An artist discovers his medium Byers an emerging master of pebble mosaics

by Keith Barber

“Celeste,” a pebble mosaic created by local artist Ian Byers decorates the newly renovated exterior of Silver Moon Saloon in the heart of Winston-Salem’s Downtown Arts District. (photo by Keith T. Barber)

In the heart of Winston-Salem’s Arts District, a public art installation has captured the attention and imagination of visitors and residents alike. Outside the Silver Moon Saloon, Ian Byers has created a pebble mosaic depicting a red-headed goddess holding a moon in the palm of her hands. Flames rise from the moon. Two half moons accentuate the breasts of the goddess affectionately known as “Celeste.”

After several days of preparation with his colleague, John Long, the goddess mosaic was created in a 10-hour flurry of artistic expression that incorporated the ideas of friends, family and bar patrons, Byers said.

“While I was building it, my sister [Marissa] came by and she saw the cleavage for example and thought I should add a couple stones here to make it more round in that sense, so I went with it, and she put a beauty mark on her face,” Byers said. “My buddy, Will, came and said, ‘You should do a flame that comes up in her hand,’ and I’m like, ‘That’s a great idea,’ so I built it with the flame coming up.”

“The experience itself and the mosaic itself incorporated the ideas and hands of others,” Byers continued. “In the overall creation, it was a collective work.”

Byers said his first inspiration came from a tarot card called the Silver Lady.

“I wanted to do a goddess that represented a strong woman in the sense of compassion and love,” he said. “I kind of took the Silver Lady as inspiration and thought I would do my own goddess. I wanted the moon to be incorporated into it so her cleavage are half moons and she’s holding a moon that’s on fire.”

“It was the first human figure work I’ve done, so it was a challenge for me but to kind of praise [the] beauty of woman was my goal here,” Byers added.

Brian Cole, owner of Silver Moon Saloon, said he first approached Byers about creating a pebble mosaic that would clean up the outside of the bar and pay homage to the downtown Arts District while maintaining the dive-bar ambiance of the Silver Moon. Cole said he was amazed by how quickly Byers created a piece of art that continues to generate so much positive buzz for his bar.

“The reaction has been 100 percent positive,” Cole said. “Universally, everyone has said it looks fantastic; it’s just an amazing piece.”

John Newman, owner of John Newman Garden Design, recalls how it all started for Byers. Four years ago, local artist Jan Detter gave Ian a copy of The Complete Pebble Mosaic Handbook by Maggy Howarth. Since then, Byers has created a substantial number of pebble mosaics in and around Winston-Salem, including public art installations at the Arts Based Elementary School, Centenary United Methodist Church, the Central YMCA, the Winston-Salem Children’s Museum and Augsburg Lutheran Church.

Newman has employed Byers for the past seven years and Ian has been incorporating pebble mosaics into Newman’s designs for the past four.

“His development as an artist has been remarkable,” Newman said. “He has great taste, he shows great restraint and he has a good sense of making something that is appropriate to the site.”

Byers attributes his artistic bent to being raised in a home where creativity flourished. Ian’s father, Patrick, was an accomplished composer and musician. In addition, he grew up with eight siblings that all immersed themselves in the arts.

“From a young age, we weren’t ever allowed to sit in front and waste away at the TV,” Byers said. “We were active in projects; we did performing and music was always kind of a center point in the house. The first 11 years of my life, it was all the arts in whatever shape or form they may take. Our house was just very creative.”

It appears Byers has found his creative niche with pebble mosaics.

“This is my most refined [creative outlet]; this is what I put my time into,” he said. “I’ve put tons and tons and tons of hours into this skill. I feel like a pioneer in bringing them to the city.”

Newman said the depth of Byers’s artistry is revealed in each new pebble mosaic he creates.

“Ian has a huge breadth of style and there is an elegance to his work,” Newman said.

Byers credited Newman with giving him the encouragement to continue exploring the nontraditional artistic medium. Last Saturday, Byers took a moment to admire the work and its asymmetrical design, which is in keeping with the Japanese style gardens he and Newman create.

“From what I know of a Japanese garden, they’re basically trying to emulate the feeling of when you go to a mountaintop and you see the rocks and you see a pine growing,” Byers said. “Our inspiration comes from Pilot Mountain, Hanging Rock and the Yadkin River — studying those plants there, seeing the waterfalls.”

“It’s meant to make you pause, and look and reflect and see the rocks, the plants, see where things are placed,” Byers continued. “It brings you to pause and reflection. In building our gardens, we feel, the gratification is we’re adding to the quality of people’s lives. The quality of life we have being able to do that is extraordinary.”