Mosaic Renaissance

The talented artists behind Ross Lawton mixed media hit their stride in healthcare art
Ross Lawton Mixed Media Mosaics

MaryBeth Lawton and Sandy Ross met in a papermaking class at Minnetonka Center for the Arts in the mid-1990s. Twenty years later, the artistic talents behind Ross Lawton mixed media mosaics have an impressive spectrum of work to show, from their three-panel installation at North Memorial Hospital in Maple Grove to their most recent commission at Regions Hospital in St. Paul.

“When we started, everything was primitive looking, intentionally. That was the appeal,” Ross says. “Now we’re going for a finer look.” The refining of their process has certainly paid off; the duo has completed a total of eight healthcare facility installations. The Regions Hospital project follows their November installation, “Ribbons of Light,” within the new cancer center itself.

“Because we insert words into our landscapes, it seems that people going through chemo or another illness can stand and work their way through the [more-involved] pieces,” Ross says, noting “Ribbons” hides words of hope like “healing” and “love.” “It’s very gratifying to have our work in a place of healing,” Lawton adds.

For “Ribbons,” the pair use the image of cancer ribbons, as well as more than 20 colors representing various kinds of cancer research. Ross and Lawton accomplished this by having ribbons transition into landscape, water and sky, with the leaves in the mosaic representing the colors of cancer. “The leaves represent the community of people who have been diagnosed with the disease,” Lawton says. “The stones and dark color toward the bottom represent the difficult emotional environment that the patients are in—fear of the unknown … The trees are broken to create a dreamlike state showing that healing can happen even if the person is feeling broken down by the disease.”

In the past several years, the pair has employed many different techniques and used a variety of textures, always trying to recycle materials from their studio or other places.

This new phase of their career hasn’t come without challenges. especially in the past year. Ross, who owns Sakada Salon and had long shown the duo’s artwork on the walls there, had to relocate in July when the space she was renting was sold. Meanwhile, when Lawton’s husband, Mark, got a new job earlier this spring, the family shuttered their own long-standing frame shop, Image Frame Studio, which had been a staple of the Plymouth art industry since 1992.

Today, whether working collaboratively or on their own pieces in their respective home studios, Lawton and Ross are still inspired by nature—for their mosaics, rolling hills, trees, florals and other elements are depicted first in a painting that is affixed with homemade papers, then a variety of hand-cut pieces of glass, all grouted together in an intentional way to complete the masterpiece. “I’ve always been inspired by nature with a spiritual element to it, as far as inspiring others and incorporating a positive energy into my work,” Lawton says. Ross’s interpretation of nature is a bit more contemporary, clean and even stark. “I might do a row of trees, but they’ll just be trunks without branches,” she says.

In many ways, the renaissance of Ross Lawton mosaics mirrors that of the individuals behind the art. Their ability to collaborate, then step back into their own genres, reinforces the bond between them, opening up more opportunities to produce the popular mosaics well into the future. //

Ross Lawton’s Healthcare Commissions

While Sandy Ross and MaryBeth Lawton do individual residential pieces in three primary genres (woodland, abstract and window), it’s the healthcare commissions that are emerging as their bread and butter.

2009: Entryway of North Memorial Hospital, Maple Grove
2009: Arts Trust at Galway University Hospitals, Ireland
2010: St. Rita’s Medical Center, Lima, Ohio
2011: Masonic Clinic surgical waiting room and cancer center, Fairview New University Riverside Hospital, Minneapolis
2012: Mental health center main lobby at Regions Hospital, St. Paul
2014-15: Entryway and cancer care center at Regions Hospital, St. Paul
Photo courtesy of MaryBeth Lawton

The Mosaic Process

Step One: Designing: MaryBeth Lawton usually creates a drawing, then paints it. Some of this painting will shine through the layers of glass and handmade paper to the final product.

Step Two: Paper making: Lawton and Sandy Ross met in one of Ross’s paper-making classes at Minnetonka Center for the Arts. The process of incorporating scraps of paper and some other natural materials like dried flowers, twine, and other dried and flattened objects of interest can be time-consuming in and of itself.

Step Three: Layering: The papers are adhered to specific points on the painting, but they do not cover the entire work.

Step Four: Glassing: This step takes the longest. “We use and recycle most of our own materials,” Lawton says. Rarely, the pair purchases stained glass off of Craig’s List, but 50 percent of their material is recycled.

Step Five: Grouting: Affix it all with grout, and you have your finished piece, Lawton says.

See more artwork at