Editor's Note: NCPR's Ellen Rocco has been following Hartley's progress since last August. Find links to Rocco's "All In" blog essays and photographs by clicking on the links below.
It’s dusk and Kate Hartley is down on her knees fitting a tiny piece of broken glass into a vast gray wall. "So it’s a scene and there’s already rafting and fishing in the river, but there’s going to be still skiing on the mountain," she explains. "So there’s going to be recreation and all the wildlife that you can find around here."
Hartley lives nearby in North River and her husband guides rafting trips on the upper Hudson. The mosaic project began last summer, drawing in local artist groups, seasonal residents and students. In all, more than 300 people have helped set the tiles.
"The kids, the second graders, made fish last year. This year they made maple leaves. The seventh graders last year made skiers and snow boarders who are going to go on the ski hill," said Hartley. That’s the big picture; it’s a big work of art, with a big cast of artists helping bring it to life. However, on this evening, Hartley is working small, placing shards of glass and tile the size of 50-cent pieces.
"Right now I'm fitting some pieces of tile in to complete a section of a wave. The idea of each series of tiles pieces is that it's like a Van Gogh brush stroke. Seen from a distance, across the road, it looks kind of like a painting," said Hartley. She shows me her reservoir of raw material, glass and shells and tiles. "They're in all the different colors of blues and greens and whites that are in the river," she said.
"We bought some of the stained glass, but a lot of the tile has been donated. When someone breaks one of those beautiful garnet cutting boards, they bring me the pieces and say, 'Stick it in the wall!'" said Hartley. Working a few feet away, Wendy Sargent is also bent close to the wall, choosing bits of hard color and mortaring them into place.
"Kate has had some adult mosaic courses and I took one," Sargent said. "I didn't know this wall was going to happen, but after the course, she asked people to help out. We just started helping and the wall started happening."
Hartley says working on this scale was new and she’s ahd to figure out how to do it as she’s gone along. She said, "There's a lot of guys around here who've been giving me advice on the actual construction of it, the mortaring and how to do it. It's amazing, you start a project like this and stand out here and a lot of people will come by and give you advice."
So just for the fun of it, Kate lets me place one bit of tile, one bit of color out of the thousands and thousands of chunks that make up the mosaic. "There you go," she says. "And I'll get another little sliver to go in there. Cool!"
I know it’s corny, but the idea that I’ve placed even one little tile in the North Creek mosaic does feel cool. I love the idea of all those hands, all those kids and artists, each contributing a tiny part of the picture.