The Lebanon Valley Council of the Arts installed a new mosaic at South Hills Park. The mosaic, which was the LVCA’s sixth public art installation, was unveiled Sept. 14.

Local artist Autumn Krouse designed the mosaic, LVCA president Sharon Zook coordinated the installation process, and around 60 volunteers helped install it.

Sharon Zook (left) and Autumn Krouse (right) stand in front of the completed mosaic. They have been planning this project since late May/early June. (Thyme Steele)

The majority of the tile used for the mosaic was donated or salvaged from a variety of sources, including leftovers from a community member’s kitchen floor remodel, samples and scraps from local tiling and flooring companies, and a collection of tile the LVCA has collected over the years.

The mosaic features trees from every season, starting with spring, summer, and autumn on the far left side, and ending with winter on the far right side. (Thyme Steele)

To determine what to include in the design, members of the LVCA had conversations with people they met at South Hills. They asked questions about what brought them to the park, what they thought would enhance it, and what came to mind when thinking about it. 

“We’re always glad to reflect the community,” said Zook. “Giving voice to the community and the values that are important to us is what we’re all about.”

Some of the most common aspects of South Hills that visitors wanted to see represented in the mosaic were trees and squirrels. Once the LVCA decided on those concepts, Krouse was tasked with incorporating them into a design. She sketched six designs, and the LVCA surveyed the community to decide which one would best complement the park. 

“This is about reflecting what the public wants to see in the space they use and then finding an artist that can translate what they would like to see onto the space,” said Zook. “I think the more that we can reflect the community and that it can be about the community, the more that public art serves [as] what it’s designed to be.”

In each of the LVCA’s installations, they try to include a sun motif from their collection of hand-painted Italian tiles. In this particular mosaic, they have both a sun tile and a moon tile to represent how South Hills is open from dawn to dusk.

“We exist to bring light, so I think the sun represents that,” said Zook.

“All of this stuff was junk, it was toss-out,” said Zook. “All of the stuff on this wall, at some point someone decided it wasn’t worthy, and we stuck it all together and made something beautiful.”

In addition to providing input on the design, members of the community pitched in to piece the mosaic together, many of whom had never worked on mosaics before.

“This type of medium really lends itself to having beginners produce a masterpiece,” said Zook. “You can be a beginner [or] a novice and you can turn out a great installation if it’s overseen properly.”

Even some of those who were mandated to be there seemed to enjoy themselves and even wanted to bring their friends along.

“At first you [could] tell they were pretty bitter to be there, [but] at the end of the week, they [were] enjoying helping out and showing other kids what to do,” said Krouse.

While volunteers had to follow the general outlines of the design, they were given creative freedom on what colors they used and how they arranged the tiles. As a result, you can see a number of different styles coming through on the final product.

“[Seeing the completed mosaic] was the [most fun] part of it all, but it was also the most uncomfortable,” said Krouse. “I think as an artist, it’s hard not to feel like your art is an extension of yourself, so to let other people come in and to trust them to take it over, it was such a lesson to me in surrendering.”

Krouse was there every day of the installation process, often showing up before anyone else.

“That’s when this feeling of overwhelm would set in,” said Krouse. “I would just look at it and be like ‘Oh my gosh, it’s really big. How are we gonna get this done?’” 

Krouse had done murals previously, including one at the Lebanon County Correctional Facility, but this was her first mosaic and the largest project she has done. However, Zook was able to lend her experience and support throughout the process.

Read More: Mural helps artist and hopefully others housed at county correctional facility

“Sharon and I love working together,” said Krouse. “She’s super organized, where I’m not, so I think we complement each other.”

Krouse hopes to work on more mosaics and other public art in the future.

“I would love to see more art going up around Lebanon,” said Krouse. “I think that’s how a community shows that they’re not just surviving, they’re actually thriving, when art starts popping up in communities.”

Krouse had always been interested in art but it became a much larger part of her life after her brother was killed by a state police officer two years ago. Art then became a way of coping with the trauma of that experience. 

“It was very, very difficult, but I can honestly, truly say that my brother’s death sort of broke my heart open,” said Krouse. 

She started by painting mandalas on the walls of her house. She later learned that Swedish psychologist Carl Jung used mandalas in his work with patients and thought of it as a symbol of the state of one’s soul.

“When I just wanted to get out of my mind and out of my thoughts and just be in my body, [the mandala] was the simplest way to start painting,” said Krouse. “I don’t really want to make a portrait or paint scenery [because] I don’t feel good at that kind of art, but art where it’s just repeating shapes and designs. … I just love doing that.”

Art has helped her heal and become more open to new experiences, which is partially why she agreed to design the mosaic.

“I’m coming out of a very dark season and I’ve done a lot of inner work and healing and right now I just feel so much love in my life,” said Krouse. “Frankly, it makes me want to say ‘yes’ to wonderful experiences like this.”

Working on the mosaic was a way for both her and those around her to connect with each other and the community as a whole.

“It made me realize how much you need people,” said Krouse. “You do need your community because sometimes things are too big for you to handle.”

“In every age group, at every stage of life, we need to know that we’re valued, that we are contributing to other people in our communities, and that what we’re doing has a bigger impact than just our little part of it,” said Zook. “I think it’s good for everyone to have those experiences throughout life.”

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