The Mosaic Makers of Hoxton
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.