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America’s Last Mosaic Icon Artist Makes Work For Mpls Church

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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — He’s the last artist of his kind in the country, and his work will grace the walls of a Twin Cities church.

Eighty-seven-year-old Robert Andrews calls himself a “lone sheep.”

He has dedicated his life to mosaic iconography, an art that takes a great deal of time and skill. At the moment, there are only a few people in the world who practice it.

Andrews’ icons can be found in dozens of churches across the country. In fact, he often goes back to visit icons he’s made – icons he calls “old friends.”

“It’s almost like I want to say, ‘Hi, Hello, Nice to see you again,'” Andrews said.

Now, St. Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church in Minneapolis can be added to his impressive list.

One icon he made for the church is an image depicting Jesus with children — a beloved image, Andrews said, of parents and grandparents.

In an age of iPhones and 3D movies, it can be hard to imagine an artist working in such archaic methods. However, Andrews says the old ways bring the best results.

“Most people today are so computer oriented, they try to punch these things out by computer,” he said. “I’ve seen them, they’re terrible.”

His art goes beyond mere mechanics. And the proof is in San Francisco: the largest mosaic face of Jesus in the western hemisphere. That mosaic is 23-feet long and is housed under the dome of Holy Trinity Church. Andrews calls it the biggest challenge of his artistic career.

The process to construct such a work starts with a pencil drawing, a painting and then a large-scale sketch. A company in Venice, Italy, which has been in business since the 11th Century, is then responsible for crafting the mosaic.

The company matches Andrews’ colors to molten glass and then chisels them into form and place. When the tile is finally sent to the church, Andrews cements it to the wall with the help of his son.

And when Andrews lays the final piece of the icon (and much of his career), he is comforted that his life’s work has left a legacy that will live long after him.

“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “My grandchildren, and now my great grandchildren [are] going to see the work I’ve done. They just can’t imagine that their Papou did this, their grandfather, you know?”

Andrews expects to unveil the mosaics at St. Mary’s by this weekend.

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