Academy of Fine Arts, Ellen Tiberino unveil new community mosaic

Ellen Tiberino mosaic
Ellen Tiberino stands next to a mosaic created in collaboration with Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, titled “Driving out the Darkness.”

Philadelphia’s latest community art project showcases the power of collaboration.

The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) and local mosaicist Ellen Tiberino have teamed up to create a mosaic, which will be unveiled on Thursday at the west entrance of PAFA’s Hamilton Building, 128 N. Broad Street.

Started as a joint workshop project with PAFA’s Martin Luther King Day celebration, Tiberino and PAFA’s artists from its faculty and staff each created their own individual, unique mosaics, bound together by Tiberino into one large mosaic embodying MLK’s concept of beloved community derived from his quote: “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. This is the judgment. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Eric G. Pryor, PAFA’s President & CEO, stated that Dr. Lisa Biagas organized PAFA’s 2023 MLK Day celebrations and its “Light of Creative Altruism” theme, then shared the theme with Tiberino while offering her creative latitude.

“At PAFA, we work with students to develop their art-making skills and provide opportunities for community members to interact with art and artists,” stated Pryor.  “As a talented artist, educator, and community leader, Ellen inspired our group in a creative practice using mosaics.”

Pryor noted how Tiberino’s work pops with color, reflects light and energy, and has enhanced textural detail. He also highlighted her ability to lead a group through a guided artistic experience, seeing each person’s contributions, and then transform the individual pieces into a larger work with thematic cohesion.

“We felt strongly that this in-depth experience as individuals united for a common purpose was a fun, collaborative effort,” said Pryor. “Ellen’s life as an artist, role in the community, and family connection to PAFA—no one was more suited to share our MLK Day celebrations with our faculty and staff.”

As for Tiberino — whose late mother, celebrated painter Ellen Powell Tiberino, is also PAFA alma mater — she tucked into her mosaic workshop, and guided the students in crafting exquisite mini-mosaic tiles, using Wedi board as a sturdy foundation.

“With a captivating assortment of hand-cut stained glass in a kaleidoscope of hues and shades, the students embarked on creating an array of captivating designs, spanning from intricate nature scenes to captivating abstract compositions,” said Tiberino. “I meticulously assembled these mini mosaics, positioning them as the centerpiece of the installation, and skillfully encircled them with my own meticulously crafted mosaic design.”

The young Tiberino, a mosaicist, ceramicist and Assistant Director at the Community Education Center in West Philadelphia, made note of the “tremendous privilege” of collaboration when it came to joining forces with PAFA’s esteemed staff and being allowed to oversee a mosaic workshop in the name of her mom and her cherished alma mater.

“My mother had always harbored the aspiration that I would attend the renowned Academy of Fine Arts, and I believe she would have taken immense pride in witnessing my facilitation of this workshop and the subsequent creation of a permanent installation for PAFA,” said Tiberino. “As the purpose of this workshop was to pay homage to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King and his revered holiday, while fostering a sense of community among the staff, the artwork itself is aptly titled “Driving out the Darkness.”

Tiberino has remained steadfast to Dr. King’s ardent championship of serving one’s community.

“I perceive the act of sharing my artistic craft through mosaic workshops as a genuine fulfillment of that belief—a means by which I am able to dutifully serve my own community,” she said. “From my earliest days in the bosom of my family, our home extended open invitations to the community, with my mother and father generously offering art classes to children and adults. Following my mother’s passing, my late father established the Ellen Powell Tiberino Memorial Museum, as a testament to her remarkable legacy. Now, my brothers and I actively engage in conducting a diverse array of art classes and workshops at the museum. By hosting this workshop in conjunction with PAFA and complementing their efforts with my mosaic creations, we are perpetuating a rich tradition of community involvement and service.”