is one of those born mosaicists who was not born a mosaicist. Which
is to say, she took a foundation course at Carlisle College of Art
and Design, studied decorative arts at City and Guilds, and for
several years worked in various media. But came a day when Mr. and
Mrs. Michael Caine decided they wanted a mosaic jacuzzi; a friend recommended
Rosalind and, as she puts it, "I plunged into the unknown". She's
not afraid of a pun, you gather, nor of a challenge, either. The
jacuzzi was an odd, curved shape, and so she decided to work direct,
with her design based on the idea of a shell. The customers were
delighted with the result.
She is always ready to experiment. You may recall her variation
on the reverse method (see Mosaic Matters no.2), and when I visited
her studio she was using the tricky technique known as "double reverse"
for a 3« x 2 metre wall mosaic, a map of Petersfield. The detail,
which included lettering, was so fine that she felt she needed to
see directly what the result would be. So she stuck the pieces face
up onto paper; then stuck paper on the top, lifted the finished
mosaic, removed the underneath paper, and installed the mosaic on
site in the usual way. Not an easy technique when the tesserae are
small, but it worked well.
Rosalind uses many materials for her mosaics: stone,
glazed or unglazed ceramic, as well as the usual smalti and vitreous
tesserae. She would never use vitreous for a floor mosaic, I learned,
ever since they failed her Dropped Brick Test, but she has discovered
gold and silver tesserae you can use in a floor. They are made the
opposite way from ordinary gold, in that the thickness is on top.
Her magnum opus to date was created for her native Cumbria (she
was bred in Kendal). You may have heard of the Theatre In The Forest,
at Grizedale. Nearby you find many open-air sculptures, ranging
from giants to a wooden xylophone. In 1992 Rosalind was awarded
an artist-in-residency. The brief was to create a mosaic using natural
stone gathered from the locality. The site was on a flat part of
a hillside overlooking Grizedale Valley. She started by defining
her mosaic as "in the landscape, of the landscape, about the landscape".
It was to be a twenty-foot diameter circle, and the first job was
to lay an eight-inch deep concrete foundation. The next was to look
for the stone... But I'll let her tell her own story.
"I started to drive around the local slate quarries in search of
materials. I wanted to make the mosaic with off-cuts from the quarry
waste heaps, and had a glorious time creating my 'palette' from
what I found. It is a wonderful thing to find yourself halfway up
Coniston Old Man as the sun rises, a sack over one shoulder, picking
around the foot of some vast quarry in search of 'badger' grey,
or dark Coniston Green pieces. Sometimes there was snow, which was
awkward when hunting for pieces of quartz! The quarry owners were
without exception helpful, and one of them taught me how to split
The greatest surprise of the project lay in the variety of colours
that came out of the Lake District hills. I had expected to find
dark green, light green, and varying shades of grey - a meagre palette
compared to the marble riches of Italy. I was unprepared to find
bright orange (refuse from copper mines), yellow, a whole range
of reddish-browns, and most astonishing of all (especially when
placed next to the green slate) some fragments of a rich maroon
slate. The latter, it emerged, were brought from Welsh quarries
to be cut in the Lake District. The lure of gold had to be resisted
in the form of iron pyrites, glinting among the rocks.
The mosaic has an unashamedly environmental theme. Five
indigenous mammals, frozen mid-movement and turned to stone, follow
each other around the central sun. Balancing this fiery heart is
another element essential to life: a river motif, which forms a
border to the mosaic. The arrangement of this 'circus' owes much
to the Romans, who discovered many of the best solutions to the
problem of dividing and using space on floor areas. They too used
animals as subjects for their art; sometimes domestic, sometimes
wild, and sometimes strange, barely discovered creatures from the
far-flung corners of their Empire. The sense of discovery in their
world is replaced in ours by a sense of loss. As we destroy our
landscape and the creatures that live in it, so we are beginning
to value them in an entirely new way. We are learning to hold dear
the natural - or even unnatural - woodland, the unpolluted streams,
and the ever more elusive otter, deer, fox, hare and badger featured
in the mosaic.
The pieces were set in a bed of mortar two inches thick. To enable
me to reproduce the design accurately, I invented a technique using
two-inch thick polystyrene cut-outs of the principal motifs. Having
laid them in place upon the foundation, I filled them with mortar,
and they formed an accurate guide for laying the mosaic. When the
mortar had set, the polystyrene was broken off and the surrounding
area filled. Where possible I used slate pieces as found, but it
was necessary to shape many of them. For the smaller cut pieces
I used a hammer and hardie. The large pieces which form the background
were rejected roofing slates. These were shaped with a slater's
knife and bench.
The mosaic was started in late golden summer. It took nearly three
months to complete. Through the succeeding very wet autumn my assistant
and I learned new skills, and discovered unforeseen powers of endurance.
Many people visited the site, and their interest and enthusiasm
spurred us on. Even so, it was well into December when the mosaic
was finished. The trees were bare, the robins more aggressive, and
meadow had turned to mud.
Many of the sculptures at Grizedale reflect the passing of time,
the transience of the seasons. Made from organic materials, they
exist for a while, then decay naturally back into the ground; a
planned mortality which is an essential part of their concept. The
Grizedale Mosaic is different. As the Romans left their mark, so
have I left mine: a message to future generations saying that we
don't just care about wealth, power, and the materialistic things
of life. Beyond all that, there's a part of us that is still claimed
by the wilderness."
Slate also appears in Rosalind's latest commission. It is a mural
to celebrate the town of Workington, Cumbria. Such things as cranes
and coal mines will be framed within a sail-shaped mosaic; and it
will be made from slate and smalti.
Dream commission? Another hillside mosaic - a lifesize Harrier Jumpjet.
(You can get in touch with Ms. Rosalind Wates, Malberet, Bar Lane,
Owlswick, PRINCES RISBOROUGH, Bucks. HP27 9RG ws phone/fax 01844
342 005 mobile 0802 790 907
[Back to Features]