Installed at Southside STEM Academy at Campostella in Norfolk, Virginia, The Tiny Kingdom mosaic is about 37’ feet long and about 4 1/2’ tall.
Part of the design mandate was to reflect the school’s status as STEM school. That means the curriculum has a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. My immediate concern was how to represent the technology component without creating a design that would soon be outdated. Technology is advancing so quickly these days that any device I put on the wall would soon seem archaic and out-of-touch. My strategy then was to go old school. Kids (and scientists) still use magnifying glasses and pencil and paper to observe the world.
The center of the mosaic depicts two kids who are exploring their world together. The girl is using her magnifying glass to look at a moon snail shell. The boy is drawing a picture of a cicada wing. These simple activities are at the heart of scientific inquiry: curiosity, observation, documentation, exploration. I don’t usually use any materials besides stone. In this particular piece I used blue glass for the girl’s magnifying lens. The shell she’s looking at is an actual moon snail shell that my Dad sent me.
The lines in the cicada wing that the boy is drawing are etched onto the surface of the stone. I did that with a diamond blade on my grinder. The lines really make the drawing work to my eye.
With all of these mosaics in the schools, it’s important to me to represent the students in the artwork. I want the kids to see themselves as active participants in the world, being creative, learning, engaging. The overwhelming majority of the students at Campostella are black. A significant challenge for me was finding a way to respectfully represent their skin color in the mosaic. I did a lot of research on representations of black skin in art history. Sadly, there wasn’t much to go on. Representation can be a controversial issue. I read articles about a huge sculpture of black icon Martin Luther King Jr. made of white granite that had outraged people. Many historical paintings had people of African descent depicted in a version of blackface. Another challenge was the limited selection of brown stones to choose from.
I decided on a marble from Spain called Emprador. It was the only stone I found that had the warmth and depth of color that seemed alive and beautifully human. The schools and the arts commission were actively involved in that decision.
There are eight circular mosaics flanking the kids; each represents a drawing that the kids made of the tiny kingdom they are exploring.
This ladybug is one of the most complex mosaics I’ve ever made. All those little leg pieces!
The ladybug’s eye is made of a stone called labradorite that has an iridescent quality about it that cannot truly be captured in photographs. It has wonderful shine and depth to it.
I had a jar full of pebbles to use as the antennae, but forgot them when we went to Norfolk for the installation. Our fall back plan, when we discovered this oversight, was to go to a pet store and buy a couple jars of aquarium pebbles. We found enough of the right color to make it work.
Norfolk is right on the ocean and so I tried to include some things you might find exploring the beach or a tide pool. This is the claw of a speckled crab. It came out more abstract than I intended- I’m not sure it’s obvious to people what it is at first glance. All of the stones used in the claw design are from Tennessee Marble, a company outside of Knoxville where I go periodically to scrounge through their scrap piles. (I call it the boneyard,I always find cool stuff there!) They still operate a quarry there, producing mostly pink and gray stones. I found the white marble there too, though it may have been quarried in Georgia or Vermont.
The darker red piece on the upper leg section- with all the white dots and spikes- was the oddest single shape I’ve ever cut out of stone.
The rays on this sand dollar mosaic project out from the wall.
This is my absolute favorite part of this whole mosaic. I love how the veins in the light brown marble echo the veins you would see in the transparent wing of a cicada. And I love the way the eye came out. I often visit the local gem and mineral stores to find cool details like eyes.
The upper wing is the same design the boy is drawing.
This circle is meant to represent the moon snail the girl is holding. This is a sandstone from India called Teakwood.
This is another favorite of mine from this project. I wish I had greater contrast between the praying mantis and the background. The mantis body is made of a stone quarried in the North Carolina mountains. The eyes are Petosky stone, a fossilized coral found in Michigan.
This Thimbleweed flower is made of white marble from various sources. Most of the pebbles were gathered on beaches in Rhode Island.
This is an Eastern Swallowtail Butterfly wing. The yellow stone is travertine that I believe is quarried in Iran.
LOCATION: STEM Academy at Campostella Elementary School, Norfolk, Virginia
DATE: February 2019
DIMENSIONS: 37′ by 4.5′, on a curved wall
COMMISSIONED BY: Norfolk Arts
PROJECT MANAGER: Karen Rudd
DESIGNED BY: Marc Archambault
FABRICATED BY: Marc Archambault, Fred Lashley, Jonathan Frederick, Tony Costa
INSTALLED BY: Marc Archambault, Fred Lashley, Tony Costa, Michael Sellars
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 email@example.com
Updates from the process
A video tour of the completed mosaic at the shop.