Spiral Serpent: mosaic in sand play area

Head detail of Spiral Serpent by Sharon Dvora in North Mountain Park.

Spiral Serpent: mosaic in sand play area

Community art by kids and adults
in North Mountain Park.

Artist Sharon Dvora.

Created about 2001.

Photo essay published 2023.

“There is a surprise in the Spiral Serpent that you might not notice.”

Sharon Dvora

Art Educator

Sharon thinks of herself primarily as an art educator. She loves collaborative art creation with both children and adults: you will see some of her other community artworks at the end of this photo essay. She created the Spiral Serpent while she was an art teacher at Ashland Middle School. 

Education was also a passion of the early (and current) leaders of North Mountain Park: in their case, it was nature-based education, ecology and sustainability. When you read my photo essays about the park, you will see that many of the artworks here were co-created by children or adults in educational programs. The Spiral Serpent was co-created by both children and adults, with design and supervision by Sharon Dvora.

Sharon Dvora, artist. Recent photo
Sharon Dvora, artist. Recent photo. She made the Spiral Serpent in North Mountain Park. (photo provided by Sharon Dvora, 2023)

The Spiral Serpent mosaic in North Mountain Park begins

In the year 2000 or 2001, the North Mountain Park staff wanted to create a sand play area (known as a sandbox when I was at the age to play in one). They approached Sharon Dvora because of her creative mind and track record of working with kids.

The staff gave Sharon access to the greenhouse as a work space. Though small, it was conveniently located halfway between the future sand play area and the Nature Center. 

“The Spiral Serpent Play area at North Mountain Park in Ashland, Oregon was created from 100 cast-cement stepping stones with embedded mosaics & textured impressions of plastic toy reptiles & petroglyph designs. Elementary students and community members came together over a 3-month period to create the playful installation.”

Sharon Dvora

Spiral Serpent by Sharon Dvora in North Mountain Park sand play area
Overview of the Spiral Serpent by Sharon Dvora. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Step 1: Students create with Sharon

Spiral Serpent -- credit to the children
The tail of the Spiral Serpent gives credit to the children who helped make it. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2023)

Sharon created the overall design of a “spiral serpent” made of 100 cement stepping stones. Her plan involved up to 100 elementary school students to help design the mosaic center of each of the stepping stones. 

Spiral Serpent by Sharon Dvora in North Mountain Park sand play area - stepping stone detail
Spiral Serpent stepping stone detail. The center portion of the stepping stone was the child’s design. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Here’s what each student had to work with: a round piece of sticky contact paper, a huge selection of small ceramic tiles, glass tiles, shells, marbles and other objects to choose from, and – all the imagination they could muster. They designed “their” stepping stone by placing the tiles and other objects firmly on the sticky contact paper.

Step 2: Adults create with Sharon

Parents and other community members worked under Sharon’s guidance in the next phase of this large project. On the weekends, adults came and they rolled out flat sheets of clay. The children’s artwork designs were then embedded in the clay. Sharon described this as “an indirect process” that makes for very long-lasting mosaics. 

Once the mosaic pieces were embedded in clay, adults mixed cement and poured it into the stepping stone molds. At the bottom of each mold was the round piece of clay with a student’s design embedded in it. As the cement dried, it “grabbed” the mosaic pieces that were embedded in clay. 

More designs were added as the cement was drying. Sharon and other adults pressed more mosaic tiles, rocks, shells and other objects into the still-damp cement just outside the children’s center designs. Sharon called this the “direct method.” You can see in the photos that many of these pieces have detached from the stepping stones in the past 22 years, whereas the children’s mosaic designs in the center of each stepping stone are almost completely intact.

Spiral Serpent by Sharon Dvora in North Mountain Park sand play area - stepping stone detail
Detail of a single stepping stone in the Spiral Serpent. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2021)

Step 3: Children unveil their stepping stone mosaics

When the cement dried, the molds were flipped over and the clay was now on top. Sharon described the joy the school children felt when they came back and revealed their mosaic designs in the stepping stones by peeling off the clay.

Step 4: The “surprise you might not notice” and finishing touches

Here is the “surprise” that I didn’t notice until it was shown to me. During my park walk with Linda Chesney, she showed me the Spiral Serpent and explained: “At the time, we were doing a geology unit with one of the student programs.” 

Spiral Serpent by Sharon Dvora - edge "petroglyphs"
Here are edge “petroglyphs” on the Spiral Serpent at North Mountain Park. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2023)

To the artist Sharon, the geology unit was another opportunity for education, enrichment and just plain fun with the elementary school kids. As they worked with her, the kids learned about Indigenous rock art, or petroglyphs. I laughed when Sharon told me how the Spiral Serpent “petroglyphs” were added to each stepping stone. Sharon and the kids found small plastic animal and geometric cutouts in local stores. These were similar to animal shape cookie cutters. The plastic was perfect for pressing a design into the clay before the cement was poured. Sharon also used puff paint to add plastic drawings of petroglyphs onto the metal edging inside the stepping stone mold. These transferred to the cement when the molds were removed. 

Finally, the stepping stones were cemented together to complete the sand play area design. As you can see today (in 2023), some are loose and in need of repair.

Oh, one more piece of the project. It is, after all, called a “sand play area.” According to Sharon, “The original sand in that play area was brought in from sand dunes on the Oregon Coast, in Coos Bay. I really wanted the play area to have super-soft white sand. So they sent the trucks from Ashland to pick up the sand in Coos Bay and bring it back.” 

Sharon’s other community art

Sharon’s community art projects during her years teaching in Ashland are too numerous to detail here. I will describe two of them from this long list of accomplishments.

  • Recycled art hats
  • School issues art photographs
  • American Folk Art painted mailboxes
  • Carpet foam creative hats
  • Wind-powered kinetic sculptures (AKA Kites and Whirligigs) 
  • Sonotubes
  • Artcar derby
  • Favorite Artist Chairs project
  • Family art programs at Schneider Museum of Art
  • Walker School “Power of Play” mosaic
  • Helman School mosaic
  • Ashland Middle School Van Gogh-inspired mosaic
  • Triangle Park walkway mosaic

Artcar derby in Lithia Park (with Middle School and High School students)

Artcar Derby, 2002 Ashland Middle School art project, is this Tigger?
Artcar Derby, 2002 Ashland Middle School art project, is this Tigger? (photo by Sharon Dvora)

One of Sharon’s fondest Ashland art memories is the “Artcar derby,” an artistic version of kids’ old-fashioned soap box derbies. “For three years in a row,” she said, “we had a soap box derby race with eight-foot-long racing cars with middle schoolers and high schoolers through Lithia Park. We started at the upper duck pond, and the cars coasted down to around Pioneer Hall.” 

These took place in Lithia Park during the early 2000s. The Art car derby was a collaboration between Sharon Dvora, Ashland High School Industrial Arts teacher John Weston, Ashland Middle School students, high school students and adult volunteers. The project began with the creation of eight-inch models in the Middle School art classroom. Some of these models became eight-foot-long “Artcars.” The Artcar chassis were created in the Ashland High woodshop by high school students, with help from middle school students and community members during a weekend workshop. The light fabric-mache Artcar bodies that fit over the chassis were made at the Middle School.

Artcar Derby, 2002 Ashland Middle School art project, blue car
Artcar Derby, 2002 Ashland Middle School art project, blue car. (photo by Sharon Dvora)

Favorite Artist Chairs project (with Middle School students)

Famous Artist Chairs, Ashland Middle School art project, boys (photo by Sharon)
Famous Artist Chairs, Ashland Middle School art project, boys. (photo by Sharon Dvora)

Middle School students in Sharon’s class chose a “favorite artist” and studied their painting style. Using elementary school chairs as a canvas, the students then painted each chair in the style of their favorite artist. First, this is a great twist on painting to make it more fun.

Second, this out-of-the-ordinary form of art became a fun and successful fundraiser. According to Sharon, “The Famous Artist Chair project culminated in an Exhibition/Auction Fundraiser. Students raised over $1,200, which helped to fund a new kiln for the Art classroom!”

Famous Artist Chairs, Ashland Middle School art project, girls
Famous Artist Chairs, Ashland Middle School art project, girls. (photo by Sharon Dvora)

Final words

Sharon left Ashland in 2013 to teach art in public schools on the Oregon coast. She now lives in Connecticut, where she continues to be passionate about community-based and education-focused art. 

Wendy Eppinger is a local, life-long artist who worked on several community art projects with Sharon. Wendy enthusiastically remembers the Artcar Derby and the Favorite Artist Chairs middle school fundraiser. Wendy told me, “Sharon was one of the most creative people I have ever worked with.”

Linda Chesney, Stewardship Director of the Nature Center for many years, said of Sharon: “Sharon Dvora, who was a local artist at the time, was the mastermind of this. As with other projects, we collaborated. The detail and the amount of effort she put into this was astounding.” 

Spiral Serpent by Sharon Dvora in the snow.
Spiral Serpent by Sharon Dvora in the snow. (photo by Peter Finkle, 2023)

More art in North Mountain Park: Here is another spiral.

More art in North Mountain Park: Educational “Otter Fence” by the Nature Play Area.


Chesney, Linda. Interview February 2023.

Dvora, Sharon. Interview and personal communications, April 2023.

Dvora, Sharon. Website.

No Comments

Post A Comment