A wall in Zacatlan covered in tile mosaic. If done in Storm Lake, local subject matter would be chosen.
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By Dolores Cullen, Storm Lake Times Pilot

Artists from Mexico who specialize in tile mosaic murals will be working at Witter Art Gallery Sept. 6-10, to propose to the community a possible larger art installation.

Mary Carmen Olvera Trejo, Lorena Sanchez Torres and Raul Sanchez Marchena are part of a larger group that have transformed the city of Zacatlan – about 100 miles east of Mexico City – into a tourist destination with numerous outdoor mosaic murals lining the exterior of buildings and walls.

Unlike painted murals mosaic murals are made by setting broken pieces of colorful tile and sometimes bits of mirror into cement. Subject matter in Zacatlan includes natural landscapes, people and religious scenes, all done in striking detail.

An idea is born

Witter Gallery board president Patricia Hampton came up with the idea for the Storm Lake project. “It was the end of June and I was leaving the gallery,” she said. “I met a guy who wanted to use the library but it was closed.”

She visited with the man, Dick Davis, who was traveling from California to Chicago. He stopped in Storm Lake, she learned, because he had seen the documentary “Storm Lake” and hoped to meet Storm Lake Times Pilot editor Art Cullen, who is featured in the movie.

Their conversation turned to Davis’s business – promoting Zacatlan’s mosaic murals in the U.S.

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“I had been interested in having murals in Storm Lake for the past 10 years,” she said. The idea clicked to borrow the Mexican mural format to create public art in Storm Lake – one or more large murals that would depict Iowa themes in artwork made specifically for Storm Lake.

The encounter with Davis and the subsequent plans “seemed almost serendipitous,” Hampton remarked.

A woman works in Zacatlan setting pieces of tile.

Come and see for yourself

To introduce Storm Lake city officials and the public to the mosaic mural idea, the three artists will put together a small scale mural, 3 feet x 5 feet, with imagery based on the Storm Lake sign (at Lakeshore Drive and Lake Avenue).

Storm Lakers are invited to watch the process during the Witter’s extended hours Sept 6-8, from 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

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Two informational sessions are planned – Sept. 7 at 5 p.m. and Sept. 9 at 5:30 p.m. at which the mural process will be explained.

Personnel from ISG are invited to explore the practicalities of the mosaics’ ability to tolerate winter weather and the proper preparation of surfaces.

The artists are able to portray the likeness of individuals.

If it is decided that Storm Lake wants a large scale mural or murals, funding would be sought in the form of grants, donations and/or city improvement plan resources.

The Mexican artists would return, perhaps next summer, to turn the proposal into reality.

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As in Zacatlan, the whole community would be invited to participate in the mosaic murals, explained Hampton. While the artists would handle the central figures, citizens could help by filling in backgrounds, preparing tiles and mixing cement.

The public would also have some say suggesting themes.

“Public art is an act of cultural preservation as well as community building,” says Hampton.

Art is also a tourist draw, as Zacatlan has found.

The proposed project will get further exposure at a booth at Storm Lake’s Multicultural Festival on Sept. 10 and the artists will be special guests at SALUD’s Taste of Storm Lake next Thursday evening.

Tile is forming the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

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