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Group creates tile mosaics in Downtown Albuquerque

Twelve thousand pieces.

Each distinct in color, texture and shape.

Alone, each is only but a piece. Yet, when put together, a story is revealed.

And like the mosaic the tiles are part of, the stories are multidimensional.

On the surface, one could see the big picture – that of the element fire within the winter season.

Yet the story begins with the apprentices who make up the Apprentices for Leaders in Mosaic Arts.

This year, ALMA is the organization responsible for the mosaics in Downtown Albuquerque. It has taken over the program from Harwood Art Center and the city of Albuquerque.

In the 10-week program, apprentices and program leaders created a mosaic at the northwest corner of Tijeras and Second NW.

ALMA hires a group of apprentices to work with professional artists to create a handmade tile mosaic.

The apprentices help with every aspect of making public artwork.

“They learn how to assist with design, carve tiles from wet clay, glaze tiles, fire a kiln, cement tiles to the wall and grout the finished artwork,” says Cassandra Reid, a leader of the ALMA team and owner of Lotus Tileworks.

Reid says the symbolism of the mosaic is conceptualized, researched, and drawn collaboratively by the apprentices with guidance from the lead artists to realize a rich, magical and illustrative three-dimensional representation of place, culture and history.

Since June 6, the small team has been diligently working in the summer heat.

“We try to keep our team covered,” she says. “We have to work fast and keep the mortar from drying out.”

Reid has worked on the Mayor’s Arts Institute of the Harwood Art Center projects since the early 2000s.

“The great thing about this program is many of the apprentices work their way up to leadership positions,” she says. “The apprentices that help us are talented artists in their own right.”

The program is difficult to get into.

Reid says that for about five spots each summer, the program gets between 50 and 60 applications.

“We have high school students and some from UNM and CNM,” she says. “The program gives the students the opportunity to work as part of a team and learn about the medium.”

This is the second year the program has worked on the west side of the Albuquerque Convention Center. It has two more years to finish another two mosaics on the far west sides of the building.

Colorful history

The projects Downtown are part of the Mayor’s Arts Institute of the Harwood Art Center.

The program was created in 1999 to provide paid training and mentorship for artistically talented youths and adults. The institute was funded over the course of several mayoral terms.

Under Mayor Richard J. Berry, the program has expanded to include additional sites beyond the Albuquerque Convention Center.

The Harwood Art Center of Escuela del Sol Montessori began administering the program in 2006.

The program was administered by the city of Albuquerque from 1999 to 2005, before being administered by the Harwood Art Center from 2006 to 2015.

The institute grew and flourished through the support of the Harwood staff and community. It gained stability, national recognition, and the support of the greater Albuquerque community. It has been funded by the New Mexico Youth Conversation Corps, the city of Albuquerque Public Art Program and the Heart Gallery of New Mexico Foundation. This year a fiscal sponsor is the New Mexico Community Development Loan Fund.

Over 150 young artists from Albuquerque have participated in the program.

Apprentices have forged their own way into the art world. One of those apprentices, is Karly Granzen, who has worked her way up to a leadership position.

“Teaching about work ethic is my main goal,” Granzen says. “No matter what career path they choose, I want to help instill a good, strong ethic.”

Granzen has been working on the mosaics since 2011. She enjoys working as a part of a team.

“The apprentices come together to work on one big idea,” she says. “Everyone has a sense of ownership, and it’s important to pay attention to every little detail.”