“The Care Takers” is a natural stone mosaic installed at Ocean View Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia. It is part of my public art commission to create mosaics for elementary schools there. This mosaic features a strong message of environmental stewardship, inspired by the school’s amazing hands-on science programs, including aquaculture and water quality issues. Older students guide young learners through the life cycle of the oyster, aquaculture techniques, and the process of analyzing water quality. This mosaic includes relief elements that project out from the wall, inviting student to touch and interact with the artwork.
The Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis) is a vitally important part of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. A large portion of the bass population along the eastern seaboard breed in the estuary waters of the bay. They are a success story of conservation, as pollution and overfishing had decimated their populations. Since the 80’s, environmental regulations and stewardship have helped the fish recover.
They are an important fish to me personally too. My Dad is an avid striped bass fisherman along the New England coast. When I was growing up, I would go fishing with him sometimes. If I got bored, I would take a flashlight and go beach-combing (we always fished at night) hunting for seashells and crabs and whatever else I could find. The last time I visited my Dad, he took me and my sons bass fishing.
Green Sea Turtle
While not common in the Chesapeake Bay, the Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) does visit those waters in the summer and fall. There a handful of nesting sites along the Virginia coast as well. My colleague Jonathan Frederick made this sea turtle. He used serpentine for the shell. It has a leathered finish, which gives it an added patina of age and rugged life. The turtle’s head and body is made of a ming green marble called Chartreuse. This stone featured heavily in the Camp Allen Dragon.
Below the sea turtle is a Moon Jelly (Aurelia aurita). These are common along the east coast and sometimes, turtle food.
The Horseshoe Crab (Limulus polyphemus) is a resident of the Chesapeake Bay and an important part of the ecosystem. They are odd looking creatures, more closely related to scorpions and spiders than crabs. They are sometimes called living fossils because they first appeared in the fossil record an astounding 450 million years ago.
These horseshoe crabs are made of travertine. The eyes are made of Petoskey stone, a fossilized coral from Michigan.
There’s also a sand dollar in one of these images, made from a marble from Tennessee called Quaker Gray.
The Atlantic Mackerel (Scomber scombrus) is commonly found in the North Atlantic. When I was growing up, shoals of them would turn up along the Rhode Island coast during the summer. We called them tinker mackerel, which I think was a reference to their size. Honestly, I can’t say that this particular piece of the mosaic is a great representation of the physiology of the species, but I still like it. In fact, this is one of my favorite things that I’ve ever made out of stone.
I don’t really do much sculptural work. It’s not something my clients need a whole lot of! I wanted this mosaic to have some relief elements and so this idea evolved. I had one scrap of this green stone, which is just so beautiful. I don’t know what it is called or where it came from, either geologically or how this small scrap ended up in my possession. The fish barely fit on the scrap. I did all of the work with the angle grinder, using a variety of blades to cut, shape, and polish the piece. The eye is a tiny black pebble, epoxied in place.
The Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) is a diving duck that feeds on fish, crabs and other undersea creatures. This is the male merganser, with his telltale colorful plumage and large crest. This particular piece was cut by former Hammerhead Brian Holda. Interestingly, deforestation has had a significant impact on this seafaring duck. They nest in the cavities in trees and require mature forests to provide suitable sites to raise their young.
Pufferfish and Channeled Whelk
The Northern Pufferfish (Sphoeroides maculatus) is an unusual species that can puff up when threatened, expanding its body which is covered with tiny spines. According to wikipedia, in the Chesapeake Bay area they are known as sugar toads and are eaten as a delicacy. Despite my numerous visits to the area for this mosaic project, this has never turned up on any menus…
Also pictured is a Channeled Whelk (Busycotypus canaliculatus), a common mollusk up and down the East Coast. I was an avid beachcomber when I was a kid and I would find their shells and egg cases washed up on the shore all the time. Under ideal circumstances, the egg cases would be dried out and I would cut them open to find dozens of tiny whelk shells not much larger than grains of sand. Full grown, a whelk can be eight inches long.
Most of the ‘ocean’ material is bluestone from Pennsylvania. I mixed in a few pieces of Blue Macaubas, a ridiculously expensive and gorgeous stone from Brazil. It’s gray with threads of bright blue in it. It’s the rare stone that seems to glow from some kind of internal light. I think of it as a marble, but it is often identified as a quartzite.
LOCATION: OceanView Elementary School, Norfolk, Virginia
DATE: August 2020
DIMENSIONS: 9′ 9″ by 17′ 6″
COMMISSIONED BY: Norfolk Arts
PROJECT MANAGER: Karen Rudd
DESIGNED BY: Marc Archambault
FABRICATED BY: Marc Archambault, Fred Lashley, Jonathan Frederick, Brian Holda
INSTALLED BY: Marc Archambault, Fred Lashley, Jonathan Frederick, John Greco
ENGINEERING: Andrew Terrell of Lysaght & Associates, Raleigh, NC
TECHNICAL SUPPORT: Bo Thompson of Blackstone Masonry
Hammerhead Stoneworks accepts commissions on public and private mosaic works. We are happy to design a piece- large or small- for you, or work from your design. Please contact Marc Archambault at (828) 337-7582 or e-mail him firstname.lastname@example.org