MAHOPAC, N.Y.— Stephen Miotto got interested in mosaic art at a very young age.
“My godfather was one of three partners at a mosaic business in the Bronx and my mother was their bookkeeper,” he recalled. “I started visiting them when I was 5. It seemed like I was always around the stuff.”
Miotto grew up in the Bronx and moved to Mahopac with his wife in 1988. He can usually be found toiling away in his studio located in a big, bleached-gray barn on his property on Crane Road. That is unless he’s traveling the world to some exotic locale to install one of his mosaic tile murals, some of which are enormous.
His work can be found in some 40 subway and Metro North stations around New York—a gig that led him to even loftier endeavors. He’s created mosaics for United State embassy buildings in Serbia, and Dakar, Senegal, and is currently working on one for Brazil. The Senegal piece is 90 feet long with varying heights from 8 to 12 feet. The installation in Brazil will be 75 feet long and 9 feet high.
“I make art but I am not an artist,” he explained. “I am hired by the artist to make their art. They’ve never done anything on this big of a scale, so they come to me because I have that experience.”
Miotto takes the work by an artist—a drawing, a painting, a sketch—and then recreates it on a grand scale in template form, which is divided up in square sections like a chess board. And he uses mosaic tiles, almost like a jigsaw puzzle, to re-create the original piece one square at a time. The large pieces of the mural are created in sections and then shipped to the installation location where Miotto puts it all together.
When Miotto was a teen, he took a summer job in his godfather’s business and that further indoctrinated him the business.
“My godfather passed away and his partners moved the business to Yonkers,” he said. “I worked there during summers preparing materials, setting colors, helping with installations—whenever they needed an extra hand.”
While he was there, his bosses brought in an Italian mosaic craftsman who had taught at the Mosaic School in Spilimbergo, Italy. He told Miotto that he could attend the school for free. So, when Miotto finished Lehman College in the Bronx and received his art degree (with a minor in education), he headed off to Italy. He stayed at the school for six months.
“I was the luckiest person,” he said of the experience. “I worked with teachers producing murals and got to work with their teachers, who were still there. I got to meet two generations of world-class masters. It still resonates 100 percent. Today, I have a studio in Italy that works for me. I created a lifelong relationship.”
When Miotto got back from the Mosaic School, he searched for a direction. He did a little bit of everything, including selling prints of engravings and etchings.,
“I got a job working with an up-and-coming artist in SoHo; he asked if I would work in his studio,” Miotto said. “I was thinking of giving up mosaics at that time, but I needed the money so I did it.”
He then got a job teaching at a private school—Riverdale Country School—but the vocation didn’t click.
“I decided I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher,” he said. “I left and decided to open my own mosaic studio. People slowly started hearing about me and started calling.”
It was his work in the subway stations to led to his embassy jobs.
“I did a subway station near my college and worked with an artist who was Romanian-American,” he said. “She been chosen to do paintings for the American embassy in Romania and it won an award. The Arts and Embassies Department [of the federal government] got interested and thought they’d like to do a mosaic—do a really permanent piece on the building. It was such a success they got me the jobs in Serbia, Senegal, and Brazil, and I may possibly have one in London.”
Miotto said it can take anywhere from one to four years to complete a mural of such magnitude. He’s been working on the one for Brazil for a year and half. He hopes to have it finished in three or four months.
“The embassies have been wonderful,” he said. “I meet a lot of interesting people and see lots of nice places.”
Besides being an artisan, Miotta has to wear other hats to get his jobs completed.
“Getting all the details, sizes, the contracts written—it’s a very, very long process,” he said. “You have to know the business side, and also be a bit of engineer as well. I’ve done domes and I am always asked to put stuff where nothing’s been put before.”
Miotto said one of his most interesting installations was an 8-foot sphere that was placed in a courtyard in California.
“It had to be flown in by a helicopter because it couldn’t fit through the entrance,” he said. “It was lowered into a reflecting pool—it was the image of Earth from outer space.”
He also did a mural for an Anchorage, Alaska, installation that was made on pre-cut concrete panels. It was placed in aluminum containers and flown to Alaska on a military cargo plane.
Those who’d like to see his work locally can find four of Miotto’s mosaics at Fulmar Road Elementary School, including the footpath outside the school that features the footprints of the fifth graders who were going there at the time—including his youngest daughter.
“I worked with the art teacher, Sharon Tobin, who’s retired now,” he said. “She’s my favorite teacher of all time.”
Miotto said he can thank his father for the inspiration behind his career.
“I like dealing with the artist and solving problems,” he said, “My dad designed tools and he’s why I got interested in art. I used to try to copy his drawings. He could build anything and was a very clever gentleman.”