“Neptuna” pizza oven designed by Summers and Edelstein. (Courtesy Photo)

Collaborating Vashon artists create mosaic pizza ovens

Mosaic artist Elaine Summers and tile artist Nadine Edelstein understand the magic of collaboration. Each is a successful professional in her own right, but about 15 years ago they joined creative forces to reach beyond what they individually could accomplish. A recent culmination of what they call their “fun and outrageous” projects are bejeweled mosaic and tile wood-fired pizza ovens. The latest peice, Neptuna, will be on display at The Fletcher Studio Gang, stop number eight on this weekend’s Island Art Studio Tour.

“Whenever I see a pizza oven in a restaurant that just has little squares on it, I say, ‘No!’” Summers said with a laugh during a recent interview at the Beall Greenhouses.

Edelstein nodded, adding that the duo want people to look to them for unique pizza ovens — other things too — but especially the ovens.

“We want to keep this train moving,” she said.

That train first left the station when Biondo asked Summers to create a mosaic in a spot on the trailer of her wood-fired pizza oven.

“She shows me a little panel on the trailer, and I’m looking at this dough ball covered in concrete thinking the mosaic needs to be on the oven itself,” Summers explained.

Biondo agreed, but Summers and Edelstein only had six days to design and finish the oven, working until the wee hours of the morning to accomplish the task. So when Summers got a call from a Canadian musician saying he’d Googled “Most beautiful pizza oven ever” and Biondo’s oven came up, the mosaic-tiling pair jumped on his request to cover an oven he could then use to make pizzas with his young twin sons. And the best part? There was plenty of time — two years for the design, six months for the tiling, with a short hiatus in between to tile an existing pizza oven at Millville Pizza in Gig Harbor.

Islander Dave Olsen, who made Biondo’s oven, fabricated the new one. The design then became an intricate process of discovery and collaboration — keeping the two young boys in mind — to establish a whimsical theme.

“Dinosaur? Dragon? Then we found out the oven might go to the Bahamas, and it came together as a sea creature we named Neptuna,” Summers said.

With three humps on its back, bulging eyes and a crown for the chimney, Neptuna invites touch and sparks the imagination.

“Every part I look at I think is cool,” Edelstein said. When we’re working on it, it’s like a separate thing. We are making it happen, but it is its own thing.”

Summers, a longtime Vashon Island Pet Protector (VIPP) board member, whose work many islanders know from her tiled animals auctioned at VIPP’s annual fundraiser, started making mosaics 17 years ago after seeing a mosaic mirror while on tour with her singer-songwriter husband Pete Droge. In her first year, she made 50 pieces and carried on from there, all the while still playing her music.

Edelstein started tiling 25 years ago after leaving her intended profession in pharmacology. Her former work, she said, shows up in her current work, which includes tiling interiors and exteriors both on and off-island and her own creative work seen in shows with the Vashon Tile Guild and in Seattle.

“I was interested as a research scientist in pattern formation in early development of biological organisms,” Edelstein said. “Those patterns show up in an organic way in the design process.”

While the artists approach their work from different places, the result is a one-plus-one-equals-three effect.

“That’s why we work well together,” Edelstein said. “We have different and overlapping skill sets. When we start talking design, we end up with things neither would have come up with on our own.”

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