Piero Fornasetti was a versatile Italian artist known for his eclectic works. Deemed one of the most prolific figures of the 20th century, Fornasetti collaborated with a range of other artists from the 1930s to 1980s to create various artworks, from engravings to furniture.

One of his famous drawings from the 1960s, known as “Amiamo il serpente,” depicts a black-and-white snake with an apple in its mouth, set against an emerald green background. Translating to “we love the snake” in Italian, this renowned artwork served as the source of inspiration for a couple of homeowners in Milwaukee, WI, who wanted to recreate the design on their powder room floor.

“Fornasetti is an artist they admired,” said Lee Callewaert, co-owner of Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works, Inc. in Grafton, WI, who was enlisted to bring the homeowners’ vision to life with a larger-than-life mosaic art piece. “This design was based off of that artwork. Not anatomically correct, but a bit whimsical.”

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The slithering serpent, which spans 15 linear feet if stretched out, is the centerpiece of the entire design. It contains a meticulous combination of Calacatta marble, Black Crocodile marble, White Thassos marble and Black Absolute granite. A few pieces of green onyx tiles were used for the apple that sits in the snake’s mouth, which provide a nice contrast to the neutral tones on the body. The field tile surrounding the design is a black marble fretwork mosaic from Walker Zanger, which was supplied by Virginia Tile in Menomonee Falls, MI.

Altogether, around 50 square feet of stone tile was used. Creating the “movement” and optimal orientation within the space constraints of the room was of utmost importance, as well as determining the best pattern for dividing the Calacatta marble pieces to receive the inserts in the snake’s belly, since everything was hand-drawn and hand-cut by the talented team of artisans at Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works.

“The fabrication, both for the serpent and field mosaic, took place in our shop and because it needed to be mapped, as none of the pieces were interchangeable,” Callewaert said. “Labeling and sorting were a constant.”

After the initial planning and design were complete, which evolved over one year of collaborating with the homeowners, it took Callewaert and his three-person team around three weeks to draw the template, fabricate and subsequently mount the snake in sections on Laticrete sheeting. Another two days were spent scribing the snake into the field tile.

“It then had to be transferred to the jobsite for the most systematic installation,” Callewaert went on to explain. “The scribing into the field was tenuous as would be expected with a mosaic scribed into a mosaic. We further designed and fabricated the serpent so that it sat just slightly proud of the field tile for dimension. We had to build up the field mosaics, as the serpent was thicker than the mosaic field, so we installed the serpent, then raised the surrounding floor — skim coated and applied an anti-fracture membrane — before installing the field mosaic.”

To complete the installation, Callewaert and his team utilized a range of products from Laticrete in Bethany, CT, including Hydro Ban Sheet Membrane, 254 Platinum and Permacolor Select, as well as Composeal Gold from Compotite Corporation in Dallas, TX. All products were purchased through local distributor, 21st Century Tile in Butler, WI.

Although the installation required a lot of attention to detail, the greatest challenge for Callewaert was finalizing the design. “This is always the most challenging for me,” he said. “You have to think forward to all of the issues you could encounter based on the final design. There’s a big difference between a pretty picture and execution.

 “To help with this process, we created a 1-foot section after the design was complete,” Callewaert went on to say. “This helps to truly reveal the degree of difficulty and how long we need to project to accomplish the entire fabrication. It also allowed us to physically take that mock up to the client so they could visualize and approve.”

Since the project’s completion a couple of months ago, Callewaert and his team have continued to receive praise from the homeowners, who said they almost fainted when they saw the design for the first time, which was “beyond what they imagined.” “Lee exceeded our expectations on this project,” the homeowners said. “What began as a wish for a snake on a floor turned into a work of art — an artwork of hundreds of tiles fitted together effortlessly into a difficult space creating movement, depth and a theatrical display. Shoeless is the best way to enjoy the floor. You feel the snake elevated above the background; it seems magical. We know it is pure genius.”


Private residence

Milwaukee, WI

Tile Designer/Installer: Dragonfly Tile & Stone Works, Inc., Grafton, WI

Tile Suppliers: Blackstone International, Waukesha, WI (Black Crocodile marble); Virginia Tile, Menomonee Falls, WI (black marble mosaic field tile from Walker Zanger); 21st Century Tile, Butler, WI (Black Absolute granite and green onyx); Ann Sacks Tile & Stone, Kohler, WI (Calacatta marble); Wisconsin Stone Design, Oak Creek, WI (White Thassos marble)

Installation Products: 21st Century Tile, Butler, WI (Compotite Corporation’s Composeal Gold; Laticrete’s 254 Platinum, Hydro Ban Sheet Membrane, Permacolor Select)