Chicago Artist Gives Barrettes New Life in Colorful Mosaic Portraits

Unexpected household items are the focus of a local artist creating portraits for her inner child.

Typically, mosaics are made of colorful broken pieces of tile, stone or glass — but not usually barrettes.

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“It started with wooden beads, then I decided to add more color and decided on hair barrettes,” said artist Keila Strong. “And the rest is history,”

It was her piece “Picture Day” that put Strong’s work on the map.

“Barrettes speak to childhood joys; I hear them,” Strong said. “Edge control, rollers. Every accessory used holds a memory, and it’s comforting. I don’t think I appreciated it as much before. But turning it into art has given me greater appreciation because I didn’t realize how important barrettes were to my childhood.”

“All these accessories make this woman,” Strong continued. “It shows the evolution of a Black girl from childhood to adolescence to womanhood.”

From cocoa butter to bamboo earrings and every bobby pin in between, Strong said these pieces not only reflect her growth as a woman but also the sacrifices it took to get her there.

“I left my job in June 2022 and decided to pursue art full time,” Strong said. “[It’s the] first time I’ve been able to give everything to the arts. … I was doing well in local shows, selling, but wasn’t going to be OK with giving whatever is left over after everything else. So I said, ‘Ok, I have to give it my all at least one point in my life.’”

From a sketch to a completed mosaic, each piece takes around two weeks to complete. Strong said her future focus remains rooted in her passion for the craft, while also hopefully inspiring her son’s generation.

“I think art has the potential to spark the minds of the next generation of world changers,” Strong said. “It’s important we show and mentor and guide them and encourage people along the way. … I think it’s important people feel empowered and find a light within themselves, and if it can be sparked with an idea, that’s the thing that can change the world.”

Strong is still trying to figure out how she can sell and ship her mosaics with all the barrettes intact by the time of each mosaic’s arrival.

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Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3

Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.

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