Skip to content

Hackney Mosaic Project At London Zoo

March 24, 2016
by the gentle author

Tessa Hunkin works on her mosaic while lions prowl nearby

Recently, I accompanied Tessa Hunkin of Hackney Mosaic Project to the lions’ enclosure at London Zoo where she installed her latest masterpiece while big cats prowled around. Commissioned by the Zoological Society of London, the magnificent mosaic is the result of four months work involving around thirty people, with a core of fifteen experienced mosaicists, to create a centrepiece for the new ‘Land of the Lions’ attraction at the Zoo.

The six panels of the mosaic portray the forest of Gir in Gujarat which is the origin of the lions at London Zoo. In Tessa’s design, Langur monkeys harvest fruit in the tree tops while Chital deer follow them below, scavenging windfalls and leftovers dropped from above. Yet this relationship serves a dual purpose for the Chital, since the Langurs see lions coming from far away, thereby warning the Chital when to take flight.

All through the winter months, the team at Hackney Mosaic have been working in the pavilion on Hackney Downs, painstakingly glueing thousands of tiny tesserae to a large brown paper panel with Tessa’s design traced in reverse. Once this was complete, the panels were impressed onto a rendered wall at the zoo by Walter Bernardin, a mosaicist of lifelong experience, and the paper was removed to reveal the finished mosaic in all its glory, with the design the right way round.

It was a tense process, tearing away the backing paper without removing pieces of mosaic and then applying grouting. In fact, so all-consuming was this task that Tessa and Walter continued at their work without even noticing the lions prowling around in curiosity…

Hackney Mosaic is a community project led by Tessa Hunkin that relies upon commissions to continue. If you would like to commission a mosaic please email

The team at Hackney Mosaic with the completed mosaic

Tessa’s final design

Photo composite of the work in progress, seen in reverse (click to enlarge)

The first panel installed at London Zoo

Mosaicist Walter Bernadin removes the backing paper and fixes the mosaic with grouting

The completed mosaic installed at London Zoo

You may also like to read about

The Mosaic Makers of Hoxton

The Hoxton Varieties Mosaic

The Mosaic Makers of Hackney Downs

The Award-Winning Mosaic Makers of Hackney

The Queenhithe Mosaic

10 Responses leave one →
  1. March 24, 2016

    Gorgeous work!

  2. March 24, 2016

    What a stunning piece of art, put together stone by stone – fantastic. Valerie

  3. March 24, 2016

    What a superbly economic and imaginative way to tell a story at the zoo. Fantastic. Bravo to all involved, including the commissioners.

  4. Linda Granfield permalink
    March 24, 2016

    Wonderful! Looks like a tapestry of fine stitches.
    Lucky zoo visitors — talented artists.

  5. Ardith permalink
    March 24, 2016

    Truly inspired concept, beautifully executed

  6. pauline taylor permalink
    March 24, 2016

    Wonderful project, beautifully executed. Well done!!

  7. pauline taylor permalink
    March 24, 2016

    Wonderful project, beautifully executed. Well done!!

    Coming from Colchester, Britain’s First City, I love mosaics, we have many lovely Roman ones including one which is I now on display in our new gallery, Firstsite.

  8. Ros permalink
    March 24, 2016

    lovely work in the tradition of Greek and Roman mosaics. Haven’t been to London Zoo for many years but would happily pay to see animals as beautifully represented as this. Great sense of fun and of design.

  9. March 29, 2016

    Another mosaic triumph for the Hackney Mosaic Project! Wonderful images telling a unique story. Thank you so much for continue to cover the work of Tessa Hunkin and her merry band of mosaic makers!

  10. April 1, 2019

    The mosaic received widespread acclaim (including receiving the British Association of Modern Mosaic s Mosaic of the Year Award in 2014 ), the volunteers were keen to continue and, bit by bit, more funding was found to keep the project going. So further panels were added including the names of the volunteers, shepherdesses tending their sheep after whom the park was named and pavement mosaics of local flora. By the time the work was over the Hackney Mosaic Project had completed a whopping 50 square metres of mosaic work and blossomed from a small group of volunteers into a mosaic making phenomenon.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS