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The Mosaic Makers of Hoxton

October 7, 2013
by the gentle author

Next time you are walking up Shepherdess Walk in Hoxton and you pass that sinister tunnel with the worn flagstones, leading under the shabby nineteenth century terrace, I recommend you take courage and pass through it to the park at the other end where a wonderful surprise awaits you.

For the last two years, artist Tessa Hunkin and around one hundred and fifty people have been working to create an elaborate set of mosaics in Shepherdess Walk Park, which are inaugurated with a party on Thursday this week. These breathtakingly beautiful pieces of work are destined to become an attraction in their own right – drawing people from far and wide to this corner of Hoxton – but before the crowds arrive, I had the pleasure of going over to admire them in the company of Tessa and couple of the stalwart mosaic makers, as they contemplate the completion of their mighty task which has transformed an unloved part of the park into an inspirational spot.

Taking the lyrical name of Shepherdess Walk as a starting point, the first mosaic portrays the shepherdesses that once drove their sheep through here when Hoxton was all fields. Next to this, a double wall panel illustrates park life throughout the seasons of  the year in the East End while, underfoot, a pair of pavement mosaics show the wild flowers that persist, all illustrated in superb botanic detail. The quality of execution and subtle sense of colour in Tessa Hunkin’s designs combine with humorous observation of the detail of the social and the natural world to create works of lasting value which residents of Hoxton can enjoy for generations to come.

You will pleased to learn that after the success of the Shepherdess Walk mosaics, the team are already working on an ambitious new mosaic for Pitfield St, commemorating the Hoxton Palace of Varieties, and then Tessa and the mosaic makers will be moving to a studio in Hackney Downs to undertake a commission for a children’s playground.

Ken Edwards

“That’s my little rabbit, I named him ‘Randy.’ I’ve been coming here for over a year but, the first time, I thought it was something I wouldn’t be able to do. Yet Tessa showed me how to do it and I’ve been coming ever since. We work each Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, and every other Saturday when the youngsters from the Estate come to help. Even when you are not here, it’s what you think about. I live over in Well St and I walk here. Coming here, it helps with your sanity. We talk, we laugh, we joke. I love coming here, it’s very therapeutic, it’s a family atmosphere. I was a painter and decorator before and when you paint a flat that’s it, but this work that we’ve done is going to be here long after we’ve all gone and that’s very important to me.”

Katy Dixon

“I joined the summer before last. I am an artist and maker and I believe that art can heal people. We work as a group and enjoy the art of conversation together, and I imagine that’s how people would have worked on mosaics a long time ago in Pompeii. We like to listen to music while we work but it’s not always easy to find music that we can all agree upon. We tend to listen to reggae because it has an earthy quality.”

Tessa Hunkin

“We’ve made a little bit of Carthage here in Hoxton. I was inspired by the Roman mosaics of North Africa. It was my idea, I’ve been making mosaics for twenty-five years and I started working with people with mental health problems. I like working with groups of people on large compositions that they can be proud of. Mosaic-making is very time-consuming and laborious, so it seemed a good idea to work with people who have too much time, for whom filling time can be a problem. Also, I’m very interested in the historical precedents and that gives the work another dimension. This project started in July 2011 and it was going to be for six months but, when we came to end of the first mosaic nobody wanted the empty shop that is our workshop, so we just carried on.”

Nicky Turner

“When Tessa showed me the work, I thought it was interesting and I wanted to try but, originally, it was only going to be until the end of the year and now I’ve been here two years. I live in Stratford, two bus rides away, but I come two or three times a week. It’s always different here, so I never get bored. I worked on the borders, and I get satisfaction and self-esteem from doing this work.

Work in progress on the new Pitfield St mosaic, celebrating the former Hoxton Palace of Varieties

Nicky shows off his rings.

Ken with the poem he wrote about the mosaics

Katy with one of the sheep she will lead to the ceremony on Thursday, dressed as a shepherdess

The old tunnel from Shepherdess Walk that leads to the mosaics in the park.

Click on this image to enlarge

Click on this image to enlarge

All are welcome at the unveiling of the mosaics in Shepherdess Walk Park on Thursday 10th October at 3pm, preceded by refreshments from 2pm at the Community Hall on Murray Grove, Hoxton.

42 Responses leave one →
  1. October 7, 2013

    Just lovely, the concept, and most especially the artwork!!!

    Kat

  2. October 7, 2013

    oh! fabulous post and beautiful story and work! will definitely be looking for these next time i’m in london.

  3. Mark Elliott permalink
    October 7, 2013

    Fantastic! A tip of the hat to you all, from Los Angeles….

  4. Mike Brown permalink
    October 7, 2013

    Beautiful and extraordinary

  5. Patty/BC permalink
    October 7, 2013

    Positively beautiful! Amazing work, dedication and talent by all involved.

  6. Jeannette permalink
    October 7, 2013

    so beautifully laid and designed, congrats to one and all. i love the rabbit, the woman with the iphone, all the birds and borders. glory be to god for dappled things….

  7. October 7, 2013

    Superb. They’re going on my ‘interesting things to visit’ list.

  8. Paul Kelly permalink
    October 7, 2013

    These mosaics are magnificent and they are very pleasing to the eye. So good that it brings therapy to the individuals and the collective. What a marvelous way to bring a bit of peace to oneself and pleasure to others. Brilliant.

  9. Vicky permalink
    October 7, 2013

    I’m amazed at the beauty of these mosaics, love them, definitely off to see them as soon as possible. Congratulations to Tessa and the team!

  10. October 7, 2013

    A wondrous project, finely done. Looking forward to seeing it.

  11. Sue permalink
    October 7, 2013

    Absolutely blown away by such a wonderful piece of work. The dedication of the people involved over such a long time is impressive and they should be very proud of themselves. I live 250 miles away but am inspired to travel to London in the near future to see this marvellous mosaic.

  12. October 7, 2013

    Absolutely beautiful

  13. Patricia Lawson permalink
    October 7, 2013

    This is inspirational and so beautiful. I do hope the weather is kind for the unveiling on 10th!

  14. SBW permalink
    October 7, 2013

    Beautiful and stunning. Thank you. s

  15. October 7, 2013

    Huge congratulations to Tessa and her team. I was in Pompeii earlier this year and these works absolutely stand comparison. A really welcome addition to the East London landscape. Thank you.

  16. CY Neve permalink
    October 7, 2013

    Absolutely beautiful and quite uplifting: what a marvellous set of mosaic art – and how pleasing to have a hand in contributing something so worthwhile to your surroundings for the benefit of all.

  17. Mike Meakin permalink
    October 7, 2013

    This story delighted me ! Love Spitalfields Life

  18. Rupert Neil Bumfrey (@rupertbu) permalink
    October 7, 2013

    Stunningly beautiful, an Inner-City community, created from scratch, all working towards an artistic and lasting creation.

    Congratulations to all involved and very best wishes for future creations :-)

  19. Chris permalink
    October 7, 2013

    The mosaics are absolutely stunning pieces of work, and the project itself is so inspirational!

    I’ll definitely be seeking these out next time I’m in London.

    Congratulations and thank you to all concerned.

  20. Ciaran permalink
    October 7, 2013

    Lovely article and great photos.
    I’ll see you on Thursday, lets hope the sun shines on every tile!

  21. October 7, 2013

    Lovely! ♥

  22. William Sovie permalink
    October 7, 2013

    WOW! What a lot of hard work.
    I once did a mosaic for my small garden table. It took forever.
    I don’t know if I would have the patience for this much. It’s very beautiful work.
    I can’t wait to see it the next time I am in London.
    Congratulations! You should all be very proud!
    William

  23. Sally Baldwin permalink
    October 7, 2013

    Glorious!!! Heart-warming, inspiring, community-building, healing, and BEAUTIFUL and charming to boot!! I’m in awe.

  24. Sharon permalink
    October 7, 2013

    Just when you thought London could not be more beautiful, along came these folks.
    Can’t help but think there is a “London Cries” wanting somewhere. Thank you, Artisans. Thank you Gentle Author.

  25. October 7, 2013

    Happened upon this inspiring and amazing community effort, took the chill off a fall day in Alaska.

  26. Jean Forster permalink
    October 7, 2013

    Life affirming

  27. Andrea permalink
    October 7, 2013

    Very beautiful. Congratulations to all involved!

  28. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    October 7, 2013

    How wonderful they are an amazing project!

  29. October 7, 2013

    Well, what can I say that has not been said already in the previous comments? It is absolutely amazing and what a great way to make the world a better place. I like the cat and the mouse best! Thanks for blogging about it.

  30. Caro permalink
    October 7, 2013

    Absolutely beautiful. The lapwings, the wagtails, the great-crested grebe! The detail and level of accomplishment is wonderful. What a lovely story and fantastic project. Can’t wait to see them in real life.

  31. Barbara permalink
    October 7, 2013

    Such beautiful colours. I’m on my way to see them!

  32. October 8, 2013

    Beautiful design. The graceful movement of all the figures is exquisite! Congratulations from Alabama, USA. I wish I lived near your lovely park with its lovely mosaics. Enjoy!

  33. Pippa Richardson permalink
    October 8, 2013

    I was really moved to read about these wonderful mosaics and to see them and some of the people who made them, too. Mosaics are an exquisite art-form, one that I love from the ancient world – these new mosaics are worthy successors to the best of Roman mosaics, for instance. The Hoxton mosaics are beautifully designed and executed and I look forward to seeing them for real. It is great that their making was a collective effort – those who did so must have had great fun and companionship working on them, and now, well-deserved pride in their beauty now that they are finished. They can also be assured that their painstaking work will bring immense pleasure to many Londoners, young and old.

  34. Vicky permalink
    October 8, 2013

    These are so wonderful I’ve come back for another look!

  35. Carolyn Badcock - nee Hooper permalink
    October 8, 2013

    What a magnificent story!! Ken’s verse is superb and the line – “the pure strength of our determination” explains the power each of these Londoners has found. Wow!!

  36. Debenie permalink
    October 8, 2013

    These are just wonderful – huge credit toTessa and her collaborators. I lived in Hackney and Islington for many years and have such memories and feelings for all the places in the mosaics. Truly beautiful, and may they last as long as the mosaics in Istanbul. I shall make sure I see them next time I’m in London.

  37. Neville Turner permalink
    October 8, 2013

    A great show of what is needed to create a friendly area, we need much more
    of this around our streets,not only east london it would help to lift everyone.

  38. October 8, 2013

    This is truly wonderful work. It is inspiring to see any work, in any discipline, which manages to be truly TRADITIONAL — careless thinkers associate this with “old-fashioned” ways; and at least partially, they’re right: for to be truly traditional, work must in fact be connected to what has been done before both in technique and, most likely, matter. But if it is not living in the present, and capable of growing within its own tradition…it’s not traditional: it’s DEAD. Which is why it’s such a joy to see these mosaics. They can assuredly be enjoyed without knowing anything about the history of mosaics…but for those who do know a bit…here is something entirely modern, speaking of our own day, which is also fully alive with the spirit and forms of a great period of the art it is carried out in. There is nothing twee or stilted; the modern matter wears its 3rd and 4th century “clothing” entirely naturally — and I think when these mosaics are looked at in a couple of thousand years (as we look at the Carthaginian or Sicilian ones now) it will be the iPhones and leaf blowers that will look old-fashioned, not the artistic style. That is as fresh and new as it was two milennia ago, and as any good style can be, when handled as elegantly as this has been. Congratulations to all concerned! I am coming to the Metropolis in a few weeks from my home in Boston, US, and will be sure to visit this lovely work.

  39. Patricia Celeveland-Peck permalink
    October 9, 2013

    Congratulations to all involved. This is something quite magnificent. I have sent a link to friends all round the world and everyone is amazed. Hope you have a lovely day tomorrow. We can’t be with you but shall come to see it as soon as we can

  40. Anne Sorenson permalink
    October 10, 2013

    Wonderful. I love the marriage between classical & modern – witty, clever and sweetly tender. Congratulations to everyone involved. I keep coming back to the photos for another look. I’ll look forward to future projects. Thank you!

  41. Monika permalink
    October 11, 2013

    Truly wonderful!

  42. Jimmy permalink
    October 3, 2014

    I lived just across the road from the creepy tunnle from a baby in 1950 to 1966. On my next visit to the area I will take a closer look.

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