An Artist’s View, Design and Construction of the Four Muses Murals
The four muses murals on the new Weber Center for the Performing Arts have been in the process of creation for nearly a year, beginning December 2011 when my design concept was selected, to October 2012 when the installation was completed.
For the theme, the Greek muses of song, dance, comedy, and tragedy were requested. I chose to take these ancient Greek muses and bring them to La Crosse with the natural beauty in our region’s rivers and bluffs. Envisioning comedy and tragedy as a Yin Yang type balance, I used mirror images by night and day where the muses venture forth in boats, gazing at their Greek masks in Delight and Despair. The bookend murals of dance and music are on the bluff shores, with a morning dance to Soar with an eagle, and evening music of waves crashing on rocky shores to Sing with the harp (paying homage to the origin of the Greek muses attributed to the Sirens that sang on rocky shores).
The designs were optimized for brick bas-relief with a depth of four inches for carving and for viewing at a distance ranging from 20 feet to two blocks—knowing they would be mounted on the second story of the building.
Jay Tschetter, sculptor and founder of Images in Brick, expertly guided the creation of the sculpture with his team on site in Lincoln, Neb. A brick grid was laid on the drawings and the depth of bricks required for the relief was determined. Wet clay bricks were ordered from the adjoining brickyard and laid up on a giant palette 40-feet long by 12-feet tall, holding all four murals together in sequence. Using the brick grid on the drawings, each design was transferred by hand to the brick surface. Various clay tools were used to carve out the wet clay and define the figures. I was able to join the sculptors at the beginning of this process, climbing scaffolding and ladders to reach all areas of the mural surface in this initial pass.
Over the summer, Tschetter’s team of sculptors continued to work the surface and refine the carving and detail with each pass; each day spraying the clay while working it, then covering with plastic at the end of the day to keep it moist and malleable.
After the final textures had been applied, the entire layout had to be dismantled brick by brick. Each brick had holes drilled in it to keep it from cracking when fired and had to be labeled with letters and numbers so it could be reassembled correctly. The bricks were carefully fired in the brickyard kilns and then packed up and shipped to La Crosse.
In late September 2012, Tschetter traveled to La Crosse to work with the local master bricklayer on the installation. Great care was taken on each brick placement so that the mural would fit perfectly in the existing opening and mortar joints would blend in with the sculpture. Air space behind the sculpture insulates and stabilizes the brick expansion and contraction during the winter and summer. The final work is a giant clay sculpture permanently fixed onto the wall.
“It has been an amazing process to witness my design come alive and an honor to see it as public art on the Weber Center for the Performing Arts. Thank you to the community for your support of the arts in La Crosse.”
– Jill Rippe, Mural Designer
Jill Rippe, La Crosse, Wis.
Jay Tschetter, Lincoln, Neb.
Exterior Art Committee
Toni Asher, Pump House Regional Arts Center
Lu Cagen, I.D.ology
David R. Kilpatrick, Weber Center Executive Director
Greek Muses, Music, Dance, Comedy, Tragedy, Mississippi River Coulee Region
Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, at 1 p.m.