The Treehouse Orchestra

The next mosaic for the public art project in Norfolk, Virginia is officially underway. This young fellow is jumping up to strike the triangle. I am hoping that we can actually put a triangle (or more?!) into the mosaic so the kids at the school can make it ring. That’ll take some figuring. The theme of this one is music. There are nine kids playing a variety of instruments.

The first figure in our latest mosaic for Norfolk.

Moon Gate Sign

I’ve been driving by this sign a lot recently, working on a small project in Weaverville. I finally stopped by to take a closer look. We built it five years ago. It’s holding up well. The moon gate itself is an excellent location for spiders to build their webs. Orb weavers had strung up elaborate structures on each side of the opening. We used sandstone from Tennessee for all the components of the sign, including the engraved slab. I drove up there to pick out that piece. Our friends Jeff and Ben at Martin Monument did the engraving work and helped us sling that piece into place.

One of two Welcome to Weaverville signs

Moongate as part of the Welcome to Weaverville sign

Moongate made of sandstone

All the pieces of the moon gate laid out in the back of my old truck.

“The Care Takers” Mosaic

“The Care Takers” stone mosaic, laid out facedown, to be prepped for travel

“The Care Takers” mosaic, intended for OceanView Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia is laid out face down. We will adhere a fiberglas mesh to the back, cut it into manageable sized pieces and load it for travel. WE built this stage for the last mosaic; it makes it easier to work on and is flatter than the floor, which it turns out, really does matter!

Relief Elements in Mosaic Design

Relief components of the next mosaic: a scallop shell and a fish that project out of the wall.

We are working on the next mosaic for the Norfolk schools. This one features a coastal theme and numerous sea creatures. On a previous mosaic I experimented with relief elements, parts of the mosaic that projected forward off the flat plane of the wall. I really liked the way it came out and am revisiting that idea in this mosaic. So far I have three elements that I ‘sculpted’ in relief: two scallop shells and a fish. All three were made from scrap counter top material, which is typically 3 centimeters thick. Most of the work I did was with a diamond blade on the angle grinder and then running through the polishing pads to get the shine back. It’s kind of fun, at least working small on relatively primitive designs like this. I have no sculpting acumen, so it takes me a minute to wrap my head around how to get the right shape without taking away too much material. I think it’s a nice addition to the mosaics; it enhances the tactile qualities of the mosaic and encourages the students to touch the piece to interact with it.

A stone scallop shell sculpted in relief to project out of the next mosaic.

The template and finished piece of a stone fish made in relief to project out of the next mosaic.

Camp Allen Dedicated

A full view of The Dragon Family mosaic. © Dave Chance Photography

Camp Allen Elementary School in Norfolk has been open for a while, but they just had a dedication ceremony there. I wasn’t able to attend, but they unveiled our mosaic “The Dragon Family” at the same time. There’s a clip of them showing it off in this video.

The Dragon Family Mosaic

A full view of The Dragon Family mosaic, reflected in the polished floor. © Dave Chance Photography

Of all of the mosaics I have created for Norfolk schools during this project, Camp Allen’s “The Dragon Family” was the most student-driven design. Before I started my work, I visited the school to meet with a leadership council comprising a small group of smart, thoughtful and articulate students. I told them about the project and they told me about the design. They wanted a dragon, the Camp Allen mascot.

I was not particularly keen on the idea at first. Every school has a mascot, a logo, a cartoon creature to rally the sports teams. I imagined the artwork to be something more quote unquote- serious than a mascot. Then kids made it clear to me why the artwork absolutely had to be a dragon.

The students told me what they saw in the dragon and what they saw in themselves: strength, courage, resolve, and fierceness. The dragon was a symbol, a powerful representation of them and their school. It was an illuminating conversation that guided my work.

But I wanted something more than just a dragon on the wall; I hope to make art that tells a story, that shares ideas, and has room for interpretation.

Many of the schools that I have worked with in Norfolk deal with high levels of student turnover. At Camp Allen, military families are routinely deployed to other parts of the world- regardless of the school schedule. New students arrive on a weekly basis. Camp Allen’s leadership has found innovative and creative solutions to help ease this transition for students. The kids told me about the houses with their names, colors and points system, so similar to the Hogwarts houses in the Harry Potter books. Every kid on that leadership council had a story about arriving at Camp Allen as a new student, nervous and unsure. They were welcomed. They were included from the first moment. They described the school as a family.

“The Dragon Family“ mosaic represents that story of Camp Allen. It is a place where young people are protected and supported and encouraged to learn, to grow, to create, and to make friends. To me the dragon on the wall is the school- its principal, its vice principal and administrators, its teachers and assistants, its custodians and volunteers, its amazing students, its parents- everyone who contributes and everyone who takes part.

Early in the design phase, there was some concern; we wanted an approachable dragon, but not a silly cartoon. Sometimes, fairy tales dragons can be scary, frightening beasts that must be vanquished, but that’s not the message we wanted to send. In this story about Camp Allen, dragons are caring and supportive. But I do hope some of the fierceness still comes through. Do not mess with a dragon’s family, because dragons will always protect their treasure.

A full view of The Dragon Family mosaic, in the school’s main hallway. © Dave Chance Photography

Detail from The Dragon Family mosaic, of a boy playing trumpet to the dragon. © Dave Chance Photography

Detail from The Dragon Family mosaic, of a girl writing protected by dragon’s wings. © Dave Chance Photography

A detail of The Dragon Family mosaic. © Dave Chance Photography

Detail from The Dragon Family mosaic, of a boy reading on the dragon’s back. © Dave Chance Photography