Formation - Design, Construction and Installation.



The Problem started when the Science Dean noticed there was a large deposit of clay inside the excavation for the new science complex and, having once taken some ceramic courses himself, wondered whether any artistic use of the clay could be made that would also commemorate the completion of the building.


Knowing this was glacier clay of very small particles that would not fire well, the clay would have to be cleaned (in a borrowed cement mixer) and then mixed with purchased, professional clay.  So you might say that the project really started (and finished two years later) when the excavators "delivered" 4 tons of the raw clay behind the ceramic studio on the campus.



The Solution:  It was proposed to use a 40 foot space outside one of the main science lecture halls for a ceramic mural that would represent nearly all the science disciplines taught at a university such as Grand Valley.  The Science Dean called science faculty together to share their vision for the space.  Some of their more abstract ideas were scratched, or drawn, into the clay but several hundred laboratory items they use regularly were brought to the ceramic studio and castings of them were pressed into the clay slabs.



The Process involved lots of trials and many errors along the way as, it turned out, the excavated clay contained small veins of metals, such as copper and iron, and the colors of the fired clay could not be determined while the clay was still wet.  Fortunately, more abstract science concepts had been discussed by contributing faculty, including the "randomness" of Quantum Mechanics, which permeates many of the sciences, and, eventually, at least some of the randomness in the color of the tiles was seen as an inherent beauty, rather than a flaw within the process.




Viewing of the mural by "first timers" often starts with the experience known as "whatsis" wherein they are excited by being able to at least  recognize what a science item is or what it is used for.  Later they notice the more abstract ideas, also contained in the mural including the relationship between scientific disciplines, as objects from one tile cross over into the area occupied by another tile.  Did the artist consciously invoke humor into the mural?  Then why is it funny when I notice a "computer mouse" and a "mouse-mouse" in the same vicinity on the mural?  This illustration shows that the artist did restore partial "order" to the "randomness" in the colors of the fired tiles.



Watching the mural in its environment with students over a long period of time, it is not uncommon to see a student, who is rushing to class, gently touch the mural as he or she passes by, leading you to wonder what "link" or "bond" exits between the student and the mural that the student felt a need to "touch the mural."   Fortunately, a ceramic mural is one of the few art forms you are allowed to touch.