Mosaic Madness Strikes Design College

The deadline is very near:  August 1.  The goal: 10,000 palm-sized, colorfully glazed tiles.  The odds:  Daunting. 

But to the dedicated arts team now in a UC College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Design (DAAP) studio…well, they say it’s no sweat because they’re determined to make their goal one 2-inch by 2-inch tile at a time.

Creating the tiles is just the first step in a public-art project, called “Clay, Color and Fire,” to be dedicated October 18 within the Friendship Pavilion of the new Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park on Eastern Ave.  (Berry was Cincinnati’s first African American mayor.)  The tiles will form at least nine distinct mosaics:  Six will be placed on the pavilion’s outdoor pillars, two on indoor pillars and one in a virtual fireplace between the two pillars.

Artists have come from around the world to join with local community members and UC students and alumni in this project which is possible thanks to collaboration between the university, the Cincinnati Park Board and the Sister Cities Association of Greater Cincinnati.  In fact, seven ceramicists from Cincinnati sister cities – Taipei-Hsien, Taiwan; Munich, Germany; Kharkiv, Ukraine; Nancy, France; Harare, Zimbabwe; Liuzhou, People’s Republic of China; Gifu, Japan – are in residence at UC, each making a mosaic rooted in the traditions of their home cultures.  In addition to assisting the international artists with their projects, UC students and alumni are also making their own mosaic and helping the community at large to fashion tiles for citizen mosaics.

“I’ll be so proud to take my friends to the Friendship Pavilion in the park,” said UC architectural graduate student Betty Sun, 24, of Nanking, China, who has previously taken ceramics courses at the university.  She’s serving as a translator for professional artist He Zhenhai, assisting him in making tiles for his mosaic, and also helping to make the UC mosaic, which features two mythical Phoenixes, depicted in orange and yellow, intertwining around a stylized sun.  She added, “This is fun.  I’m working with artists from all over the world.  I’m meeting people from throughout Cincinnati.  I feel part of the city now.  And, I get to practice my hobby (ceramics).”

Sun laughed when asked the most challenging part for her.  “I’m building my muscles,” she laughed, explaining that, for the first time, she has to manually knead large, dense amounts of clay (in a manner similar to kneading dough for home-made bread). 

Incoming DAAP fine art student Julia Green, 18, of Oakley, was going to spend the summer traveling until she found out about the “Clay, Color and Fire” project.  “I’m interested in international cultures, and that’s why I was going to travel this summer.  But, then, it seemed to me that the cultures were coming here.  So, I decided to participate and learn more about the college I’ll be entering in the fall,” she stated.

Julia, who’s taken ceramics at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts, first suggested the Phoenix motif as the basis for the UC mosaic.  “I’d found out that it’s a myth and symbol common to all the cultures represented here in the studio,” she said.

The eclectic project team works every weekday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the DAAP ceramics studio.  Their focus, fittingly enough, is on the creative legacy they want to leave for the city.  However, the visiting artists also say that they will carry with them new visions and insights from their time in Cincinnati.

Marjorie Wallace

Marjorie Wallace

Marjorie Wallace of Zimbabwe said she thinks it will take a long time for her to assimilate the changes to come from her stay in the city and her work with her fellow artists.  For her, the pace, manner and materials of the work are different from what she is accustomed to.  “I’ve always worked on my own,” she explained.  “I tend to work slowly and with different types of clay.  I make utilitarian objects.  This is a massive change for me.  It’s fast-paced here.”  She paused for a long moment before concluding, “It’s humbling in a good way.  I’m seeing myself as part of a network, groups of people working together.  I’m an inch in a chain linking the world.”

The seven ceramicists who have come to Cincinnati for the “Clay, Color and Fire” project, which was originated and has been directed by UC alumna Jan Brown Checco, are:

  • Marjorie Wallace of Harare, Zimbabwe
  • Steve Lin of Taipei-Hsien, Taiwan
  • Vladymyr Shapovalov of Kharkiv, Ukraine
  • Philippe Pasqualini of Nancy, France
  • He Zhenhai of Liuzhou, China
  • Eva Sperner-Zernickel of Munich, Germany
  • Ikuhiko Shibata of Gifu, Japan

Among those from UC who have contributed to the project are:

  • Roy Cartwright, professor of fine art
  • Jim Williams, associate professor of fine art
  • Betty Sun, graduate student in architecture
  • Jen Brenner, design student
  • Julia Green, incoming fine art student
  • Katie Swartz, fine art alumna
  • Kirk Mayhew, year 2000 master of fine art (MFA) graduate from DAAP, who serves as the workshop manager
  • Jan Brown Checco, 2002 MFA graduate from DAAP, who has managed the project for the past two years

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