In this article, you'll learn...

  • How the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture challenged artists to create a flush-mount tile mural that represented the mission of the school.
  • What type of tile is durable to with stand the outdoor elements.







When the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture began to expand its campus in Curtis, NE, a call went out to artists. In conjunction with the Nebraska Arts Council, the college and the 1% for Art program, a portion of the budget was dedicated to adding a display of public art to the new construction. The artwork was to be a tile mural located on the outside of the new education center. In the requirements for the challenge, the artwork was to represent the mission of the school- -- to influence and inspire students in the areas of agribusiness management, agriculture product systems, horticulture systems and veterinary technology. Randy Hopfer, the founder of Tile Surface Impressions, a custom tile manufacturer in Vancouver, WA, heard of the contest and then contacted his friend and illustrative artist, Cheri Freund, to answer the call.

Freund set to work and created a design that represented the college’s educational offerings. The design showed a satellite in orbit, a hand holding a sprout, a water droplet, livestock, a tractor and a handshake. In the artwork, Freund was able to convey a message of unity among technology, medical science, horticulture and agriculture with basic earth elements and the necessity of human relationships. The team submitted the design and, after being chosen as one of three finalists, was selected to create the mural. For the next 18 months, Freund and Hopfer worked on taking the “Field of Choice” design from concept to mural.

When Hopfer and Freund were chosen to create the mural, the Education Center was in its preliminary building stages. Hopfer stepped into his new role as project manager and met with the architects, builders and the Dean of the school to discuss the design of the construction. In these design meetings, it was decided that the mural was to be flush mounted. The mural would also wrap around the corner of the building. To achieve this look, the crew would use a floating concrete wall that was inset from the burnished block wall that made up the main structure. The final details of sizing and placement were all determined before any further construction. To keep it simple and to keep the money in Nebraska, Hopfer hired a local group of tile installers for the project.

Assembling the mural

The mural is comprised of 12-x 12-inch tiles that show the “Field of Choice” artwork and is framed by solid-colored, textured, porcelain tiles from Emser. The

Installation Details


Scott Seaman, Hershey, NE

Tile Products: 
Coulour Scheme™ Glazed Porcelain from Daltile® of Dallas, TX; Forma Textured™ Glazed-Through Porcelain Tile from Emser Tile of Los Angeles, CA

Installation Products: 
FlexBond® Crack Prevention Mortar from Custom Building Products, Ultra High Performance Epoxy Grout and Ultra-Performance Custom Building Products of Seal Beach, CA; Color Specific Grout -- both from Colorfast Industries, Inc.; Schlüter® Rondec

Number of Installers: 
2 to 3

Installation Time: 
81/2 days

decision to use a border of tile was a strategic move and a preventative measure taken by Hopfer, who has had previous project-managing experience and knows that some slight variances are bound to show in an installation of this size. Adding the border allowed the opening size, mural size or grout line variations a certain margin of error. The border was made from 20-x 20-inch tiles that were cut down to fit as they were placed.

The tile picked for the art tiles was a textured porcelain from Daltile®. Chosen primarily for its durability and suitability for outdoor use with its resistance to heat and water absorption, this tile is also earth-friendly and made of 60% pre- and post-consumer materials.

To get the design onto the tiles, Tile Surface Impressions uses a process of dye sublimation. First, the chosen design is scaled, divided into individual art and printed using specialty dyes. The tiles are then prepared with a special coating -- specific to the desired look and durability. This coating is baked on, and is the key component to the dye adhesion. When the design is printed, the dye is in its solid state, it is then exposed to pressure and heat so intense that it changes into its gaseous state, bypassing its liquid state (known as sublimation). It is this gas that infuses the tile with color.

Once the frame was set and the wall was ready, the installation could begin. “It was important to find the vertical center of the mural and locate the base row of tiles as they map into the corner,” said Hopfer. “Once identified, the bottom row of tile art was installed starting from the corner and working out, installing the Schluter® edging while working up the corner.”

Using Flex Bond® Crack Prevention Mortar from Custom Building Products, it took the installers only a few days to place the main mural and border tiles, which included cutting and setting. The tiles were able to set over the weekend, and the team applied Ultra High Performance Epoxy Grout from Colorfast Industries Inc. for the next few days after that. At the expansion joints, Ultra-Performance Color Specific Caulk, also from Colorfast Industries Inc., was used instead of grout to give extra expansion.

In the end, it seems like the spirit of a public art project shined through in this mural with a team that came together and really cared about the task at hand. With the involvement of the Dean, school faculty, architects and builders, Hopfer and Freund gave the community a beautiful piece that will inspire Nebraska’s future horticulturists, agriculturists and veterinarians.