UPDATE 1 October, 2013: Completion Celebration and Unveiling of the Mosaic Pavement set for 10 October, from 2-4PM. All Welcome.
I moved to London a week ago.
One warm and sunny afternoon, I had to get outdoors, so I set out in no particular direction.
I’d heard of the Shepherdess Mosaic Mural Project and knew it was somewhere nearby. The mosaics are designed by Tessa Hunkin and made by a team of dedicated volunteers from the Hackney neighborhood, on the East Side of London. My “Mosaic Sixth Sense” kicked in, and I walked right to the park, without consciously mapping it out.
I was so happy! The installation is set in the quiet corner of the community park, the Sun was warming the brick walls, and dappled sunlight danced on the surfaces. The environment was alive with pattern, memory, nature, history, and definitely, lots of love.
As I took in the large Roman-style panels, I could hear the basketball pick-up game in the background, the squeak of tennis shoes, the patter of the ball, the ever-present wailing sirens— it was my ambient music of the day.
The mosaic design is redolent with references from Roman pavements; from the guilloche braids and vine borders, to the geometric panels, to the setting pattern of the tesserae (tiles). Hunkin, a mosaic scholar of the highest order, has done her homework.
The elegant characters float upon the cream-colored background, effortlessly flying kites, riding skate boards, listening to iPods, a nod to contemporary life in Hackney. And of course, one panel is dedicated to herding sheep…the area’s former use. (see more below>>)
The Past, Present & Future unite here.
The arrangement of the panel characters reference the Roman storytelling by stacking imagery in tiered layers.The Shepherdess Mosaic Panels particularly feel like the Villa Romana del Casale pavements in Sicily at Piazza Armerina. Scenes of daily life; relaxation, work and play, depicted here in the London panels, by the season.
One thing that is decidedly not Roman, is the inclusion of the Maker’s Signature. In ancient times, it was uncommon for mosaic to be signed by the designer, nor the lowly craftsmen. If it was signed at all, it often bore the name of the Patron, very rarely the maker. Giving credit where credit is due, this project includes a long list of signatures, and the tumblr site features many pictures of the local people who rallied to work on the project. You really get to know them. One of the sponsors, The Lifeline Project, is Hackney’s drug treatment service. There are some wonderful poems written by volunteers about their experience of making mosaic and the beneficial involvement with the project. You’ll also find installation photos, and the unveiling ceremony, where everyone received a certificate! Do check out http://hackneymosaic.tumblr.com/ for more background.
Above: A geometric grid shows the different hands of the makers, one sees the variety of lay pattern and styles. This is also a characteristic of Roman times where many people, even families, worked together on large pavements over a period of months, and even years.
The photos below show the name-sake ‘Shepherdess Walk’ panel, which is the name of the street where the garden is located.
According to the Hackney Council Website:
The park has an interesting history and was originally just a path through a field from the City of London to Islington. In the mid 18th century a pub called The Shepherd and Shepherdess was built which offered frumenty, cakes and cream in its pleasure garden. Pleasure gardens were the pre-cursors of public parks and offered outdoor public entertainment.
By 1821 The Shepherd and Shepherdess had been rebuilt and renamed The Eagle, which became famous due to its mention in the nursery rhyme “Pop goes the Weasel”
OH How I LOVE the SHEEP! Each with a different setting-pattern to express their fluffy coats… enjoy the photos!
Which one is your favorite ?
Baa-Ram-Ewe to thine own flock be true…
See also the Hackney Council’s write-up of the mosaics. Congratulations to everyone on a job well done. The project brings such a beautiful addition to the neighborhood, and a real sense of community pride.
I’m sure this will be the first of many well-reasoned and well-researched posts on London mosaics. I look forward to every one. (My favorite sheep is the one at the top 🙂
Lillian – what a day brightener! I feel like we just had a wonderful catch up chat while you showed photos from your adventure. How perfectly well-thought out, well designed, community-connected. The colors (colors) are beautiful and I love the acknowledgement of Roman classical mosaics. Your post tied everything together. Keep sending these wonderful posts! I’m going to share on the Mosaic Masterpiece site if you don’t mind – credits to you, natch! Baci – Rolodexia
It’s a wonderful post, Lillian! Filled with your usual scholarship and passion for mosaic. Thank you so much for all the lovely photos and illustrations of the work’s Roman heritage. Tessa Hunkin is a goddess and the makers must be so very, very proud! I will be sharing with MAN fans. Such a gift!
You’ve done it again. A wonderful story supported by fabulous photos. Thank you got keeping the rest of us informed.
Wait. You moved to London?!!!
Linda Thatcher Sent from my iPhone
Great post Lillian. LOVE the sheep. Well done.
thanks for commenting everyone..it’s fun to write about such fantastic work.
Can I “steal” some of your pics to add to the mosaic atlas?
Oh, very much enjoyed this Lilly. A blend of old and new.
One of my favorite public mosaics that I always wished there were more detail photos of. Thanks so much for posting these!
Wonderful post Lillian, so nice to know your “internal mosaic GPS” is in top working order! Looking forward to your next post!
Thank you for sharing this treasure so that I can visit it the next time I am in the UK. This made me thing of a pair of novels by Guy Gavriel Kay: fictional novels about the mosaicists in ancient Italy…have you read them? The books were well researched and very enjoyable, but your post makes me wonder whether there are other wonders to be explored in studying mosaics…Hmmmm…Thank You!
Thanks for your wonderful information & terrific pictures, Lillian. I love the updated versions of the people in the mosaic design & the exquisite patterns in the sheep tesserae. What a wonderful project to be able to view — there or here. 😉
What a beautiful place! Thank you for sharing. Best of luck with in your new city!
Wonderful blog presenting us with such an exciting community mosaic project.
I particularly enjoyed the way a classic Roman mosaic layout has being used to portray contemporary life and the representation of the “Four Seasons”. It is also interesting to not the different styles employed in laying the tesserae indicating parts where different people worked together.
Thanks for sharing.
hi Sonia, i’m rather partial to the ram at the end. love his face, and light/dark coat. thanks for visiting!
This was such an interesting post and the photos are amazing. Mosaic art is so unique and beautiful with such a rich history!
thanks for visiting the Blog Luis, glad you enjoyed the article!
I can add them John – or if you want to do it, j credit and link back to blog would be very appreciated.
I’ve been told of these novels, but haven’t investigated yet. Mosaic offers many wonders to explore, and glad you’re intrigued. thanks for visitng~