Mosaic unveiled — eight years and 200 students later

Art teacher Ian McLean commends the hundreds of Northern Collegiate students who helped make this mosaic, which is now on permanent display at the high school. McLean was recently named to Mayor Mike Bradley’s Honour List. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson 

It nearly didn’t happen.

An enormous ceramic mosaic recently unveiled at Northern Collegiate posed so many challenges over the eight years of its creation it was almost abandoned.

“It took so long to do. There were several times we felt like giving up,” admitted art teacher Ian McLean. “It really was about perseverance.”

Perhaps the biggest hurdle was adhering the 8 X 12-foot mosaic to a wall in the school’s south-end foyer.

“I mistakenly thought that we’d only need a few bolts, a ladder and some scaffolding,” added McLean, who was recently named to Mayor Bradley’s Honour List.

Instead, the school board required him to take a course and become a certified scissor-lift operator to work at such heights. And it took a lot more than a few bolts.

But on Dec. 21, political dignitaries and school officials alike applauded the beautiful installation made by more than 200 Northern students.

“I really like it. It’s something to be proud of,” said former Northern principal Sean Keane.

“This looks simple but it’s a lot of work. This mosaic is a great co-operative effort on so many levels,” said former vice-principal Linda Berger.

She commended McLean and fellow art teacher Trevor Jamieson for spearheading the project.

The number of alumni and former administrators invited to the unveiling pointed to the scope and length of the project.

Each of the 15,000 ceramic tiles was made by hand, glazed and fired, while pieces of china, beach glass, recycled clay, fused glass and store-bought tiles were added in. They were grouted onto 12 pieces of plywood using a pattern McLean designed and transferred from a small watercolour.

The mosaic depicts an abstract aerial view of Sarnia, the St. Clair River and Lake Huron. Northern is marked in red glass with lines radiating out to symbolize graduates leaving to follow their dreams, perhaps guided by the Northern Star at top.  A Viking ship floats in the middle.

The mosaic even inspired a school field trip to Barcelona in 2014 to see Antoni Gaudi’s mosaic art.

“When we work together, great things can happen,” said Rob Tuer at the unveiling. He’s an alumnus and chairman of 4 Northern, a not-for-profit that raises funds for school initiatives and scholarships.

The mosaic project was conceived as part of a donor wall. Several plaques under the mosaic are engraved with the names of the charitable foundation’s contributors.

In 15 years, 4 Northern has raised and distributed $100,000, Tuer said.

The Arts Journal reflects Sarnia’s cultural community. If you have an idea for a story, contact Cathy at 226-932-0985 or cathy.dobson@thesarniajournal.ca.