Eileen is an American who had planned to stay in Lisbon for only nine months, but couldn’t resist the old world charm… In Lisbon in Us by Eileen McDonough, this artist and artisan tells us about how this city impressed her and what led her to dedicate her life to creating surprising mosaic pieces.
I came to Lisbon for a 9 month contract… 27 years ago, and stayed.
I guess I’m an accidental Corporate America drop out.
I didn’t intend to leave my Washington, DC position permanently… but have you seen Lisbon’s calçada? Have you seen the buildings covered in azulejos?
How could I leave??
I recall the first time I walked down Avenida da Liberdade in the rain at night, and how the reflection of the lights from the rain hit the cobblestones.It seemed otherworldly. Maybe it’s the stark contrast from my hometown, Pittsburgh, PA with its many modern skyscrapers (see photo). Pittsburgh is also a city of rivers (3 in fact), many bridges, trams, steep hills. It’s stunning, but not with old world charm.
The magic of the sidewalks captured my imagination in a manner I couldn’t shake.
So after enough time roaming the streets, mesmerized, I resolved to learn the ancient art form of mosaic.
I figured being in a capital of tile, and given the sophistication of the calçada, it would be easy to find a workshop or course.
But there did not seem to be any. As this was life before YouTube videos where you can learn anything, I dove deep into self education. I experimented greatly with products and materials.
This was also life before the convenience of home improvement retailer Leroy Merlin. So I would consult the phone book’s yellow pages (remember those?).
I would end up in small construction shops in Campo de Ourique, Estefânia or Cais do Sodré.
In my broken Portuguese, I would attempt to explain my objective to the men working there. Whether it was sheer determination on my part, or telepathy on their part, I would get what I needed. These men, being Portuguese, were always kind, patient and helpful. (At least they would wait until after I left to laugh at the crazy foreigner…).
I would continue to walk the streets, trance-like, absorbed by the raw beauty and try to work out how to source materials. Even then, before obras in Lisbon were ubiquitous, you could stumble upon construction bins with beautiful antique azulejos being thrown out!
I was like a kid in a candy store. ‘Til this day, when we walk past a construction site, my husband says “keep walking...”.
Since those early days, I have been doing exhibitions, client commissions and teaching this delicious (highly addictive) art form.
In 2015 I founded Lisbon Mosaic Studio, where I teach basic as well as intensive mosaic courses.
In 2017, I started with Airbnb Experiences, with my ‘mosaic experience’, where I host people around the world and we create mosaics together. Mostly tourists, they come in wide-eyed with their enthusiastic tales of exploring Lisbon. Then I get to discover Lisbon again, for the first time, through their eyes.
|Lisbon in Us by Eileen McDonough|
|Mini introduction||I was born in Pittsburgh, PA, USA, the 6th of 8 children. I’ve always enjoyed being part of a big family; I spent my childhood ‘under the radar’. This also made it easier to announce that I had decided to move to Europe. I met my Portuguese/English husband early on in my time here. (It wasn’t just the calçada I fell in love with…).|
We got married in Sintra in 2000.
We live in Central Lisbon with our daughter, 19, and Portuguese water dog.
My studio is near Sé, where I create pieces for private homes and restaurants/cafés, as well as teach workshops. I frequently do videos of the creative process behind the pieces on
|An inspiring place||Calçada Conde Penafiel is the street of my studio.|
Every morning when I walk up the hill on the way to work, I have to stop and admire the view: the river, the bridge, Cristo Rei, the Sé, the terracotta rooftops. I give thanks daily for this view. Day after week after month after year, I never tire of this view.
|An unmissable visit||Mãe d’ Água Water Museum (Água das Amoreiras Reservoir)This space is both elegant and rustic. Years ago I participated in a group art exhibit here. It was an honor to have my work in this magnificent space amongst the ancient stone, the water, the inspired architecture|
|His mouth waters with…||On a summer’s day, nothing beats tiger prawns in garlic sauce, a basket of crunchy bread served with chilled vinho verde…|
|A song…||Jazz musician Melody Gardot’s sexy, edgy song Lisboa.|
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