Smallest Hands Piece Together Large Mosaic for Rec Center Renovation

Posted on: February 9, 2022

When Michele David Mechling visited first- through fourth-grade Art classes at St. Joseph’s Indian School the week of January 31, she engaged the smallest hands on campus to help create a large mosaic for the upcoming renovation of the school’s Recreation Center.

“How many of you have ever heard the word ‘mosaic,’ or know what a mosaic looks like?” Mechling asked. The room was quiet, but as Mechling explained the art form and showed examples of her own and other artists, students began wiggling in their seats at the opportunity to make their own.

When Mechling poured pieces of colored glass and tile into bowls before them, the level of excitement was nearly too much to bear. “We get to use all of these?” exclaimed third-grader Misun Monje.

“Yes! Map out your design first and then be careful to glue your tiles in place so when we go to grout, they don’t move,” responded Mechling.

As students honed in on their artwork, the noisy excitement that filled the room just moments before fell hushed. Each emerging mosaic was as unique as its owner. There were star quilts, flowers, hearts, checkerboards and more – motifs as myriad as the choices of glass and tile.

“I chose all my favorite colors,” said Isabella Peneaux, presenting her design in purples, pinks and blues.

As St. Joseph’s embarks on the Rec Center renovation and expansion, the idea sprouted for Mechling to design a piece for the updated space. A mural within the existing Rec Center depicts the Circle of Courage, a model of positive youth development the school employs. Mechling’s mosaic will mimic the mural to some degree, with its overall shape being the Medicine Wheel and corresponding red, yellow, black and white colors. However, Mechling’s work includes vector shapes that highlight the four values of the Circle of Courage: Mastery, Independence, Belonging and Generosity, as they pertain to athletics.

Mechling was excited about the opportunity to share the mosaic technique with first- through fourth-grade students at the school. “St. Joseph’s is a very enduring institution,” said Mechling. “It is amazing to me how artistic the students are — they are ahead of other children their ages in that way. You can tell they’ve had art all the way through school.”

In return, St. Joseph’s is thankful for the mosaic that will become a part of campus for many years to come and for Mechling’s teaching some of the smallest and least experienced hands on campus.

The visit was Mechling’s second residency at St. Joseph’s Indian School. Her previous residency was in 2016 when she and Wade Patton, an Oglala Lakota artist, worked with students to create a printmaking piece entitled “Crossing Paths” that now hangs in the Aktá Lakota Museum & Cultural Center.

Mechling’s visit to St. Joseph’s Indian School was made possible in part through the South Dakota Arts Council Artists in Schools & Communities (AISC). AISC is a residency program for K-12 schools and community organizations, with matching funds from the South Dakota Arts Council.