Interfaith Design’s Knowledge Resources Committee is pleased to present a series of monthly case studies based on selected award winners from the annual Faith and Form/Interfaith Design International Religious Art and Architecture Design Awards. Please enjoy and share!
The word “andamento” has its roots in music; it generally refers to the progression of a fugue, or the pace and evolution of a series of individual notes forming a cohesive pattern. In the visual arts, however, andamento takes on rich meaning in terms of the pattern formed by the individual pieces, or tesserae, of a mosaic. In the process of artistic collaboration, then, perhaps andamento best reflects the coming together of individual voices into a collective expression of meaning and beauty.
The “Fishers of Men” installation in County Mayo, Ireland, exemplifies this concept with a rugged beauty which is deeply rooted in its site. Created as part of the Spirit of Place/Spirit of Design program of the Catholic University of America, the design/build project was the culmination of a semester-long studio for 30 architecture and design students under the direction of architect and professor Travis Price. The team traveled to the small village of Cong, Ireland, for the nine-day installation, with the addition of five mosaic artists who joined them onsite to embed their artistry into the design.
Photo credit Danny OToole
The design celebrates the intertwined Celtic and Christian traditions of the region with a palette of natural and nature-inspired materials and colors. The square, imposing form provides gentle enclosure on the forested site; planes slide past each other to make the structure feel solid yet dynamic. Openings which vary in width create a subtle rhythm and allow glimpses into the interior to entice people to enter. The structure of stacked blocks with rebar for strength is faced with stone on the exterior. The simple materials palette echoes both the Neolithic pagan stone monuments of the region and the ruins of a medieval abbey located nearby. Inside, the occupiable space is shaded and serene. The linear slot openings juxtapose the lush green landscape with the solidity and straightness of the manmade edges.
Photo credit Travis Price
It is in the deliberate spaces left in the masonry that the design transforms from intriguing to magical. Intricate, embedded mosaic work in greens and blues is inspired by twin sacred ocean themes from the Gospel of Mathew and Manannán Mac Lir, a figure from ancient Celtic lore who led passengers between the sun and the underworld beneath the sea. The design metaphor is largely about being submerged under water, caught in the net and rising to the light, thus the blue green ascension of the mosaic colors and the sun boats. The mosaics were created from local Kilkenny limestone, sandstone, Youghiogheny glass, and even broken china donated by local businesses.
Artist Rachel Sager and artist/architect Meghan Walsh led the mosaic team which also included Deb Englebaugh, Julie Sperling, Lee-Ann Taylor, and mosaic assistant Abby Dos Santos. Walsh had previously worked with Price at CUA and with Sager in the mosaic world; the three collaborated on the development of a project that would merge art and architecture in this design embedded in its place and culture.
Photo credit Rachel Sager
The team sourced and cut the tesserae that would form the intricate patterns from a local limestone quarry, foraged sandstone, and remnants of black limestone from the structure’s floor. The brightly colored glass elements were hand-picked at a Pennsylvania factory.
Creating the mosaics took both ingenuity and authentic collaboration. The mesh structure for the work had been pre-cut to fit in the horizontal slots of the larger structure; the team then cut stones and glass onsite and began laying the tesserae together. To unify their individual artistic voices, the artists traded work every 45 minutes. The resulting composition is cohesive, harmonious, richly layered, and mesmerizing.
Photo Credit Meghan Walsh
All told, the mosaics team laid approximately 30,000 pieces of stone and glass in 390 panels, and each panel became an integral part of the stone enclosure. The abstracted concepts of earth, land, sky, and transformation are made visible in the solid, earthy sanctuary that is thoroughly grounded in its storied site. The installation won a 2018 Mosaic Arts International award for Best Architectural & Site-Specific Mosaic; the project also won a National AIA 2018 Faith and Form Honor Design Award.
Photo credit Rachel Sager