What was your childhood like?
I grew up in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, with my brother, my dad and lots of aunts, uncles and cousins. My grandmother really raised us. Our country was, and is, very poor and it was a very different environment from the U.S. There was a lot of crime and we didn’t always have running water. I remember we would fill two buckets and had to take showers and brush our teeth with a limited amount of water.
Does artistic talent run in your family?
My father is a musician – he is actually one of the three best saxophone players in the country and he is in charge of the air force band. So I guess you could say that his talents influenced my love for the arts.
When did you know that you wanted to be an artist?
I started drawing and painting when I was six years old. I would draw the ads I saw in the newspaper. I don’t think I knew then that it could be my livelihood – I always had a passion for it but didn’t know how I was going to make my dream come true. In my country, people did not respect art and artists the way they do here.
How did you find your way to the United States?
I have a cousin in Fort Myers with a landscaping business and I thought I could come here for about two years and make enough money to open an art studio back in Honduras. That was in 2005. So I took a chance and cam here, although things definitely changed when my cousin told me that I was not cut out for cutting trees.
What happened next?
I decided to take a different direction and became a handyman at a hotel on Sanibel Island. The manager there taught me how to fix things, and eventually he gave me more and more responsibility for the hotel’s daily operations. That’s where I met Lili (originally from Brazil) who is now my wife. At the time, however, she was not yet swept off her feet so that took some extra effort. And once we decided to get married, her father strongly recommended that I find a more lucrative career.
In the arts?
No. He and his sons have a successful flooring company – marble, travertine, tile, you name it – and I started to train with them. From 7 to 5 I was the helper, and then from 5 p.m. on I went around with a pad and pencil, measuring, drawing, figuring it all out. I really took to it and started getting bigger and bigger projects, actually making a living. Our son Ian was born and things were going along very well.
What motivated you to change from the flooring industry?
Like so many things, it just sort of happened. I kept noticing that with every job, big chunks of marble would go in the trash. I thought I could do something with the leftovers so I started taking them home and creating designs with them. I drew the designs first and then printed them out on an oversize printer – the first one was a butterfly. That was the real beginning – everything was born from that. The 2’ by 2’ monarch butterfly was the first thing we sold – a man bought it as a Valentine’s Day gift to his wife and they inset it into the front of their home. Sadly, he died recently and we ended up removing it from the wall, framing it and sending it to the wife when she moved to her new place – she was really touched by that.
Why mosaic instead of oil painting?
I started with oil painting but found that with mosaic I could really express myself and help people connect with the piece. The art of mosaic is 5,000 years old and an important piece of history – this is what really interests me. The ancient Greeks were the first to use a pebble technique and they raised it to an art form. But the main reason I love mosaics is the philosophy behind it: large and small, square and corner pieces – every piece is vitally important as they join together to become the whole.
What new skills did you have to learn?
Everything! I get the onyx and marble from Italy and hand cut it myself. I weld the metal supports for our larger pieces. I transfer my drawings to the computer to create graphic designs to any scale. These are all things I had to learn how to do – I took classes, practiced, and watched a lot of YouTube videos.
What should people know about mosaic art?
It’s an education process to show people how to assess quality. We use various ancient techniques and styles including Venetian and Byzantine (like in the Vatican), using smaller pieces and emphasizing meticulous attention to detail in everything we do. We have also developed our own techniques using larger pieces of tile, glass or smalti to ensure seamless work that is as close to perfection as possible. In Italy, one has to have a three-year apprenticeship before they are allowed to create their own art – that’s how intricate the process is. And many people don’t realize that you can cut the tile or glass into very small pieces or in big cuts depending on what effect you want to create.
Do you have a favorite piece that you created?
I have a special place in my heart for the eagle because it was the first one we made when we opened Ultimate Mosaic – Lili and I worked together on it. But honestly my favorite is the one I haven’t done yet.
Are you happy you chose this path?
Yes, absolutely. For me, I had to leave home to gain my independence and find my passion. Coming to America showed me that if you work hard and do things right, you can make it. I want to teach my son that no matter how bad times get, you can still get through it. In America you can be fulfilled. You can succeed.