Compass Rose: Mosaic art at North Mountain Park

Compass Rose, center section detail.

Compass Rose: Mosaic art at North Mountain Park

The only park with lots of art.
An educational and collaborative mosaic.
Artist: Sue Springer.
Dedicated in 2011.
Photo essay published February 2023.

If you have been to North Mountain Park, you have probably seen – even walked upon – the Compass Rose mosaic artwork. Created and dedicated in 2011, this mosaic is one of many artworks you will find at North Mountain Park. The variety of art in this park has inspired me to develop a new walking tour of the park, which I am currently creating, as of February 2023. 

Compass Rose at North Mountain Park: Origin story

I interviewed artist Sue Springer in January of 2023. She told me: “I was approached by Linda Chesney, whom I have known for years. She was the longtime director of the Nature Center and a real advocate for art there. Linda built the Nature Center from an idea into a really important contribution to the City of Ashland. She had a location between the Nature Center building and the gardens that was just a patch of dirt. The two of us chatted and exchanged ideas about what kind of art could go there.” 

Compass Rose and Cubs at Play, art at North Mountain Park
Compass Rose and Cubs at Play, artworks by the Nature Center building at North Mountain Park. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2023)

Sue Springer’s approach to public art

“My approach to public art,” Sue explained, ” is to always investigate the department or municipality and figure out what is important to them, what they are trying to communicate through the art. In this case, it was clear the Nature Center is an educational, nature-oriented facility. They do lots of programs for both kids and adults. Plus they have wonderful demonstration gardens there.”

Collaboration is key

Through dialog, Sue and Linda came up with the idea of a Compass Rose for the mosaic theme. Sue described the compass rose as a traditional image used in mapmaking. She said, “In many of those old maps, you have a very flowery north-south-west-east image to show you which way was north.”

The two also turned the creation of Compass Rose into an educational workshop. 

The Compass Rose workshop: Education and Collaboration

Compass Rose mosaic in process, 2011.
Workshop participants working on Compass Rose in August 2011. (photo provided by Sue Springer)

During the month of August 2011, a group of community members who signed up for the workshop met outside at North Mountain Park and inside at Sue’s Illahe Tile studio. First, Sue designed the large 5 foot by 5 foot north-south image of the Compass Rose. Then she taught workshop participants how to illustrate, make and fire the small tiles that compose the mosaic. The community members “did a lot of research to learn which animals and plants are found in different areas of the valley,” Sue said. The group had to identify geographic features that are in the mosaic, like Mt. Ashland, Mt. McLoughlin, Pilot Rock and Bear Creek. Linda Chesney, along with biologists and botanists, were consulted to verify placement of the features, animals and plants, as well as proper direction of the North arrow. 

Compass Rose, North direction detail.
Compass Rose, North direction detail, with Grizzly Peak and Bear Creek. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Compass Rose, south direction detail, Mt. Shasta and Mt. Ashland
Compass Rose, south direction detail with Mount Shasta elevation numbers, animals, birds and plants. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)

Sue told me, with a smile, “I had to work on the mosaic at tabletop height. I couldn’t do it anymore on my hands and knees, like I could when I was younger.” Each meeting, the group worked on a different part of the mosaic. Sue made the mosaic tiles containing big features like mountains and rivers. Workshop participants made fish, deer, birds, other animals, flowers and trees. The bulk of the Compass Rose is composed of irregular shaped tile pieces glazed in colors of green, blue, brown and white. 

Compass Rose mosaic in process, 2011.
Sue Springer (center) and others working on Compass Rose in August 2011. (photo provided by Sue Springer)

Working together, they laid out mesh backing on the tabletop and drew the design template on the mesh. Then people would put cement on the back of a tile, one piece at a time, and lay it in place. It has to be done carefully; once the cement hardens, it’s really hard to remove a tile.

What are the numbers?

Compass Rose, Grizzly Peak elevation detail.
Compass Rose, Grizzly Peak elevation detail. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2020)
Compass Rose by Sue Springer, Mt. Ashland detail.
Compass Rose, Mt. Ashland detail, showing the elevation of 7,533 feet. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2023)

Sue pointed out that people sometimes notice the small numbers included in the Compass Rose mosaic and have a question: “What is that?” The answer: The number is the elevation of the mountain it is next to. As part of the educational component of the artwork, Sue looked up mountain elevations and included them. For example, Grizzly Peak is 5,920 feet above sea level, Mt. Ashland’s elevation is 7,533 feet and Mt. Shasta’s elevation is 14,179 feet.

Final steps

With help from city and park staff, the mosaic was set into a newly poured concrete pad.

Compass Rose, concrete installation process, 2011.
Compass Rose mosaic, in process concrete pouring in 2011. (photo from Sue Springer)
Compass Rose mosaic just completed in 2011.
Compass Rose mosaic just completed in 2011. (photo from Sue Springer)

Dedication of Compass Rose educational art

Compass Rose was dedicated on October 1, 2011, during that year’s Bear Creek Salmon Festival at North Mountain Park. 

Compass Rose mosaic, dedication ceremony on October 1, 2011.
Compass Rose mosaic, photo of dedication ceremony on October 1, 2011. Sue Springer is wearing the red shirt. (photo provided by Sue Springer)

Public art made in public

Making art in public is different than making art in the studio. According to Sue, “One of the interesting parts of doing public art like this – in public – is that everybody who comes by gets involved in the project in some way. People can look at it and comment on it, so it becomes more of a community piece than something you make in the studio that comes out fully formed.” When families came by and the kids were interested, Sue would put them to work. They could stir the cement or pick out mosaic tile pieces. Each person who participated became a part of it in some way. Sue believes this is a way that art, public art, strengthens community connections.

And it wasn’t just families curiously stopping by. Deer and other wildlife also came by to see what the group was doing during the summer evenings that Sue’s mosaic workshops took place. 

Sue Springer has lots of public art in Ashland

If you read many photo essays in the “Art” section of my WalkAshland website, you may have already seen two of Sue Springer’s other public artworks described. 

Here is a link to my photo essay about the “Peace Wall” artwork in front of Ashland Public Library.

Here is a link to my photo essay about Sue’s large “Rio Amistad” mosaic that honors our sister city relationship with Guanajuato, Mexico.

Future photo essays will describe her “Recology Mosaic” and ceramic tile mosaic circles at North Mountain Park, the “Ceramic Frieze” bench mosaics in Ashland Plaza and her two mosaic artworks at Helman School.

Recology mosaic at North Mountain Park.
Detail of Recology mosaic at North Mountain Park. (photo by Pam Lott)

Compass Rose: Summary and conclusion

North Mountain Park Nature Center, cover of 2011 Annual Report.
North Mountain Park Nature Center, cover of 2011 Annual Report. (from City of Ashland website)

Compass Rose was an education-focused artwork from the beginning, as described in the Nature Center’s 2011 Annual Report: “The mosaic is intended to help orient students and visitors to the cardinal directions and to provide a beautiful, interesting, and interactive point of entry to the Demonstration Gardens. The mosaic features a variety of watershed appreciation and earth- friendly themes. It incorporates graphic representations of local native plants and animals as well as some of the region’s dominant geographic features. Community members assisted in the mosaic’s creation during an August workshop led by mosaic artist Susan Springer. The mosaic elements were designed and individually created in the Ashland’s Illahe Studios and Gallery. The mosaic will be used in a variety of educational programs for students and community members as well as an artistic focal point in the Park.”


Anon. North Mountain Park 2011 Annual Report, on Parks Department website.

Springer, Sue. Interview and personal communications, January 2023.

  • Risa Buck
    Posted at 09:55h, 19 March Reply

    Let’s make more public art in Ashland. Re-using materials to create beauty makes it extra special! Thanks to Peter for letting us know and see some citizen artists at play creating wonderful artwork for all to enjoy.

  • Kelly Nash Straub
    Posted at 11:41h, 14 February Reply

    Susan Springer is such an incredible artist and she made so many contributions to our community. Thank you, Peter for highlighting them. I know Susan still values her connection to our community, even though she has moved North. I hope she knows how much we value her!

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