Mitchell School Mosaic

Here's our finished mosaic, on the wall in front of the cafeteria. I worked as an Artist-in-Residence with the Mitchell Elementary School in Needham, Massachusetts last year.  We created this mosaic during a 3 week period in the spring of 2013 and had a wonderful time.  I’m  posting this page to show the process, which includes many of the typical steps that we follow, from start to finish.

The first step involves working with the students on design. Every student creates a design drawing that shows something they’d like to see included in the mosaic. This helps us define and detail the content of the mosaic.



You’ll see this drawing in our centerpiece of portraits of ‘The Mitchell Community’. The kids are always proud of their drawings, and for me, they provide the inspiration and details for our work.

IMG_4391Here’s the center section of the mosaic, shown on the tabletop in the art room. I assemble the design sketch by tracing over the students’ drawings, then do a small colored version which is used as a guide for us to follow as we are working. The outlines are drawn with Sharpie onto the panel (which for this interior project is 1/2″ MDO plywood). The students have already cemented  ceramic tile shards onto the foreground grass area and background sky area.


The next few photos show the students at work in the art room. In public elementary schools, we usually have the whole class working together with the assistance of 3 or 4 parents for each class. The work is fast, exciting, and a little messy – and fun for the kids and adults!




We had a wonderful team of parents led by the parent coordinator, Karen Crowley. Karen mastered every step of the work and taught other parents how to help, as well as organized the project within the school and within the town.




Karen was aided in leading the project by another parent, Gina Auger. Gina spent a lot of time in class working with the students and other parents, as well as after school helping me get ready for the next day’s work.



When we finish cementing all the mosaics onto the panels, we clean the extra cement off of the top of the tiles. We use heavy duty scouring pads and a lot of elbow grease. The kids really like this step, since their efforts quickly reveal sparkling clean tiles!

IMG_2324Now we’re onto the final step, grouting. We apply masking tape to mask off the areas  for each color, then apply grout with spatulas. This mosaic has hundreds of different colors of grout, and is quite labor intensive to complete. We use a huge amount of tape, and asked the students to collect it into a tape ball.


Here is John Walek, the art teacher, holding the tape ball with the students. John is a wonderful teacher and mentor and a great support for the project. He’s invited me to work with him at the Hillside School in Needham this year.




This is the largest tape ball yet! John exhibited the ball at the annual art show, where he also exhibited the design drawings. Our mosaic ribbon cutting was held that night.


IMG_0511 We had a good turn-out! Here are some photos of the finished mosaic on the wall.

The flying school bus is bringing our Boston students into school from the city of Boston. This is the starting left side of the mural.

IMG_0551A student is walking to school with her mom and dog. Dr. Michael Schwinden, the School Principal, is welcoming the kids to school at the drop off circle. He donated one of his coffee mugs to the project, which we added as a mosaic element.

IMG_0554The students created lively portraits of themselves. their school’s teachers and staff, and their parents too!

IMG_0463We created the facial features and the letters from handmade glazed clay.


A kindergarden girl created the drawing for the little ballerina with the rose. A fifth grader created a self-portrait with sunglasses and a ‘Mitchell Rocks’ tee shirt.


LEARNING with Mrs. Tryon, Visiting Artist Caleb Neelon’s graffiti sign, and a great big fish tank. There’s an interesting story the kids tell about this scene.


The story goes like this. This big, beautiful tank sits near the fifth grade classrooms, and one day one of the fifth graders was feeding the fish and the orange one at the top jumped out of the tank and ended up behind the tank on the floor. One of the kids grabbed a net and was able to rescue the fish, but the fish lost one of its eyes in the rescue. We are looking at the fish’s good left eye.

This is the student’s original drawing we used for the design. I am always amazed at just how good the kids’ drawings are, full of detail and life.



IMG_0559The Mitchell School has a wonderful interior courtyard with a learning garden. The students, teachers and parents use this for nature exploration and growing vegetables and flowers. There’s outdoor seating and a fish pond with a waterfall – very pretty!

IMG_2347My experience at the Mitchell School was happy, productive and creative. I am grateful to the entire school community with its industrious, joyful students, dedicated teachers, caring parents led by Karen and Gina, and John Walek the art teacher, for making all of this happen.

IMG_0403Mitchell Elementary School Art Teacher and my friend, John Walek!











2 thoughts on “Mitchell School Mosaic

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