Carol Sackman comes from a family of creative people — painters, seamstresses, haberdashers. She took her first mosaic class at age 10 and worried about the project colors clashing. Her mother, Rose, said all colors worked together, to just look at the flowers growing outside the window.
Sackman took those words to heart and grew up to become an artist.
She and her mosaic artist husband, Blake White, live in a house of many hues. The mosaic-covered cottage they live and work in is a canvas to express their love of art and life. It glistens in the Florida sunshine and beckons casual observers to step up and take a closer look.
"People come by all the time," Sackman said. "We've been on Studio Waltz every year for about 10 years. We've had tours, garden clubs and schools come through.
"But one morning, I woke up and said, 'I know what we need — an arch.' Our friend Bruce made an archway for us from wood."
That eight-foot wooden arch was soon covered by colorful tiles, figurines, names and the splendor of 12 mosaic panels.
One side showcases a female figure fashioned in green hues, the other a male of mostly reds and oranges. At the top, male and female energy merge and the words "Changes Make Waves" appear.
Sackman's side of the arch has smooth pink letters naming her mother, girlfriends and other female family and friends. Pets, too, are honored in name and with small sculptures.
"My side stresses the masculine," said White, 60. "I have geishas with broken heads and above it, the statement 'Men care.' In today's society, where women get abused and mistreated, it was my vignette to say men really do care. On the other side is Ganesh, an elephant, the Hindu deity about starting over and protection. Inside, facing Carol's reflection on female friends and loved ones living and dead, is my reflection on males in my life. I've added skulls and crossbones for the dead."
Beyond the archway, mosaic panels wrap the house in shimmering colors from bits of broken bottles, Florida souvenirs, shells, tiny mirrored tiles, chips of china, and delicate handmade flowers that Sackman propagates in her kiln.
Follow the path around the corner and panels cover the fence and the house's south-facing wall.
Look down at the decorative mosaic stepping stones, another work of art both Sackman and White have created.
"We work together on a lot of things," said Sackman, who has a master's degree in fine art. "A lot of people comment on our stepping stones and I've been teaching classes on making them. We set up long tables in the driveway and have about 17 people at one time. It doesn't take a lot of artistic talent. It's just so much fun."
While Sackman and White produce art together, their work and approach are different.
"I plan everything," Sackman said. "I work a lot slower than Blake and I'm a complete realist. If I can't see it, I don't believe it. Blake is more philosophical. He has more of an ethereal sense. He is totally self-taught. It's amazing what he does."
While White didn't begin life as an artist, he has always worked with his hands as a carpenter and painter. He still works full time as a painting contractor. He says creating mosaics came easily to him because of that, but he likes using his imagination.
In 1998, he spent 18 months learning to create stained glass.
"I love stained glass, but it was always so pricey," White said.
His stained glass pieces hang in the windows. He has no plans to ever sell them.
"It's personal to me," he said. "People ask to buy it, but it's not for sale."
He's got two favorite mosaic pieces: a panel about corporate greed called "Brother Can You Spare a Dime," which he created for the St. Petersburg Folk Fest, and the vestibule floor he walks on every time he comes home. It's a colorful mosaic of a male and female holding hands.
"I like looking down and seeing it," White said. "The colors are vibrant. It's going to outlast me."
The artists get the supplies for their mosaics from a variety of sources. When Sackman ran out of Capa de Monte flowers, she crafted her own delicate flowers in her kiln. She and White get shells from the beach. People also stop by with pieces of broken china.
Sackman has taught a variety of artistic media in college and other venues, from paintings to painted furniture, from earrings to mosaic mirrors. Now she's focusing on creating fiber art. She adds unique embellishments and words of wisdom to each piece.
Spools of multicolored thread stand on the table of her light-filled studio overlooking mosaic panels in the courtyard that cover the walls of White's studio. Bright colors stimulate the senses inside and outside the house, but both artists' studio walls are distinctly color-free.
"I don't like to be distracted," said Sackman, "which is why the studio walls are white. We're not just creating an environment. We are working artists making, selling and teaching art."
Together Sackman and White create art that adds beauty to their environment, to the art world and to the relationship they have shared and nurtured for more than 30 years.
"It's great to work with Carol, to bounce ideas off one another," White said, "someone to say 'try this or that' and to share content and advice. She can conceive of ideas and then translate those ideas into any medium. Carol is a true artist."