Public School #46, otherwise known as The Edgar Allan Poe Literacy Development School, is located in Bronx, NY. The elementary school is committed to guiding its students to become high-level readers, writers and critical thinkers, while preparing them to the best of their ability to attend college and become career-ready.
For the main hallway, a mosaic mural was recently created to pay homage to the local area, featuring an array of native plants, animals and insects. Local tile installer, NY Tilemakers in Long Island City, was enlisted to help bring the mural to life.
The 27-foot-long, 7-foot-high mural, which was designed with the help of Cleveland-based artist, Jim Drain, features hundreds of handmade tiles in a variety of colors. “Jim Drain was the winner of a design competition for the mural for this school,” said Andru Eron, owner of NY Tilemakers. “David Allyn, a Providence-based silkscreen artist, was hired by Jim Drain to assist with the silkscreen printing process. Together, they made the screens (one for each color, etc.) and applied underglaze to the tiles that we made.
“We made all of the tiles from moist clay,” Eron went on to say. “Some of the tiles were made in the shapes of the animals and plants. We glazed all of those, in various colors, as directed by the artist.”
The mural, which is entitled, “We Are The Bronx,” is separated into two visual planes, according to Drain. “‘We Are The Bronx’ places Bronx plants and animals front-and-center while finding places of synthesis within the urban fabric,” he said. “There are two visual planes to the mural: in the foreground are insects, birds and plants, and in the background, a woven pattern divided thematically creates a second narrative. The four themes in the background are winter, spring, aquatic and autumn.”
Every tile in the mural was handmade using silkscreen printing. “The foreground motifs are glazed mosaics; the background is made with a process in which each color is printed onto the tile and then glazed with a clear finish,” Drain explained. “The printing process is the same as one would print t-shirts or wallpaper, but instead of using ink, underglaze — a liquid, color clay or slip — passes through a stencil burned into a mesh screen. The title of the mural reflects how the Bronx, as both an urban and natural habitat, is one to recognize, honor and maintain.”
The four themes are distinctively separated, with intricate designs crafted for each. “In the first section, blossoming common milkweed is being canoodled by a monarch caterpillar and both are placed in front of a stone wall with an extending green fence,” the artist said. “It is based on Bronx historic fences similar to ones found in the New York Botanical Garden, the Valentine-Varian House or at St. James’ Episcopal Church. Honey bees congregate near a buckeye butterfly. The winter background pattern is a crisscrossing mix of boot-steps, animal tracks and tire tracks.
“The second background is a repeating series of spring flora and fauna: a chipmunk pauses in thought and a robin lands on a cherry tree blossom, skunk cabbage and bright red winterberries still populate,” he went on to say. “Typically, seeing the robin typically means that spring is near. Also, the skunk cabbage is often the first plant to appear in more marshy environments, sometimes pushing leaves through layers of snow. In the foreground, the historic green fence leads to a wading great blue heron. An eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly leads the viewer to a central paper birch trunk where a male red-bellied woodpecker pauses mid-peck.”
For the third section, a water theme was created, with a significant baby blue background color. “Here, the background is a repeating series of aquatic species: a spotted turtle, a northern spotted salamander, a dragonfly, a blue back herring, northern krill, an oyster and an American eel,” Drain detailed. “The foreground elements feature seeding milkweed pods. A loosened seed floats beyond the mother Canadian goose, completing the sub-narrative about milkweed’s growing cycle. A zebra butterfly flutters near the birch leaves cascading down, the leaves changing from green to golden.”
The fourth and final autumnal scene, which concludes the mural, incorporates colors and creatures of that season. “There is a stairway with a raccoon sitting above a wall of vines nestled in a bedrock outcropping similar to one found on Marion Avenue,” Drain said. “A second group of honeybees lead beyond the wall’s frame with two goslings close behind their mother goose. In the background imagery, a squirrel is paused with an acorn held in its grasp. Maple seeds and a variety of leaves — sugar maple, dogwood, oak and sumac — are changing to autumnal colors.”
Once the printed tiles were created by Drain and Allyn, they were shipped to Long Island City for Eron and his team to add finishing touches to and install. “We applied coats of clear glaze to all of the tiles and then they were all fired again in our kilns,” Eron said.
The entire mosaic was numbered so the installers could easily piece together each tile in the way they were supposed to be. USG Corporation’s Durock Brand Cement Board with EdgeGuard was applied prior to the installation to prevent crumbling and provide a water-durable and mold-resistant substrate. “We also had to tape the seams and embed the fiber-tape with the appropriate Custom Building Products’ adhesive,” Eron added.
Three installers from NY Tilemakers completed the installation in about one week. “The artist and the New York City School Construction Authority staff thought that this was the most successful and original process of any recent mural,” Eron said.
“Each panel is in dialogue with the next, and together, the four panels allow for interwoven narratives that both highlight the amazing array of animals and plants native to the Bronx, as well as highlights seasonal progressions,” Drain said. “‘We Are The Bronx’ contains a plethora of life, allowing for multiple readings, discoveries and connections to happen slowly over time.”
Public School #46
Artists/Tile Designers: Jim Drain, Cleveland, OH; David Allyn, Providence, RI
Tile Supplier/Installer: NY Tilemakers, Long Island City, NY
Installation Products: Custom Building Products, Huntington Beach, CA (adhesive); USG Corporation, Chicago, IL (Durock Brand Cement Board with EdgeGuard)