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  • Chris Montanini

The London Clay Art Centre's new 900-square-foot mosaic required a true community effort

When local artists Susan Day and Beth Turnbull Morrish look up — way up — at the new 900-square-foot mosaic affixed to the London Clay Art Building in Old East Village, the past eight months flash before their eyes.

Nearly 700 Londoners from community groups and events across the city contributed to the massive project, so every tile, every seam, appears to have a story.

And it’s likely Day and Turnbull Morrish remember the details.

“What was amazing about this project is to see people get that spark, that excitement,” Turnbull Morrish said. “A lot of these people have never had the opportunity to work with clay before or don’t have, maybe, opportunities to express themselves in a tangible way.

“People loved doing it; it was really fulfilling and rewarding for them to tell their story with clay.”

Some of the collaborators included students from HB Beal’s ceramics and native literature classes, clients from Ark Aid Street Mission and My Sisters’ Place, and even Londoners who just happened to be attending the Home County Folk Festival. Day and Morrish Turnbull co-ordinated their efforts, adding expertise from members of the London Clay Art Centre to make sure each piece fit together.

Almost every clay technique possible was used in the creation of the mosaic, which required long hours — particularly during the installation process. Near the end, Day and Morrish Turnbull realized what they were working on was more than an art project.

“When you see the mosaic it’s absolutely fantastic but the community building turned out to be really transformational,” said Day. “It was the thing; that’s what it was about.”

A mosaic has actually been on a wish list at the London Clay Art Centre since its members purchased 664 Dundas Street in 2004 following three years of fundraising. Ongoing renovations have since taken priority, but Day and Turnbull Morrish thought a legacy project that included the surrounding community might find funding through the Canada 150 grant program.

They were correct.

“Right from the very beginning before we knew what the design would look like, we both agreed always it would be about people; that’s what makes Canada great,” Morrish Turnbull said.

The design includes 17 human figures, each almost seven feet tall and created by a different community partner. The human figures hover over a map of Canada, made up of blue and green tiles, some impressed with names of bodies of water, place names, or native plant names.

Canadian origins were a particularly important part of the theme, Day said. Indigenous creation stories are prominent throughout the mosaic. Around the border, 2,400 black letter tiles spell out the names of the Indigenous nations of Canada and all of the countries of the world.

“We’re all here and we’ve all come from someplace else,” Day said. “If we respect the land, respect where we come from, and respect one another, we get this stronger environment.”

The mosaic was completed Oct. 17. An official celebration is taking place at the London Clay Art Centre next Thursday Nov. 30.

Although the scope of the project was daunting, Day and Turnbull Morrish wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to do another one.

“We’re hoping to go forward and make more,” Day said. “The community (in Old East Village) has been just thrilled. People would be showing up every day excited about what we were doing. I think the social element … is what people responded to.”


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