“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!
Last fall we completed this project at a home in Asheville. The house had recently been renovated, but the landscape was incomplete. There was a steep, messy gravel driveway and a weird 18″ drop off from where you parked to where you stepped out of the car. It was treacherous. The design mandate included a new entry and safe ways of accessing the backyard. The biggest issue for the homeowners was raising and enlarging their driveway parking area. So “Beast Wall” was born.
We used Tennessee sandstone for all the components of the project. I wanted it for the walls in particular because I can usually find a wide range of sizes, including some massive pieces. We needed some big chunks for Beast Wall. The largest piece we found was a rejected hearth that was seven feet long, 14″ tall and twenty inches front to back. We split it into multiple pieces and used it throughout the wall, including at least one massive corner you’ll might find in the photos. With so many massive stones, we used a small excavator to set the biggest of them. It also helped us to move around the backfill. There’s several tons of scrap stone and gravel behind that wall, supporting the parking area.
This is a new favorite image! We were bringing in some soil for the yard below the wall. The dump truck is parked right to the edge. The wall did not budge. The fully loaded dump truck probably weighs three times what the owners Prius weighs!
To provide access to the backyard, we built a set of steps into the face of Beast Wall. I like this emergent style of steps; it evokes something archaic to me, like you might find in a Mayan temple. The steps act as a buttress to the wall. There will be a hand rail someday!
Access on the other side of the house required less materials, but proved to be a fairly complex build in its own right. This set of steps wraps around an existing block wall. Walls above and below the steps support the staircase and the bank.
By raising the driveway, we were able to elevate the front walkway, removing the treacherous drop off. The path connects to another that leads to the street.
The parking area is covered in decorative gravel. I like the wheel stops we installed. They are made from a slab step that we split down. There are two holes in each piece with a long bit of rebar driven down into the gravel below.
I made this oak leaf mosaic for the top landing of the staircase that emerges from the face of Beast Wall. It’s a scrap of salvaged granite.
This Kingfisher mosaic is done! I just have to wait for the frame shop to reopen once the coronavirus restrictions are eased. The majority of the birds body is made of Blue Pearl granite, quarried in Norway. I used a Mexican beach pebble for the eye, which doesn’t show up great in the photo. The background is the Brazilian marble Blue Macaubas. The mosaic is 12″ by 12″.
On a related bird note, this Carolina Wren is nesting in a corner of my tile stacks. Admittedly, it’s not much of a photo, but she’s really tucked into the back of the shelf and her nest is dark.
I haven’t had a whole lot to post lately. I have made some progress on this Kingfisher mosaic. It’s ready for fine tuning now. The overall piece will be 12″ by 12″ when it’s done.
This is a time lapse video of the girl featured in our next mosaic for Norfolk, Virginia. This piece is called “The Care Takers” and will be installed at Ocean View Elementary School. Kristin helped me do this rough layout of the stones. The girl is holding an oyster, which she will be putting in the water. I don’t like the way the oyster came out and will redo that. Ocean View has a really strong commitment to the environment and actually has programs that teach kids to be stewards of the ocean and do hands-on work with oysters and aquaculture.
All the pieces laid out and readu to go.
This is the way the finished piece will look.
The whole mosaic (except the eyes) laid out in reverse. It’s glued to paper and will have a mesh applied to the back for transport and installation.
A large and important element of the current mosaic we’re working on is a striped bass. The piece is called “The Care Takers” and shows Ocean View Elementary School’s stewardship of the natural environment. They are particularly involved in protecting the native marine ecosystem. Striped bass are a big part of the Chesapeake Bay story. And my life story too. My Dad is a devoted striped bass fisherman and though I’ve never had the same zeal for it, I have caught a few bass in my time. On our last trip home, my sons went bass fishing on the Narragansett Bay for the first time. It’s important that I get this right, for a bunch of people! My Dad and step-Mom spend a lot of time on the ocean and take pictures of the amazing array of sea creatures that live in the bay. They sent me this image to guide me.
I thought that the bass mosaic should be done tesserae style, with lots of little pieces, to echo the idea of scales. I started by breaking pieces with the hardie and hammer. I don’t do this a lot, so I’m not super skilled at it. It involves breaking the stone between a sharp chisel edge, the ‘hardie’ mounted into a block of wood, and a sharp hammer that you swing gently and precisely. Some stones respond well to this, but others do not. The grain of the dark green serpentine and the crystal structure of the gray granite created a lot of very awkward shapes. After I laid this out I decided I didn’t like it and needed to try something else.
Most of my mosaic work generally falls into an opus sectile style. I cut the pieces into specific shapes to create a desired image. So I tried that. I didn’t get very far before I abandoned this idea too. I didn’t like the look and it was a fussy business cutting these lean pieces with gentle arcs to them. If it was going to take forever, I wanted to get a good result.
This was the final test: the tesserae idea, but with tidy pieces. I cut strips on the tile saw then chopped them up into the little squares you see here. Still time consuming to lay out, but as soon as I started I could tell that it was going to be what I imagined it to be.
Once I knew that it would work, I laid it out in reverse, adhering the pieces onto the paper with Elmer’s glue, face down. I won’t actually see what it looks like until the day we install it and remove the paper. That’s actually a lot of fun, the first time you see it- often at a point where you can’t do much to change it!
I’ve been working on the web site for a while now and keep stumbling on fun things to post. This is how I’m spending my lockdown. These three images are mosaic birds that are part of the Garden Guardian I call “Three Little Birds.” This was before they were grouted in place.
The Blue Jay is made of Blue Bahia from Brazil.
Maybe my favorite bird. The stone is a yellow travertine that I think is from Iran.
I make a lot of cardinals. It’s fun to work with red stones.
The finished piece.
As Buncombe County and then the whole state of North Carolina has moved into a Stay-Home, Stay-Safe directive, I have brought some of my mosaic workshop home. It’s not ideal, but it can keep me busy and productive, which is the key to keeping me sane. I will still have access to my shop space, but this seemed like a good way to increase my social distancing (already well developed even before the Covid-19 crisis) and keep on task. I’ll be working on the next Norfolk mosaic, called the Care-Takers as well as some of my smaller pieces. Yup, I’m probably going to make some birds!
I don’t like to share pictures of new projects in winter and spring because the stone work is always surrounded by fields of mud. And it has been very rainy of late. So to enjoy these images, you’ll have to mentally enhance the scenes with your favorite flowers. This is the first part of a large project we are doing in the town of Biltmore Forest. We are doing two large paths with steps and walls to provide access to the expansive backyard.
The walls and step risers are made of Hooper’s Creek and the walking surfaces are Pennsylvania stone. The walls and paving pathways are laid dry, but the steps are mortared, which allows us the ability to create overhangs and create a more formal look.
The weird creep bunny with no eyes is a dog toy that haunts the job site. He is generally a benevolent, if soggy, presence.
I just started a new wall-hanging mosaic. This kingfisher is made mostly of Blue Pearl, a type of granite.