This collaborative community project was inspired long ago, in the days of my childhood, by witnessing the life philosophies of my parents, Charles Egnacé who taught me how important it is to contribute to the well being of others, and Ruth, who taught me, “many hands make light work.” The interweaving of these teachings into the fabric of my being, informs my artwork in a way that inspires me to work on collaborative projects and contribute to the world in a meaningful way.
Thus… when Lori Belongia called me to consult about the “Tribute Wall,” I firstly, suggested ceramic or glass, which I find interesting mediums to work with. When we found out how much a “tile artist” would cost to install such a project, my first instinct was to suggest that we could create this project locally with the amount of talent and the level of volunteerism that exists in the Marshfield community, and allow the donor money to go toward the construction of the library and not the tile wall. I first consulted with Kristin Thielking, glass instructor at UW-Stevens Point, and she said, “Oh Kathleen, don’t make squares… make it interesting.” Instructor Keven Brunett from UW-Stevens Point accepted my invitation to meet with Lori and discuss the project, inspiring me with his ideas for a project less utilitarian and more sculptural and artistic.
I promptly recruited SallyJo Lee on my quest for “interesting,” and we arranged a private, weekend workshop with tile artist Bruce Howdle of Mineral Point, who instructed us on the art of sculptural tile. Thus began our odyssey on this journey toward paying “Tribute” to those who have influenced the lives of the people of Marshfield, and depicting a kind of abstract “Flow,” which represents one element influencing another. I felt compelled to add the “blue sky,” that Lori says was part of the mantra of the original fund raising team for what has now culminated into the Everett Roehl Marshfield Public Library and Community Center.
Mike Trudeau and his crew quickly arose to my invitation to build a 16 foot easel to mount the clay in my studio, Todd Besler at Creative Paints provided paint to seal the easel, Schalows responded with landscape burlap to cover the easel and Brian Ewert placed the shims. Rosie Johnson drove sawdust from cabinetmaker Doug Schlough of Greenwood, to Paoli Clay of Belleville, Wisconsin, who then mixed this special brew of stoneware with extra grog and fiber for strength, and sawdust, to help reduce the weight of the tiles when the combustible sawdust burned off in the firing of the green ware. Brian and I purchased the clay for this project and Mike and Tammy Jacobs of Paoli delivered the 2000 pounds of clay. When their van broke down on highway 10 just east of Marshfield, Tim Bergelin, Tyler Hiller and Brian and I promptly drove over and unloaded the clay into our vehicles and Brian changed the tire of the Jacob’s ½ ton van to help facilitate the next leg of their journey.
Coordinating the following stages of the creation of this tile wall became a journey of discovery, relying on the clay to speak to us of what was needed each step of the way, loading 1400 pounds of clay onto the easel, shaping the landscape of the clay before it became too stiff, cutting the pieces down as the clay became “leather hard,” then carving out the back of each piece before they became too hard to cut into. Sonya Ewert spent time smoothing the landscape while I carved it on the easel. When the clay became firm enough to handle, I used a large heavy-bladed knife to slice into the clay, creating interest with the shapes of the tiles that I cut. Brian and SallyJo caught them as they fell off the easel, arranging them onto the large tables we had set up in the studio. As the tiles were laid out they were numbered, and once they were all on the table we placed numbers on the fronts of them and photographed them to help facilitate putting the “puzzle” back together during each phase of this process.
The tiles were in place on the tables for several days and became firm enough to handle so we could then carve them out from the back, to reduce the weight of the tiles. A group of volunteers such as Ingrid Glurich, Ali Heintz, Tyler Hiller and Tim Bergelin helped carve out the excess weight, then refitted the tiles together to check for continued fit and set them to rest so they could dry for the next phase. After several more weeks, volunteers including Joyce Billings, Rosie Johnson, Ingrid Glurich, Julie Horton & Ali Heintz sanded and smoothed each of the 259 tiles.
It then took over a month for the tiles to become “bone dry” enough to fire them safely so none would burst or fracture from the heating and continued shrinking that occurs in the “Bisque” firing. Each of the 5 bisque firings took 34 hours to slowly heat to 1960 degrees, then another 10-12 hours of cooling which allowed us to unload those pieces, put the puzzle back together, and load the next pieces.
During this process, SallyJo and I experimented with glazes to make sure the Laguna Glazes we chose were a good “fit” for this clay body. To our delight, they were, and Laguna Glazes granted us a 50% discount on cost. Rosie Johnson and Ingrid Glurich contributed money toward all our test glazes, SallyJo Lee purchased the remainder of the glazes needed for the project, and Brian and I donated the clay and hundreds of hours of firing in the kiln to bring this project to completion. The glaze loads were fired at 2200 degrees, with each load taking 9 hours to fire and another 6-8 hours to cool. The firings for the phrases were at 1750 degrees and took 4 hours, with another 4 hours of cooling. It took over 500 hours of firing to complete this tile installation.
During the times of waiting for firings and coolings, SallyJo and I had conversations with many of the donors, hearing the stories of why they were supporting the library project and who they were paying tribute to and why they felt the way they did about the people who had helped shape their lives. The project became very personal as the many volunteers contributed to the project, putting their love and generosity into the creation and completion of this tribute wall, exemplifying the spirit of the Marshfield community. This feeling of connection inspired us during the hundreds of hours we spent creating the tribute wall.
Tim Bergelin and Katie Marotz stopped in countless times to give assistance and artistic collaboration. Eva Hathaway gave artistic assistance with glaze recommendations when some of the tiles needed second glaze firings. Ali Heintz came over many times, sometimes on short notice when clay dryness became critical for carving out the backs of the tiles and sanding them. Julie Horton stopped in from a walk and promptly sat down to sand some tiles. Joan Weber and Eileen Kelz washed all 259 tiles to remove dust and prep them for glazing, and David Hathaway assisted with covering all the tiles with plastic to keep them clean until glazing commenced.
SallyJo and I created a rhythm of glazing and working together that was synchronistic, allowing the landscape to unfold, loading and unloading the kiln dozens of times in order to fire bisque loads, then glaze loads, then the final firings that allowed the phrases to fuse onto the tiles and become impermeable. Even when I had to step away for a weekend retreat, Brian, SallyJo and Tim Bergelin took turns unloading and loading the kiln to make sure we kept progressing forward.
Once all the glaze firing was complete, lines for “leveling” the tiles were tied onto the tables to help with placement of the phrases. Brian Ewert used the excel sheet of donor information from the library to create the grid of phrases which were then printed on special paper with glaze, cut out individually, positioned with special adhesive on the designated tiles, and fired in the kiln. We then organized the tiles into sections and made preliminary sketches onto cabinet grade plywood in order to outline the sections so Brian could cut the boards to fit. SallyJo and I then sanded, primed, and painted the panels to prepare for the tiles.
John Doerfler of ABC Tile & Stone donated the materials and his time to install the tiles, spending a weekend day at the studio with Brian, SallyJo and me to “set” the tiles on the sections we had prepared. Once the tiles were set, Kathleen grouted the panels as they lay on the table in the studio. Strategic tiles were left off the panels so the sections could be attached to the wall at the library. It was planned that the sections would be attached to the wall, then the extra tiles would be placed on site and the grouting would then be completed.
Dave Ehirke and JJ Schutz of Boson returned to the library to assist with mounting the tile boards onto the wall, along with the many drivers needed to transport the 6 panels to the library early Sunday morning. It seemed like finely tuned choreography to witness the many who showed up, loaded the sections, drove them to the library, then systematically mounted them on the wall. We then began to attach the missing tiles and grout the remaining pieces, making the installation complete. Joyce Heintz created a frame for the Artist Statement, which hangs by the exhibit.
Coordinating the myriad of people who contributed to this project was a choreography of creativity that exemplifies the Marshfield community and the many ways people “make light work,” when collaborating for the good of all.
I am in awe and I am grateful for this privilege of leading the creation and implementation of the Marshfield Public Library Tribute Wall. Lori Belongia has my heartfelt gratitude for allowing me the privilege of leading this project, which could not have happened without the efforts of countless others.