Maybe you didn’t know what they were called… But you’ve definitely seen them. Some make you want to choke on their tiny parts, while others make you swoon over their kitschy opulence… Gravel art, as this art form is most commonly known as, was at its peak in the 1960s. Available in a wide variety of crafty kits and ready-made panels, these mosaics were created predominantly with crushed glass and chips of marble. Sequins, glitter, beads, acrylic gems, aquarium rocks, specialty ceramic tiles, and custom molded plastic pieces were also common embellishments. Typically the imagery was outlined in cording, and then filled in or “painted” with the gravels— similar to a paint-by-number, which was invented by Dan Robbins in the 50s for Craft Master. (A very comprehensive collection of PBNs can be found at the Paint by Number Museum.) In 1960, an artist named Jane Gaylor adapted the concept to use small colored pebbles, and this is where gravel art as we know it was born. Or, so I believe, from the pieces I’ve been able to put together…
Gravel art has been made on a multitude of surfaces, including wood, wallpaper, canvas, burlap, velvet, veneer, and linen. The motifs cover the gamut from poodles, to Chinese landscapes— if you can in fact imagine everything that fits between those parameters. The kits were often offered in pairs. Because the only thing better than spending weeks of your life meticulously gluing cord and tiny rocks to a board, is doing it twice! But it was a wildly popular medium, as exemplified by the vast offering you can find on eBay.
But who could resist this marketing? One Craft Master sell sheet for a tapestry kit reads (I left their capitalizations intact): “Presenting a masterful blending of ancient art forms modernized to excite contemporary tastes. These elegant mosaic tapestries marry the exotic woven charm of East Indian Jute with the dazzling color brilliance of Crystals and Crushed Marble. On simple pre-planned panels You create a symphony of texture and color as you mate these ancient arts to make a wall hanging of everlasting beauty and impressiveness.”
Impressive, indeed! So there you have it. A quick lesson on Mid Century’s kitschiest, and possibly most identifiable art form. Doesn’t it make you want to do your own? Well hang on to your propeller beanies, Atomic Crush Design is going to revive it in all its tiny pebbled glory… Stay tuned!!!