In 2012, St. John's unveiled the Pilgrims Way Arch: a tile mosaic covering the original arch entryway to Xavier Hall. Renovations to the building completed in 2005 saw the creation of the Brother William Drinan, C.F.X. Center for Campus Ministry. The center stands directly across from the original entryway, with its door opening out to the arch. By decking the arch in iconography from the world's principal religions and spiritual traditions, the Pilgrims Way Arch symbolically welcomes all faiths into the Prep community.
The inspiration for an interfaith arch using an Islamic aesthetic came from the arch entryway itself which shares its shape and proportions with entries found in Islamic architecture. Led by Ms. Dale Bryant, Chair of the Fine Arts Department and a ceramicist, and Dr. Ann Terry, Religious Studies teacher and art historian, the project began in a World Religions course during the spring semester of 2012. Students carried the project through many stages, measuring drawings and cutting thousands of clay pieces that make up the mosaic.
The project began in a World Religions course during the Spring Semester of 2012. Students carried the project through many stages, measuring drawings and cutting thousands of clay pieces that make up the mosaic.
The project was led by Ms. Dale Bryant, then-Chair of the Fine Arts Department and a ceramicist, and Dr. Ann Terry, Religious Studies teacher and art historian. Bryant and Terry have collaborated for the last few years and went to Italy together to study ancient mosaic making technique.
The inspiration for an interfaith arch using an Islamic aesthetic came from studying the entryway that houses the arch. The shape and proportions of the entry echo those in Islamic architecture. Also, the Campus Ministry door opens to the arch, symbolically welcoming all religions.
Creating the mosaic arch was a complex, labor intensive, and multi-stepped process. Students began by studying the phenomenon of pilgrimage in different religions and explored the relationship between Islamic art and Islamic theology. As part of that process, they visited a mosque in Metheun to see tiles imported from Turkey and hear the Imam speak about his religion.
Careful planning went into each step of the process, from the architectural and visual designs, to selecting materials and execution.
An essential first step for this kind of project is to make measured drawings as a basis for planning designs and materials. These drawings were annotated with critical measurements and notes that provided each small component of the architecturally complex arch with a different designation.
It was important to know the square footage of each part of the arch to determine the amount of clay needed and the number of different kinds of shapes required.
Full-scale paper templates were measured, cut, and hung in the classroom so the designs could be edited.
While some students made these drawings and took measurements, others researched symbols of major world religions.
After researching designs and finishing the necessary drawings and templates, it was time for an orientation in the studio, where a literal ton of porcelain awaited. Here Dale Bryant introduced the students to their next tasks. Students involved in the project were all members of the Class of 2012: Alexander Boulous, Christopher Crupi, James Frye, Adam Johnson, David Maher, Kevin Meas, Michael McLane, Emil Nuñez, Tyler Rossi, and Samuel Shaw.
Most of the pieces in the mosaic were cut from clay using shaped cutters, some of which were made from strips of metal by students. Visible in the photograph are two stamps used in the border inscription. Near the base, homemade tools were used to cut border strips evenly.
For weeks, several students at a time worked in the ceramics studio, cutting thousands of pieces of clay in predetermined shapes. Before the clay could be cut, it had to be rolled into sheets and dried until moisture level was just right.
Once cut, the back of each piece needed to be grooved so it would fasten to the mortar when applied to the wall.
For complex designs, symbols, and scripts, students created linoleum cuts, which were then used as molds to
create multiples. To do this, students cut multiple panels from sheets of linoleum. They then scaled the design to the tile, reversed it, transferred the drawing onto the linoleum and carefully carved the design. Here a student cuts the Sanskrit word "namaste" into linoleum.
Once complete, the linoleum cuts were pressed into clay. Finally, the tiles bordering the inscription were stamped. In the photo above Ms. Bryant uses one of the antique textile stamps.
After the tiles were made, they were set on shelves to dry until "leather hard." The edges of each and every tile were cleaned before being pressed between pieces of sheetrock to dry flat. In the photo, leathery tiles await cleaning.
Once dry, each piece was loaded onto shelves in the kiln for bisque firing, which heats the tiles to 1800 degrees. This step removes all the chemical water, leaving the tiles ready to be glazed.
Once out of the bisque kiln and cleaned, each piece was hand dipped in glaze and placed on a kiln shelf for the final 2232 degree glaze firing. This firing takes three days. 2600 triangles were cut, cleaned, bisque fired, and glazed.
Laying out by Section
Each section was laid out on the ground with paper templates so final decisions about the arrangement could be made.
A thin layer of mortar was applied to the wall for larger pieces.The back of every piece was "buttered" before being pressed into place.
Prep alum Ray Malzone '83, a master tiler, volunteered to grout the arch.