Here’s a mosaic with a similar theme to yesterday’s, but an entirely different approach… the Peace dove from yesterday was a smaller mosaic likely composed by just one artist. Today’s piece is the result of a collaborative effort by many, and comprises a large-scale wall mural bordering the school yard at Bret Harte Middle School.
This is the magic of mosaics… they come in an incredible variety of shapes, sizes, and styles. But first, a bit of an introduction:
Mosaic is the art of creating images with an assemblage of small pieces of colored glass, stone, or other materials. (Wikipedia)
As an art form, mosaic originated literally thousands of years ago – the earliest examples found in the ancient Near East (what now largely corresponds to the modern Middle East) consisted of pieces of colored pebbles, shells, and ivory. The first evidence of glazed tiles appears hundreds of years later (1500 BC), but it is not until the time of the Romans’ great influence (post AD) that patterns and detailed pictorials become prevalent.
Roman mosaics were most typically constructed with local stones and were commonly used as flooring material and decorative wall murals. “Even the pavements of Pompeii were decorated with simple stone and marble patterns.” (The Encyclopedia of Mosaic Techniques By Emma Biggs)
Below is an example of one of these early mosaics…
If you are interested in the mosaics of this period, there is a rare opportunity to see one first hand here in the Bay Area. Currently on exhibit through July 24th at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco is a large, intact, and excellently preserved floor mosaic dating to approximately 300 AD. The piece was excavated from a site in ancient Diospolis, Israel, believed to have been the home of a wealthy Roman. “This glorious mosaic is in America for a limited time before it is returned to Israel, where it will become the focus of an archaeological center in Lod.”
Legion of Honor
100 34th Avenue (at Clement Street)
San Francisco, CA
Hours: Tuesday thru Sunday 9:30am to 5:15 pm
In the early Christian period, mosaics were frequently used as church decoration, depicting religious scenes and iconic figures. Below are just two examples:
Mosaics would eventually go into decline around the time of the Renaissance, being replaced by the less labor intensive technique of fresco (painting).
But today the art of mosaics is making a comeback, popularized by what I would argue is a renewed interest in craft (in an age when many of our belongings consist of artless crap made in China), also its appeal as a home and garden decorative technique (think kitchen backsplash or garden table), and lastly by the inherent characteristics that make it well suited for large-scale public installations (especially those that are collaboratively produced).
Which brings us back to our local middle-school-produced-mural: “Peace”.
Mosaics of this sort are increasingly popular at schools. The artist spearheading this vision, Pam Consear, produced another one at Bret Harte last year (“Spirit of Oakland”), an even larger one at Bella Vista Elementary (“We Are Here”), and has a concurrent project installing at Oakland Technical High School right now.
I met Consear while she and a volunteer parent were grouting the mostly finished mural last week and asked a few questions about how these projects come together.
First, its worth noting that large-scale projects like this often take many months to complete. Two groups of students from Bret Harte (after-school Art Academy students and Safe School Ambassadors) participated in this project, and the planning began as early as last September: fleshing out ideas for a theme, prepping the surface (an old mural had to be removed), and beginning the tile making process. Consear noted the usefulness of exposing kids to such a long-term project, showing that work extended over a long period of time can yield amazing results.
Another benefit is the communal aspect of these projects. While students can create their own individual tiles, expressing their unique personalities and sentiments, these pieces come together to create a larger unified message and vision. It’s really pretty cool because you can have two entirely different experiences of these murals… one from a distance, and one close up.
Here are a few close-ups of the students’ hand-crafted tiles, which included a variety of traditional and experimental techniques (even stenciling!)
The finishing touches are being put on the mural this week, just in time for Bret Harte’s School Expo and Open House on May 14th. You can see a slideshow of the entire project at Consear’s blog here: Peace, Bret Harte Middle School.
PS – Almost forgot to mention that this project was made possible by a generous grant from Philanthropic Ventures Foundation. Thanks to them for supporting the arts.