Middle Country Public Library Community Mosaic
2019, Middle Country Public Library, Centereach branch, Centereach, NY, USA
Blue Point, NY, USA
4 feet x 14 feet x 1 inch
glass tile, vitreous glass tile, ceramic tile, beads
The Middle Country Library obtained a grant from New York State to hire an artist to design, implement and facilitate making a mosaic for their main meeting space with the constituents of their community. One caveat – the staff would prefer if the community didn’t use cutting tools. The size was determined by the library, 4 feet tall and 14 feet wide and they wanted the mosaic to be removable so it could be shared in local public buildings in the area. In January of 2019, after discussing with the group various options I asked if they were open to an abstract design. I had gone around the library and taken many pictures of all the colors, shapes, textures and architectural elements within the building. After sharing those with the group, I was given the greenlight to create an abstract design. Since the community wouldn’t be using nippers to cut tesserae, I decided we could use a “coloring in the lines” approach to the mosaic.
In the interest of making the mosaic easy to move the library staff asked that the overall 4’ x 14’ design be separated into 5 panels each measuring 4’ x 2.8’.
Each panel was assigned a letter beginning with A through E.
Each panel was divided into 96 4” squares which we ended up calling puzzle pieces, each square on each panel was assigned a letter and a number, for example Panel A: 1-96; Panel B: 1-96; Panel C: 1-96; Panel D: 1-96, and Panel E:1-96.
The library had a large printer that allowed us to print out the overall design. We printed two sets of five panels, one set of five became our master copy or map and each square on each panel was assigned a letter and number as stated before. The second set became our working copy.
Having two sets became very important for three reasons, 1) when we began putting the “puzzle pieces” together we were able to refer back to the master copy to make sure we had all the pieces on hand before adhering them to the template as there were many people handling the puzzle pieces over a five month period; 2) when we began adhering the puzzle pieces to the substrate we could look at our master copy and then at our puzzle piece to make sure we had oriented the puzzle piece the correct way because after we cut the meshed puzzle piece off the cardboard tray, we no longer had the cartoon under it to refer to and 3) as each person finished a puzzle piece they were invited to sign the appropriate square on the master copy of panels. It made it easy for everyone to find their puzzle pieces in the overall design once it was all put together as well as a way for each artist to sign their art.
Back to fabricating, each lettered and numbered 4” square was mounted on a cardboard tray with a piece of plastic taped over the design (so the glue wouldn’t stick to the design), fiberglass mesh was taped on top of the design and plastic and given to the community to create.
The design had 9 colors: blue, light orange, dark orange, light green, dark green, light brown, dark brown, yellow and white (with some blue, brown and black flecks allowed).
Each color was represented by 10-12 different tesserae shapes from which the community could choose to create their pattern or design on the given puzzle piece. There were square, round, petal, rectangle and ovoid shapes offered.
The community was encouraged to use whatever tile they wanted in the corresponding color to create patterns in their puzzle piece, we asked that they stay within the lines and not create recognizable symbols or images within their pattern (though some did sneak in). People came to create at workshops led by me as well as with the library staff that I trained. The range of ages of people who worked on the mosaic ranged rom 10 to 82. It was interesting to see how people approached the task, who liked it, who struggled, who made just one, who made many, and who tried to sneak in an image or a symbol.
Once all the puzzle pieces were created, we cut the mesh off the boards – this was when I really appreciated having numbered them and had a numbered map on the wall in case we got lost – and adhered each 4” square to the aluminum frames we purchased from Witsendmosaics.com using thinset. We grouted with the community in a three-hour grouting party and then we were done! The library held a celebration inviting the community as well as all those who worked on the mosaic to see the unveiling in October 2019.
This project was made possible with funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor M. Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and administered by The Huntington Arts Council. Additional funding has been provided by the Middle Country Library Foundation.