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Publish Date: 4/12/2005

Abby Gray and Brian Mahoney, students in Raso Stone’s fifth-grade class, work on a mosaic project in the science garden at Niwot Elementary School. The project will be completed by other fifth-graders at the school over the next few years.Times-Call/Hunter McRae

Art in the abstract
Niwot Elementary students unite to bring mosaic wall project together

 NIWOT — A mosaic is composed of tiny pieces of colored tile or glass that come together to make a bigger picture.

But at first, the Niwot Elementary fifth-graders couldn’t see it.

They completed class assignments about forms in nature and Antoni Gaudí, who used those natural forms in his mosaics and architecture in Spain.

The students helped art teacher Raso Stone decorate clay tiles, and then they saw her break them.

And when they took those broken tile pieces, laid out a design on the concrete risers in the school’s science garden, the students saw the mosaic take shape.

But they still didn’t see the big picture until Stone explained to the fifth-graders why they were making a mosaic for a school they wouldn’t be attending next year.

She told the students that a mosaic like theirs was “more than just about the creator, but every person that comes in contact with it.”

“To make a very large project, everyone’s piece is really important,” she said.

This year’s fifth-grade class at Niwot Elementary has started a mosaic on the concrete steps of the amphitheater in the school’s science garden, an open-air space friendly to creatures of nature and academia.

Just as the individual shards of tile will form a rainbow across the amphitheater, different people have united to make the mosaic happen.

It started with a teacher’s trip. Stone, an England native with Spanish ancestry, is a trained ceramicist and last year visited the Barcelona region, a place where her great-great-grandmother had lived.

There, works by Gaudí, a notable architect and mosaicist, abound in the forms of buildings and benches.

Stone said she wanted to bring Gaudí’s work back to Niwot Elementary, where the teacher has worked for the past three years.

“I was so blown away how beautiful it was: the diversity of colors and designs,” she said of Gaudí’s work. “It was this very abstract collection of different tiles, shapes and textures. It was dazzling and somehow unified.”

The students began studying Gaudí and natural forms, his inspiration, in January, Stone said.

Eventually, the fifth-graders decorated tiles that Stone later fired and broke, much to her students’ dismay. Stone said she processed about a half-ton of clay for the tiles, though some pieces were from donated materials.

“(The students) were always fascinated when I was making the tile and then smashed it to pieces,” Stone said. “That was a total contradiction to them.”

This month, fifth-graders worked on portions of the mosaic with the help of parents and volunteers, and fifth-graders in the next two years at Niwot Elementary will lay out portions as well, she said.

Stone said tile setter Ted Sheehan of Erie and mosaicist Katy Diver of Longmont helped her with technical input, and a thermal blanket was donated by Nationsrent in Longmont to “put the mosaic to bed” each night to keep the mortar and tile from disintegrating after chilly nights.

Also, college student Fran Trachta has filmed the mosaic project for his digital media production class at the Art Institute of Colorado.

Trachta, a senior, needed to create a five-minute piece for his class. A professor whose daughter attends Niwot Elementary told him about the mosaic.

“The kids were so genuine,” said Trachta, who would like to use the film to show other schools and youth groups how “to break out and approach art in a new way.”

Groups of fifth-graders worked on the mosaic — square by square, tile piece by tile piece — last month. Students occasionally encountered a wayward millipede in the mortar as they pieced together the big picture.

The amphitheater “was kind of plain before,” student Brooke Jensen, 10, said as she took brown and red tile pieces and placed them in the white mud. “Now, we can come back and look at it and have a memory of our school.”

Julie Tedrow, 11, pointed to a mosaic piece, white with a green and blue paisley design, that she created and that now clung to the mortar.

“Sometimes you just have to improvise,” Julie said as she searched a box of blue and green tile pieces.

Stone said she welcomed volunteers this week to sign up at the school and help finish parts of the mosaic, but volunteer days depend on the fickle springtime weather.

Stone said she herself has learned something through creating a mosaic.

“It’s really a beautiful art form,” she said. “It’s downplayed and underappreciated often times, but after seeing Gaudí’s work and putting together a mosaic, it’s really a sophisticated art form.”

Melanie M. Sidwell can be reached at 303-684-5274, or by e-mail at

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