Calm Waters

As my first blog entry I'm starting with a rather large project....This public art piece was an interesting departure from anything we had previously done as an art experience. It would end up being a good sized mural, but in spite of that as well as being a new medium, it was not beyond our capabilities.  


Fabrication and Installation of

'Calm Waters'

A glass mosaic mural on the campus of the University of Iowa

Thomas Rosborough     Rebecca Ekstrand     Paul Pinager


concept drawing

I would like to show a 'brief' much as it can be brief....overview of the process we experienced in working on a large-scale mosaic. It was exciting to be selected to install this piece at this facility, a beautiful LEED certified building that sits along the banks of the Iowa River at the edge of the university campus.


The primary materials would consist of a just synthetic mesh, cast vitreous glass tiles and Laticrete. 

Proposals of different sizes, materials and locations throughout the boathouse interior and exterior were submitted to the committee. The indoor rowing room ultimately became the site and the design was approved by the University of Iowa art committee. To determine the proportions of the design within the site and stay within budget, final adjustments were made to determine the finished size of 5 by 42 feet. A new schematic and color rendering was completed to these dimensions and the schematic was enlarged to actual size. This enlargement would be the basis of putting the tiles in the right place and lay under the mesh as well as a layer of heavy clear plastic, which kept the glue from sticking to the drawing.

The studio space where this would be fabricated is in Des Moines and could only accommodate a fraction of the total length of the mural at one time. We devised a temporary table from sawhorses and sheets of 2 inch rigid foam insulation. We felt that this would be satisfactory to support the weight, as it would be distributed evenly over the area of the foam (as things went along it did need some wooden slats for extra support!). 

To select the type and color of each tile, as well as the quantity of the different colors, many hours of color and value combination experimentation was made on and off site. In the end there would be over 50 different colors and over 40,000 total tiles to be ordered, organized, laid out, cut and hand 'buttered' onto the mesh. 

We had seen mosaics that were produced by having a basic design digitally translated on to a grid pattern and came out as pixilated (computeresque). Any curve or diagonal would look stair-stepped. The colors would be matched, placed on mesh by machine and would have a mechanical look unless viewed from some distance. It was pretty easy to conclude this was not the look we wanted. 

The location of this mural was 'in your face', as people would be walking right up to it or at the most, twenty feet away. So...that left composing the tiles so that they followed the curves and flow of the design and added to the movement. This meant gluing and positioning each tile on the mesh and when tile direction and color moved into each other they had to be cut to fit.

Another thing to be considered was the type of glue to be used. Many people doing mosaics use a white glue for its cost, ease of use, clean up and lack of toxicity. The room where it was to be installed has a large circular tank of water that enables two crews of eight to row at one time throughout the winter months. Moisture would be a major factor on a day-to-day basis so the glue to be used would have to stand up to this as well as when dry, the abuse it would endure during transportation to the site. (When experimenting with the white glue the tiles would pop off the mesh fairly easily...not good) The product we used was Laticrete. It is a powder to be mixed with water and only workable for about fifteen to twenty minutes of tile placement, so it was mixed in small portions. Masks were used during the mixing process.

The mesh to be used came in a continuous roll but only three feet in width. Two rolls the entire length of the mural, were cut and overlapped two or three inches lengthwise. As the tiles were glued to the mesh, the glue would hold the two mesh lengths together. We devised a process of having about twelve feet of workable area laid out at one time. We felt this would be enough area to see and keep continuity of color and design. 

Once tiles were arranged, spaced and glued into place we knew we had to gain space at one end of the table while rolling out additional mesh to continue the design. The mural would be cut into workable sections. To determine how large of a tile area could be manually worked on site at one time we consulted with Paul (installer). He felt that approximately two square feet would be appropriate with as many sections as could be, be cut along visually logical lines within the mural. To keep track of the sections as they were cut, a small copy of the schematic was made and as the sections were cut, recorded and numbered on the drawing. Corresponding numbered tabs were taped to each section. By the end of the 42 feet of mural there were 100 sections to be glued to the surface on site.

To be tranported each section had a cardboard backing and was shrinkwraped. If tiles should pop off they stayed in the shrinkwrap for easy repair. We transported them ourselves to assure edges were watched and jarring was at a minmum.

As with any large project things happen...... When we arrived on site we were concerned about how the substrait was installed. There were screws not down tight, large gaps between sheets and ragged edges to be cleaned up. The university was very quick to help out and correct issues and the installation moved along later that day. During this small delay it allowed us time to move the tile sections in and set up a work area to lay them out. The Durock cement board was used as the backing. 

After joints were filled and leveled out these areas were allowed to dry before tile installation was begun. New Laticrete was mixed to trowel onto the substrait on surface areas where sections of tile could be placed before drying. Sections of tile were unpacked and arranged in numerical order to be passed to Paul in the sequence shown on the schematic. Considering the size of the mural things fit very well. At the very end of the mural at the far left side, individual tiles were cut to fit where the design needed to be filled in. Laticrete was also used as the grout between the tiles.

As I've said, this is a brief overview and I'm sure that I've passed over some things that may be unclear or too abbreviated. We are pleased with the end result.      

We want to thank

Dr. P. Sue Beckwith     Paul Pinager     Pamela White

Sloan Tyler     Jane Meyer     Mandi Kowal 

Josh        Anders Rosborough


The University of Iowa


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