13 Feb 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.”
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
With help from city and park staff, the mosaic was set into a newly poured concrete pad.
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.
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.
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.
Compass Rose: Summary and conclusion
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.