interview by Melissa Dalton | photos courtesy of Jeffrey Bale
As the grandchild of Eastern Oregon rockhounds, Jeffrey Bale grew up surrounded by incredible stones. After he graduated from the University of Oregon in 1981 with a landscape architecture degree, he quickly learned that life in a big firm wasn’t for him. “I worked in an office for twenty minutes and then ran out the door,” he said. Years later, a trip to Portugal—and a walk on a stone mosaic sidewalk there—proved inspiring. Bale returned to Portland and created his first mosaic patio in his backyard with stones inherited from his grandparents. In the years since, he has become a self-taught mosaic artist, creating various installations around the state.
Did you always like working with stone?
Growing up in the Northwest, my parents liked to fish and hunt. Most of our vacations were spent fishing at rivers and lakes. And fishing is pretty boring. [Laughs] So I would end up playing in the stream for hours as a kid, collecting rocks and arranging them. I would sometimes bring things home and make a rock garden. And being at my grandparents’ house, I would always go out to look at all the stones in their garden. It was like a fantasy world.
What draws you to your medium?
There’s something magical about rock and the color. I’m fascinated by the ancientness of it and the durability of it. And also I’ve seen so many beautiful ruins around the world and it’s always the stonework that remains. Everything else disappears. The stone has more permanence.
How do your travels influence your design?
I take thousands of photos when I’m traveling. I look for details and the way things are built and document anything that’s beautiful.
How do you know you have the right stone in hand?
I look for stones that have flat profiles, so a flat top and square-ish sides. Almost like blocks. I don’t like the mortar to show. If you look at most stonework, there are big, thick mortar joints. I want my work to be completely stone. So the stones have to be a shape that fits tightly together … It’s something that you have to train your eye to find. I can barely walk on a beach without scanning it and picking up stones and looking at them and pocketing the ones that are nice shapes.
What do you hope clients receive from your mosaics?
Creating a connection with nature is the most important thing. I want people to be more conscious of this planet. We’re just thrashing it. We need to be really aware of our impact and be kinder. And if the garden’s really beautiful, then maybe people will stay home more and not drive all the time. [Laughs] Get them to relax and get them to have more peace and solace in their lives.