The Spring 2012 issue of CA Modern, a magazine on Californian Mid-Century Modern architecture published by the Eichler Network, features a fascinating and colorful story on the art of mosaics, “Art Goes to Pieces.” In it, Senior Staff Writer David Weinstein speaks with contemporary Bay Area mosaic artists about the current revival of the art form, and its long symbiotic relationship with architecture dating back to “the days of Philip of Macedon.”
At the time of the College of the Holy Names’ campus construction in the Oakland hills in the mid- to late-fifties, large-scale mosaic murals were a common feature in modern architecture, particularly public buildings, “reliev[ing] the plainness of surfaces with enrichment at focal points, increasing the effectiveness of the buildings,” [Eugene Clute, Progressive Architecture, 1950]. “Mosaic fits into our architecture because it does not break the surface, but is an integral part of it, and it is a versatile means of expression.”
“During the late 1950s to mid-1970s,” wrote Lillian Sizemore, a mosaic artist who lives in an Eichler home in Marin’s Lucas Valley, “there was a major movement of abstract and modernist imagery used to embellish architectural settings, rising out of the WPA [Works Progress Administration from the 1930s] and Mexican muralist movement.”
Louisa Meyer Jenkins (1898-1989), an artist from Big Sur, was known for her magnificent sacred mosaic art, including an angel-covered baldaquin and a Madonna with a rosary for St. Ann’s Chapel in Palo Alto, California, and Stations of the Cross for Mount Angel Abbey Crypt at St. Joseph Chapel in St. Benedict, Oregon. Her work, clearly influenced by Picasso and other modern artists, was typical of mosaic artists of the time, “moving into abstract designs… many influenced by biomorphic Surrealism.”
In Oakland, mosaic artist Louisa Jenkins, working with students in 1957, placed a marvelously three-dimensional mural of glass, tile, and stone on an exterior wall of the brand-new Holy Names College, designed by modern architect Milton Pflueger.
Ms. Jenkins had been hired by Sister Mary Luke (Maria Luisa) to create the Sophia mosaic, financed by St. Luke’s Art Guild, on the southeast wall of Brennan Hall. This brief excerpt from the History of Holy Names College (ISBN 1-4010-9913-0 Xlibris Corp.), by Ethel Mary Tinnemann, snjm, Ph.D., reveals more:
“To me,” the artist said, “the College of the Holy Names is a central place of learning, where the search for knowledge and wisdom is honestly pursued.” [College of the Holy Names Magazine, April 1957] … Combining the ideas of Sophia (wisdom) and Maria (seat of wisdom), the artist portrayed the face of Sophia in relief surrounded with sections suggesting rose leaves, symbolizing the Mystical Rose. Mrs. Jenkins chose to symbolically represent three major areas wherein knowledge is pursued in a liberal arts college; philosophy and religion, arts and letters, and natural science.
The mural was completed by April of 1957, and is such a central visual element to Corrigan Courtyard in the center of campus, it’s difficult to imagine the Holy Names campus without it.
All excerpts above from David Weinstein’s article, “Art Goes to Pieces,” in CA Modern, Spring 2012, unless otherwise noted.