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The Verve: Retired federal agent creates eye-catching mosaic pieces

For almost 30 years, Mary Jo Stauner worked for the Federal Government, the last 20 in law enforcement, but she has always been an artist.

“Ever since I was a young child I remember having a love and appreciation for art and the beauty it brings into the world. I am a structured person who became even more so after a career working for the federal government,” she said. “Now that I am retired I feel an urge to produce art.”

Stauner grew up in Minnesota and moved to Chicago in the eighth grade. She excelled in art and planned on pursuing it as a career, but her father cautioned her that artists starve so instead she earned a bachelor’s of science degree in art education and art history from Northern Illinois University, thinking she would work in art education.

Though she made art regularly in many mediums, held odd jobs and worked as a substitute teacher for a while, budget cuts in the arts nixed her plans. She enrolled at Metropolitan University and started working on a master’s degree in photography. Her photographs were published and won awards. Before earning a master’s, she became a federal agent, a job that was aided by her creative nature.

“I think that artists see things differently. I tended to see things and situations from all sides,” she said. “My art background brought a level of fairness, compassion and empathy to my job.”

Now, at her home on the South Hill, she creates intricate mosaic pieces, a medium she picked up about 20 years ago while working in Las Vegas. “I have always liked to surround myself with color and patterns. I like to bring order and am uncomfortable working in an unstructured environment,” she said. “I think mosaicking is the perfect medium for me to work in as it lends itself to structure, color and order and yet allows for creative expression.”

Using supplies from all over the world, she plays with color and patterns; piece by piece she assembles eye-candy, creating whimsical clocks, lamps, birdhouses and flat surfaces. Her latest piece, a plastic female torso adorned with resin cabochons, custom hand-painted glass tiles, gold ball chain, glitter, turquoise grout and gems is currently featured at Manic Moon and More in a group exhibit that ends Saturday. The piece inspired her to create a series of female torsos.

Stauner sells her work on Etsy and through word-of-mouth, and she plans on participating in more exhibits at Manic Moon and More.

In her youth, she believed she could change the world. She came to realize that it’s very difficult to alter the status quo, but she can make it a more beautiful place. Inspired by nature and order among chaos, Stauner spends much of her time turning broken and random pieces into something whole, tangible and beautiful.

“Art is a common link to all of humanity,” she said.