In November 2011 the Jubilee Commitee of our village asked me to help make a mosaic table with local school children to commemorate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
I did a design of an oak tree filled with birds and animals together with elements of the Gower landscape. The four foot diamter design combined cut out shapes for the creatures and foliage, with conventional mosaic tesserae. To withstand frosts and weather it would need to be in stoneware, and having looked at available tesserae I decided none provided the right colour range and we should have to make our own.
In January 2012 the Knelston School children all started to design an animal, bird or boat - about 80 in all. I rolled out sheets of clay and with a lot of help from Dawn Thomas, the Forest School teacher, the children cut out their designs. We had to be a bit prescritive about sizes - and as we wanted to depict the local fauna we had to discourage the dragons and dinosaurs that some were keen on.
On the Upper Green, Reynoldston, Gower, this mosaic table
Tree of Life
made by Gill
with the children of
Knelston Primary School
was comissioned by Reynoldston Community Council
The Diamond Jubilee of
Queen Elizabeth II
The children loved doing it and their work turned out extremely well. The younger children made simple rectangular tiles for the sea, pond and tree trunk, and I made pieces for the foliage, the local landmarks Worm's Head and Whitford Burrows, and lots of little flame-shaped pieces for the grass and hundreds of square tesserae.
Having done the biscuit firings I went back to the school in March with pots of prepared glazes and the children painted their pieces, again with help from Dawn and me. For the tesserae I arranged glazing parties of Reynoldston ladies to come and work on my kitchen table.
In April I did four glaze firings, and meanwhile Adrian - Chairman of the Community Council - had cast the table top, a four foor diameter concrete disc four inches thick with a stainless steel band around and an embedded reinforcing mesh. This weighed about a quarter of a ton. With the help of local farmers, it was moved into my husband John's workshop, next to my studio.
In May we started assembling the mosaic. First a base layer of waterproof tile adhesive (Benflex C2, Schomberg International) was put down on the concrete and scraped perfectly flat. Then the pieces of the tree foliage were stuck down, and the birds and animals set into the shaped cut outs made for them. The sea and pond were made with elongated pieces in shades of blue and green, with more creatures as well as boats inset. To either side on the horizon are Worm's Head and Whitford Burrows with its disused lighthouse and a seal. Below the tree the grass was formed from the little green pieces with ponies, sheep and other animals. Finally, the tesserae for the sky were laid, following the outlines of the foliage and merging into billowing shapes, with birds, bees and dragonflies inset.
We realised in mid-May that we had only about half the number of tesserae needed for the sky, and had rapidly to make another 750. There was no time to do two firings, so these had to be raw glazed - fortunately they turned out OK.
Finally the mosaic was grouted with water proof grout (Bal) and given a coat of silicone protector spray.
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While all this was going on, the local stone mason had built a fine plinth out of Gower field stone on the Upper Green, with an engraved slate plaque provide by a moumental mason who lives in the village. The Jubilee celebrations and unveiling were scheduled for 4th June. Assembling the mosaic took most of May and was finished on the morning of Friday 1st June - quite a cliffhanger!
On the misty Friday evening, Adrian and his crew transported the table top onto the green, and set it on the plinth, leaving it wrapped in a tarpaulin ready for the unveiling.
The morning of 4th June dawned fine and sunny, and there was a huge crowd on the Green, including most of the children in fancy dress. The village party was opened by our Gower Concillor, who unvelied the mosaic table to the great excitement of the young artists, who pounced on it with cries of 'there's my buzzard .... snake .... butterfly ....' .
Making the mosaic turned out to be a much bigger job than anyone expected, but it was great fun and a wonderful community project.
We hope it will be there for ages and that in years to come the young artists will be able to show their children the mosaic they helped to make.