Pupils re-create ancient tile art

Mosaic: Pupils at Govans Elementary School, using techniques of ancient artisans at Antioch, have fashioned a mosaic taller than they are.

November 16, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A trio of girls skipped around a new mosaic sculpture they helped to make outside Govans Elementary School and wondered aloud if it would last longer than the ancient society best known for the art form.

"Mr. Spoon said it's going to last forever," Moravia Lindsay, 9, said. With the help of Bryant "Spoon" Smith, an artist-in-residence sent to the North Baltimore public school by the Baltimore Museum of Art, Moravia and others had built a shiny stone artwork taller than they are, using the same technique as in Antioch.

The ancient city of the Roman Empire, whose ruins have been excavated in southern Turkey, is the focus of a BMA showcase of 160 treasures a little less than 2,000 years old.

The pupils depicted a large tree surrounded by leaves, fruits and flowers on a 5-foot free-standing slab near the school's front door. It is scheduled to be dedicated at 4 p.m. today at the school, 5801 York Road.

The Child First Authority Inc. after-school program, which collaborated on the project with the museum's community outreach effort, invited Mayor Martin O'Malley to the event, but it was not clear yesterday whether the mayor will attend. The nonprofit group is an offshoot of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), a church-based organization that has recently clashed with O'Malley over funding for neighborhood efforts.

Unaware of the political overtones accompanying the unveiling, Moravia, Lyneisha Dower and Shana Johnson, all fourth-graders at Govans, told how they and other pupils donned thick gloves to make the small pieces of stone stick together.

Shana, 8, said the grout, the white, mortar-like substance that holds all the pieces in place, is similar to the substance used centuries ago. Antioch was known throughout the Roman Empire for its cosmopolitan marketplace, ethnic diversity (including many Greeks and Jews), public baths and feasts, gladiator events and even its own Olympics.

The city is mentioned in the Bible as the first place disciples of Jesus Christ were called Christians.

Before embarking on their project, a dozen children took a trip to the museum to view Antichene artifacts, frescoes and other treasures - many of them floor mosaics - unearthed in the 1930s.

"That's so we could learn the idea of mosaic: tell stories out of little pieces of tile," Shana said.

At the museum show, BMA spokeswoman Anne Mannix pointed out how a funeral banquet mosaic demonstrated "the skill of ancient craftspeople, a snapshot of what life was like."

Explaining their artistic vision at the school, Lyneisha said, "Every circle is a fruit, and every upside-down triangle is a flower." She added, "We're going to come back and see our own sculpture when we're in college."

The girls vaguely understood that Antioch is gone; and that earthquakes, a flood and finally, invaders arrived in the sixth century, effectively ending its civilization.

The pupils sought to rekindle some of that civilization with their vibrant green, orange, pink and brown mosaic.

"I'm just elated with it, working with real artists, " said Gladys Denby-Smith, a longtime teacher and program coordinator for the Child First program in Govans.

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