The mallet came down with a crack on the piece of tile hidden inside a towel. Unfolding the towel, local artist
Jill Kramer revealed dozens of fragments that could now be used to create a tile mosaic. She was showing students in all
four 2nd grade classes at Holmes how to make mosaics as part of OPEF’s Art Start program.
“This is ‘show-and-tell day,'” Ms. Kramer told Ms. Shearrill’s 2nd graders, showing them the diversely shaped tile
fragments of which mosaics are made. Ms. Kramer also talked about pebbles, rocks, and specialized Italian glass
called “smalti” that have been used for millennia to make mosaics.
Previously, in her first session with each class in February, Ms. Kramer introduced the role that mosaics played in ancient
and contemporary art. Kyla S. liked the project because “we are learning about something that has been done for
generations and generations and now we are getting a chance to do it!”
The decision to do mosaics, Ms. Kramer explained, grew partly out of the teachers’ request to help students see
connections between art and math concepts. So the first activity was a construction-paper mosaic with symmetrical
During the second session, Ms. Shearrill’s students worked with large sheets of black paper and colored squares, which
they could use as is or could cut into different shapes and sizes. “The black paper represents the grout in between, so
leave some space between your tiles,” Ms. Kramer reminded them.
The students were free to create whatever design they wanted. “This is a chance for you to use your imagination. There
is not a right or wrong with this,” she told them. For Lucy B., this was the best part of the project–“The teacher doesn’t
have to tell you what to do.”
By the beginning of March, all four classes were working with the hard materials–beads, split peas, and the like–to
create 3D mosaics in the shapes of animals, inspired by their literature unit on camouflage. In Ms. Merz’s class, students
were choosing and manipulating their “tesserae,” the “little things, bits we are using to make our mosaics,” 2nd-grader
Chloe G. explained.
Josh H., who was creating a mosaic octopus, said he liked working with the tesserae since “the other ones were just
paper squares and these things are all different.” He also announced that he had “figured out the strategy: Put bigger
pillows of glue down to make it faster and easier to cover the whole thing!” He was responding to Ms. Kramer’s
directive that “mosaics don’t have big empty spaces.”
Julez T. was working on a mosaic woodcock, carefully placing his tesserae on the board with only grout lines of glue in
between. He first experimented, however: “You can see how it would look without the glue first and then if you like it,
you can put the glue down.”
Before they were finished, Ms. Kramer said, “You know what every artist does before they say they are all done? They
contemplate. They ask, ‘Is it really done?'”
Ms. Kramer is currently completing a masters in art education at the School of the Art Institute. Her background is in
printmaking, and she continues this art form on a small press in her above-garage studio. She has worked with Art Start
several times before, doing printmaking with D97 students.
Click here to see more photos by Angela Farnham, or click here to listen to a voicethread of Ms. Merz’s 2nd graders describing and showing their work.