Monday, July 18, 2016

"Spring up, o well!" – Camp Newman's newest mosaic

This "Miriam's Well" mosaic just made its debut at URJ Camp Newman, just in time for the 2016 "Mark and Peachy Levy Hagigah Festival of the Arts," and I'm so proud of the work that the campers (and faculty!) put in to make this beautiful new addition to camp. And you want to know how we did it? I'm glad to share a little bit of our process, in words and pictures. PLENTY of pictures... but first a little introduction.

I've got to express my sincere thanks to my Dream Lab comrades, especially our fearless leader Dr. Miriam Heller Stern, and acknowledge that this mosaic was made possible with a generous contribution from The Covenant Foundation.

Second, maybe you're not familiar with Hagigah? The Hagigah program at URJ Camp Newman is the premier Jewish arts teen program on the West Coast. Campers choose majors and minors in visual and performing arts, studying with distinguished Jewish artists in an exploratory and collaborative atmosphere. This was my tenth summer at Camp Newman (I do a two-week residency every year), where my wife is one of the faculty rabbis, and where my three kids have been going every summer as well.

So – how'd we start the mosaic? I had only just arrived at camp, and Camp Newman Executive Director Ruben Arquilevich took me on a little walk to a spot by the newest cabins, where we admired a new water bottle refilling station... and the blank wall surrounding it. "How about right here?" he asked, and I had my goal: to design a mosaic to fit in the space physically and thematically.

I had about 16 campers working with me in our one-hour-per-day mosaic workshop, and our first discussion was devoted to developing our theme. I'd printed out several texts on water from traditional sources, and after quite a bit of discussion and debate we settled on Miriam's Well as our subject.

While the Jewish people wandered through the wilderness they were accompanied by a wondrous well which would provide water for them at every resting-place. God created this well for the sustenance of the Israelites in recognition of the merits of Miriam, which is how it gets its name. The well followed them on all their wanderings — and wherever they halted, it halted, too, settling in position opposite the Tabernacle. The leaders of the twelve tribes would appear and chant to it, “Spring up, o well,” and water would gush forth from its depths, and shoot up high as pillars, then discharge itself into great streams. These streams demarcated areas for each of the twelve tribes to camp in, and were so powerful that people were obliged to make use of ships to visit one another. The water led beyond the encampments, where it caused to grow every conceivable kind of plant and tree; and these trees, owing to the miraculous water, daily bore fresh fruits.

The final sketch – only 5" wide!

I sketched out numerous approaches in my little black sketchbook, eventually sharing the final design with my campers, who unanimously approved, and once I had it sketched out on our Hardie boards – two separate boards, one for each side of the water bottle refilling station, each measuring 30" tall and 5' wide – the campers began to lay white tiles along the design outlines.

The design drawn out on the two boards

The first tiles in place!

Campers laying in the outlines

The left panel with outlines complete

The fun began once the outlines were complete, and we got to start laying the colored tile – bit of broken storebought tile, some purchased online, and some donated by a local ceramics place. I decided on a limited palette – mostly blues and greens – and even found a few special touches that we'd figure out along the way.

Campers chose which tile types and colors to use

I found these ceramic letter tiles online, and knew I'd want them for something...

So it was time to get to work – piece by piece, section by section. I showed the campers how to follow along the outlines already tiled in white, and suggested they follow the contours, but otherwise they had free reign to pick tiles and colors as they wanted... with me looking over their shoulders and making the occasional suggestion.

Following the contours of the outlines

Campers would sometimes lay in the tiles before applying tile adhesive

Nearly 30 square feet to cover with tile, in about eight one-hour sessions – a bit daunting!

But we were making good progress

Look at those serious, working faces!

Look at those happy, smiling faces!

But it wasn't just the Hagigah campers who got to have fun – I invited camp faculty (clergy, educators, office and medical staff, and even Ruben!) to join us for a "Faculty Mosaic Night." It helped everyone feel better about the timeline... the campers were glad to have the assistance!

Rabbis, cantors, educators, medical and nefesh staff... and more!

Even with all this help, the campers still had PLENTY to do to finish it up

One of the other Hagigah artists – Sarah Edelstein – agreed to hand-letter two tiles for us with our text source from the book of Numbers.

And I found a use for the letter tiles – the campers REALLY wanted the mosaic to say "Hagigah 16," and this worked perfectly!

Look sideways and you'll see it

Here's Sarah's lettering close-up, in the finished mosaic

Another detail from the completed mosaic

I'm so proud of everyone who contributed to the mosaic, and so pleased to have been given the opportunity to create this for Camp Newman.

The finished mosaic, mounted in place

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