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Finding her way, one piece at a time

Mosaic artist Lee Ann Petropoulos’ life so far has been one big journey, one with many side trips and a number of detours. But finally, it seems, Petropoulos has arrived at a destination that makes her truly happy.
After doing many things and living several places, Petropoulos is now calls Jonesborough her home and she has arrived as an artist working in the complex artform of mosaics.
The 40-year-old Indiana native is a featured artist working in her studio at the Jonesborough Fine Art Gallery located at 144 E. Main St.
Something of a mosaic herself, Petropoulos is a woman of many talents and varied experiences.
“I started out with watercolors in the late 80s,” she said. “It was a creative outlet while I was trapped at home with three small children.”
She and her family moved to New Hampshire where they lived for 11 years. While there, Petropoulos, a classically trained pianist, taught private piano lessons while her children were young.
But she admits to being “flighty” and thrives on having many different things going on at once.
Perhaps her varied work history underscores that.
In addition to her painting and piano lessons, Petropoulos has had a number of careers. She worked for the Internal Revenue Service for five years, and a law firm for a year. She worked at a health food store for seven years and sold real estate for a year.
She even started her own business when the family moved to a small five-acre farm. “I started an organic herb and perennial nursery,” she recalls. “I built three greenhouses,” she said, adding with a grin, “and I’ve got the scars to prove it.”
After all that, she moved to Jonesborough just a few months ago when her husband relocated to the area for a new job.
And now, it seems, Petropoulos’ journey has brought her full circle – back to art.
A self-taught artist, she started painting again. And then, in 2006, Petropoulos discovered mosaics – almost by accident.
“I saw this great coffee table base in a junk store,” Petropoulos says, “and it was only $2.95. I thought it had possibilities.”
She brought it home but admits it sat in her garage for years. But in 2006, she rediscovered her bargain and decided it would look good with a tiled top.
“I went out and bought some MDF (medium density fiberboard). It has a nice smooth finish, so I bolted it to the top of the base and tiled it.”
“I was happy with they way it turned out, but then I thought how cool it would be if the tiles made a picture.”
Encouraged by from her coffee table success, there was no stopping Petropoulos. She started creating colorful mosaics which usually feature botanical themes. Her pieces became more and more intricate and her art can now be found in galleries in Canada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Maryland and, of course, in Tennessee.
She admits to being particularly fond of trees with bare branches and has several works that use them as subject matter. But still, she says, she’s not sure where her ideas come from.
“I try not to plan them very carefully,” Petropoulos says. “I just do it on the fly. If I plan too much, then I find that I would need to have more detail than I would be able to do with glass.”
Arranged in intricate patterns, the glassy colors in Petropoulos’ work are vibrant and often unexpected.
“I have people tell me a lot that they would never have thought of using certain colors where I use them,” she grinned. “But that’s probably because I don’t see colors like most people.”
That’s because, at age 35, Petropoulos was diagnosed as being partially colorblind.
“I have trouble with blues and greens,” she said, “and it also changes my perception of brown, purple and grey.”
Petropoulos recalled an incident when she bought her husband a new pair of “brown” jeans.
“He said, ‘they’re not brown, they’re grey’,” Petropoulos said. “We argued over it for days. Not too long after that I found out about the colorblindness. Then I had to apologize.”
However, the colorblindness certainly hasn’t slowed Petropoulos’ ability to produce eye-popping pieces of art. Her colorful works surround her in her studio. Some of them include a mirrored piece called “Russian Easter Overture” which features 24K gold-fused smalti tiles imported from Italy, a rich jewel-toned sunrise called “Morning Has Broken”, and a mirror-backed work featuring broken tempered glass colored with glass paint, “Green Grows The Grass”.
Her work, Petropoulos says, is a diversion rather than being all-consuming and she will tell you she “doesn’t focus” when she works on her projects. “I think of other things while I work,” she admits.
Nonetheless, when all the pieces of tile and glass are in place, her art comes together in a beautiful way that one would expect is the result of complete concentration.
And each time she completes another piece of art, Petropoulos can call yet another of her journeys finished.
Another artistic road travelled, one very small piece at a time.