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January 31, 2012 > Local heartwork makes a scene

Local heartwork makes a scene

By Julie Grabowski, Heart photos courtesy of Irja Elisa Photography

Bits of glass, tile and stone, china pieces, marbles, and gemstones.

Add a good imagination and some cement, and marvelous things can some to life from these simple, colorful odds and ends. So Barbara Schlein discovered after 39 years of teaching in the Fremont Unified School District. Though her background wasn't in art - she was a science major - she has always enjoyed it, and says, "When you work with children, you always look for projects."

Retirement afforded Schlein the opportunity to explore her own projects and talents; she began taking watercolor classes. A long-time friend told her about a mosaic class she was taking in Berkeley taught by Dmitri Grudsky and thought Schlein would like to try it too. Schlein found that Grudsky taught at the Fremont Adult School, signed up for classes and discovered that mosaic art turned out to be a lot of fun. She started by making stepping stones for her garden, upgrading to larger stepping stones, then a garden ball; her mosaic pictures now liven up her yard.

When asked about the appeal of mosaic, Schlein says glass holds its color and doesn't change, unlike watercolors whose hues alter and meld, ending up different from what was anticipated at the start. "Working with glass, it is what you make it." She likes the colors and pieces and finds it relaxing. "I really enjoy it; I like to spend time doing it."

For the past two years Schlein has continued her classes with Grudsky through the Adult School as well as taking classes with Gina Dominguez at Snapshot Mosaics in Oakland. When she saw Van Gogh's "Starry Night" at an Impressionists exhibit at the de Young Museum, she used the painting as inspiration for her creation of a mosaic ball shown at the 2011 Members Juried Show at Olive Hyde Art Gallery in Fremont. Grudsky said her design would be perfect for the Hearts in San Francisco series and suggested she submit it for consideration.

Hearts in San Francisco is a public art installation begun in 2004 by the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation (SFGHF) to raise funds for life-enhancing programs. Inspired by the CowParade exhibit of the late 1990s in which life-sized fiberglass cows were decorated by artists and set to roam the streets of major world cities, SFGHF hearts were chosen for the signature Tony Bennett song "I Left My Heart In San Francisco." Each year fourteen artists are chosen to create eight large (5' tall x 5'9" wide x 3'3" deep) and six tabletop (14" tall x 17" wide x 8" deep) hearts.

Schlein submitted her four-panel layout of "A Starry San Francisco Night," depicting iconic city landmarks amid a dreamy night sky. "I just thought, 'That would be fun.' I was just shocked when they selected me," says Schlein. "I was just very happy about it."

Over 100 submissions were made for this year's series. A committee of SFGHF staff, board members, and community members determine the participating artists, basing their choices on the creativity expressed in the artist's submission. Thirteen of the 14 artists selected reside in the Bay Area.

A fiberglass heart on a stand was sent to Schlein and it took her about three weeks, two to three hours a day, to create "A Starry San Francisco Night," made of stained glass and millefiori glass from Murano, Italy. While project organizers provide funds for the artist's materials, Schlein decided to take care of her own costs, making her heart a donation.

Schlein's tabletop heart will be auctioned alongside the other artists' creations at the 7th Annual Heroes & Hearts Luncheon on the field of AT&T Park Thursday, February 9. The event pays tribute to community heroes and serves to remind the public about the importance of San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, the City's only trauma center, which treats over 100,000 patients annually. Proceeds from the artworks, Heroes & Hearts Luncheon, and Hearts After Dark evening party have raised almost $7 million for the hospital.

On January 26, the six tabletop hearts were unveiled at Macy's in Union Square by SFGHF Board Member and Heroes & Hearts Luncheon Co-Chair Connie Shanahan. "It was exciting," says Schlein. "Somebody told me I had the prize for the most friends who went." The hearts will be on display in the window of Macy's (Stockton Street side) through February 8.

Two complimentary tickets were given to Schlein for the Heroes & Hearts Luncheon, which sells out each year with over 850 attendees; another honor was bestowed when her heart was chosen to appear on the cover of Where magazine.

Schlein's gorgeous mosaic heart has made an enormous impression in the company of professional and long-time artists such as Josie Grant, Jean-Claude Langer, Rex Ray, and Henry Jackson, not to mention her own instructor Gina Dominguez. While she hasn't shown much of her work, Schlein has had pieces in Expression Gallery in Berkeley and The Glass Shop in Niles in addition to Olive Hyde Art Gallery. Her work also won a Blue Ribbon at the Alameda County Fair.

"I just kind of do it because I enjoy it. Getting involved in commercial stuff isn't really my thing," she says. "It's a good time for me." Clearly this good time has gone farther than Schlein imagined, and she admits she might have to put up a web site. "It's escalating to more than I thought I'd be doing."

Though "A Starry San Francisco Night" is the self-admitted pinnacle of her creations thus far, with such talent and heart, there is certainly more starry wonder to come from Barbara Schlein.

To learn more about Heroes & Hearts visit To discover artistic opportunities through the Fremont Adult School call (510) 793-6465 or visit online at

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