by Dennis Dalman
The thousands of bits of colored glass, glinting in the sunshine, look like random shards of color until a viewer steps closer and takes a better look.
The glass mosaic bits, in fact, make up a stylized map of the City of Sartell.
It’s called a “pillar mosaic” because it was installed on a concrete pillar just outside the entrance to Sartell High School.
It’s one more example of the school district’s ongoing Art in Motion program, spearheaded three years ago by Sartell resident, parent and artist Cori Schneider (see related story).
The project was developed and guided by Melissa Gohman, a Sartell resident and artist who is the visual-arts director for the Paramount Arts District. Funding for the project came from the Central Minnesota Arts Board, the McKnight Foundation and the Sartell-St. Stephen Education Foundation.
The pillar mosaic began when a map of Sartell was scanned. Then each inch of the scan was magnified and transferred to an 11-inch x 11-inch flexible mesh tile. Then it was decided how to use colored bits of glass to symbolize features on the map through abstraction and stylization. Bodies of water, for example, should be blue glass; parks green; and so forth. Those stylized features were sketched in as patterns on each of the tiles to be filled with glass bits and shards.
Then the sheets of glass had to be cut bit by bit by students. Each bit was then glued to its appropriate place. When each 11-inch x 11-inch tile would be completely filled in, a heating iron was applied to affix all the bits securely and permanently to the tile.
Finally, the panels had to be installed very carefully on and around the pillar at the high school, in much the same way that ceramic tiles would be affixed to a floor or a wall. The final step was to wipe grout into all of the spaces between the glass bits, thus making the work a complete mosaic.
The finished work, abstractly but ingeniously, shows many landmarks in the City of Sartell. The railroad, in little red tiles forming a line with black-glass railroad “ties” runs through the mural, and it stands out visually because students wanted viewers to know how important that railroad was to the founding and subsequent development of Sartell.
Other features include parks, Oak Ridge Cemetery, city hall, Muskies Field, River Road, the paper mill and “Hobo Jungle.” That latter was a kind of park near the mill known as a resting encampment by railroad hobos who would hitch rides on trains, mainly during the Great Depression years of the 1930s. Another intriguing landmark on the pillar mosaic is the “Peace Rock,” a rock that divided Indian territories according to an 1825 treaty, the Winnebagos to the north and the Sioux to the south. Another intriguing feature of the map are the schools in the city, which are made of bits of mirror so students looking at the map can see their faces in the “school” mirrors. Most major highways and streets are also indicated on the mosaic work.
Nearly 100 students took part in creating the pillar mosaic, including students in art classes, the photography class and others. All students were invited to cut or place the glass bits on the big work.
Art teachers Jessica Boline, Deb Rollings, photography teacher Angie Heckman, Principal Brenda Steve and others were very supportive of the project. Math instructor Nick Koubsky held a session with students about “fractiles,”(repetitive patterns) they incorporated into the work.
As with all of the Art in Motion projects completed so far, the pillar mosaic was a labor of love that involved an entire network of students, teachers and guest artists. Such projects are intended as a way to make schools more personalized and comfortable for all students, while at the same time celebrating the importance of the arts in life.
Melissa Gohman, guest artist for the Art in Motion program, adds a few touches to a mosaic map of Sartell. The ambitious collaborative art project involved the hands-on creative work of many students at Sartell High School.
The red-glass line crossed by black-glass bars symbolizes the railroad that runs through east Sartell.
Each piece of glass has to be added, one by one, to the 11-inch x 11-inch flexible tiles that will become part of the larger mosaic that was affixed to a pillar outside the main entrance to Sartell High School.