PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Timbers season-ticket holder Mark Brody pursues an art form that can trace its origins all the way back to ancient Mesopotamia.
These days, however, few people recognize the history, labor, and artistry that go into making a piece of mosaic art. But Brody, ever sanguine about his craft, doesn't appear to mind.
“It's true that people take it for granted because it's up on the wall,” he says. “But it's [about] all the little pieces. For me now, it's so natural...I'd rather do [a mosaic] than do a drawing.”
Brody, though, came late to mosaic art.
In the 1980s, he studied sculpture at Lewis & Clark College and began his artistic career with watercolors. It wasn't until he began tiling an Earthship home—a passive solar house made of upcycled materials—that he and his wife built in Taos, N.M. in the 1990s that Brody first discovered the joys of making mosaic.
“When I got to the tiling it just made sense to me because it was just the surfaces, the colors, the shapes,” he says. “I just really got into the process of that. It's not the easiest medium to pick up, but coming from building a house and pounding tires and all that, this seemed easier and artistic. I was just taken with it.”
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These days, while Brody is as busy as he's ever been – handcrafting commissions for clients, working with schools on public art around the city, and teaching classes all across the country – he still finds time to catch as many Timbers games as he can.
Brody's love for soccer stretches back to the mid-70s when the young, sports-crazy kid from Colorado began attending Denver Dynamos games in the old North American Soccer League. Brody still fondly recalls the time he watched Pele and Giorgio Chinaglia play for the New York Cosmos, the kind of special moment that imparted a lifelong love for the sport in an entire generation of American soccer fans.
Brody has transmitted his love for the game to his two sons, 17 year-old Elliott and 20 year-old Sampson, with whom he's been attending Timbers games since their USL days in the early 2000s.
When the Timbers entered MLS, however, Brody had by then given up the season tickets he first acquired in 2009. It would be another two seasons before he managed to snag season tickets again – a minor miracle – standing in the north end with the Timbers Army.
So it was that Brody, along with Elliott and Sampson, were in the stands to witness last season's magical run to MLS Cup, an experience that Brody still finds surreal.
“I really didn't see them going so far,” he admits somewhat sheepishly.
While Brody seldom incorporates his Timbers fandom into his art, team iconography occasionally does wend its way into some of the projects he's done with Portland-area schools. He's done this, he says, because the team and its stadium are both important parts of the cultural fabric of the city.
“[In a] couple mosaics I incorporated the Timbers logo...as a place mark for Providence Park,” he explains. Part of the third grade curriculum is to learn about the city. They learn about the bridges; they learn about the buildings. They should know about the stadium, too.”
As Brody shows off the workshop in the basement of his Portland home – finished works and works-in-progress stand out amidst the roar of the kiln in the adjacent room – he picks up a Timbers-inspired sketch that at first glance looks like the Tilikum Crossing Bridge.
Upon closer inspection, the details emerge. Its two pillars are double-headed axes, its cables the green-and-gold chevrons of the Timbers logo. Filling the horizon beyond is the official MLS match ball, the waters of the Willamette running blue beneath.
This conceptual sketch, Brody hopes, will one day come to life, the finished mosaic commemorating the team by illustrating its permanence within the Portland community.
“I'd really like it to be more of a fine art piece, something that's going to last,” he says. “These bridges are going to be here forever. The Timbers are going to be here [forever].”