“City Tree” is a hand-glazed ceramic mural, which was created by Adam Cvijanovic for the entrance to the new District 19 S.T.E.M. Academies on Atlantic Avenue in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Inspiration for the 21- x 21-foot artwork came from Betty Smith’s 1943 book, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” which is about the hardships and hopes of a young girl and her family living in Brooklyn in the early 1900s.

Cvijanovic, a renowned New York City-based painter, won a competition to create the mural, which reflects the local architecture and foliage. At the base are buildings and streetscapes from the surrounding neighborhood, depicted in shades of blue, purple and gray, which then converge to form the trunk of a tree, its branches and vibrantly colored yellow and green leaves.

For Cvijanovic, “this tree grows out of Brooklyn, grows out of, and is, the city itself…It is a tree of the imagination. It is a map, a story that changes over time, a friend who gives its secrets slowly to those who look.”

Long Island City-based tile manufacturer and installer, NY Tilemakers, was hired by Cvijanovic to realize his vision in a permanent mosaic installation. “Adam worked alongside of our crew during the entire eight-month fabrication,” said owner, Andru Eron. “We helped him devise glaze and underglaze recipes that his painterly style could be translated to ceramic tiles.”

Eron and his team created thousands of shaped, handmade tiles for the mural. “All tiles were fabricated by us out of stoneware,” he said. “The stoneware becomes vitrified upon firing because this installation is outdoors.

“Originally, the plan was to use McIntyre 2- x 6-inch tiles for all of those parts,” Eron explained. “The artist picked out about 30 colors. However, McIntyre could not guarantee color matching, and with the approaching pandemic, we decided to make all subway tile shapes in-house -- about 1,350 tiles. A big concern in the spring was the impact on supply chains of all sort.”

During the spring of 2020, there was a month-long delay because of the COVID-19 pandemic, when all nonessential work was temporarily halted in New York. However, despite the unforeseen delays and challenges, the project took around eight months to complete. “We did get an extension of the overall deadline, but work continued with fewer helpers and involved many seven-day weeks for me,” Eron said.

In addition to the pandemic, Eron detailed the “experimental” installation process, which involved mapping, coding and the individually placement of each tile on about 100 HardieBacker cement tile backer boards from James Hardie. “We were adhering what we could to backer board panels,” Eron explained. “We grouted in between the tiles we adhered. Then, the contractor mounted them to the school wall and adhered the tiles that would go over the seams. Hundreds of tiles, with codes and a ‘map.’ Afterwards, they grouted.

“This system was designed so that the onsite stages could be done as quickly as possible,” he added. “The artist was at the school every day, in the event of any questions by the contractor’s men.”

Eron and his team utilized thinset and grout from Custom Building Products, in addition to the ¹/₂-inch HardieBacker. The pre-installed mosaic panels were adhered to three, pre-case 7- x 21-foot niches.

“The artist, SCA and school staff are very pleased with this public art for a growing neighborhood,” Eron said.

PS/IS 667 Mural
Brownsville, Brooklyn, NY

Artist: Adam Cvijanovic, New York, NY

Tile Designer/Manufacturer/Installer: NY Tilemakers, Long Island City, NY

Tile Installation Products: Custom Building Products, Huntington Beach, CA; James Hardie, Chicago, IL (HardieBacker)