of art around me,” she says, “other people’s as well as my own. I like sort of a primitive feeling.” This is evident by the display of Mexican folk art throughout the house. One whole wall showcases colorfully detailed and variously sized dance masks Barry has acquired during her frequent trips to Mexico. On the breakfast bar she has installed hand-painted tiles with scenes portraying Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the Mexican holiday honoring deceased loved ones; “Ex Votos,” or miracle paintings, hang throughout the kitchen.

“It’s so important to have original art in your house,” says Barry, “whether you’re making it or your kids are making it.” For those not artistically inclined, she says, “You can go to local galleries or an arts council and buy the work of area artists, often for about the same price you’d spend on an art reproduction at a big box store.”

Kids Art for Home and Garden

Making art a family affair can be simple and fun, and Barry has several suggestions for decorative projects for home and garden.

“You can go on walks and pick up stones or interesting leaves to make collages or rubbings,” she says. “Found objects make great art. Things that aren’t necessarily thought of as art materials, like bottle caps, are fabulous. You can stretch yourself and your children creatively by using unusual items.”

Things that are normally thrown away or recycled – like cardboard, paper or cans – can be ripped or cut up and layered to make interesting art. With the addition of paint, glue, color and other media like textiles or beads, the possibilities are endless.

Family trips or outings are another source of inspiration. “I get inspired by traveling and nature,” Barry says. “I pick up rocks and look at birds’ nests.” Inspiration is as close as the backyard or neighborhood for those willing to look at everyday objects in a new way.

Stepping stones can be a fun and easy project for kids of all ages. Barry recommends buying bags of pre-mixed concrete and using plastic saucer bottoms from pots as molds, or using lawn edging as an in-ground frame. Broken china or thrift store finds, along with found objects, can be easily incorporated into the stone.

“Some amazing art can be made for little cost,” says Barry, who can attest to the power of inspiration and creativity in keeping both mind and spirit engaged. “I’m never bored. I’m always checking things out.”

For helpful tips on making mosaic stepping stones with kids, visit:

Claudia Mosby
About Claudia Mosby

Writer Claudia Mosby lives in Redding with her husband and mischievous cat Hobo.


  1. I saw her art at turtle bay yesterday and love it! I want some! It is beautiful, whimsical, fun, and amazing. Wow

  2. Mark Barsana says:

    I think I purchased one of yiur artworks. Did you ever do a shadowbox called, “Feather Your Nest.” ?
    in 1999.

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