Mosaic by Heather West
New Stream Life Mosaic Shines at Laurel Community Center
A shimmering streak of mirrors separates two interconnected worlds, each full of life. One world above is familiar to many. The other world is hidden under the glittering surface, its incredible biological diversity usually visible only to those who dare submerge to look below. But now you can experience up close the many inhabitants of a healthy mountain stream ecosystem, without even getting wet!
A beautiful new 6 x 13-foot wall mosaic by artist Heather West at Laurel Community Center (LCC) depicts over 125 species of fish, insects, plants, animals and fungi that thrive in and around the healthy streams found in the Laurel River system in Madison County, NC. Handmade colorful glazed ceramic tiles, impressions of real insects and leaves, shining glass bubbles and mirrors, even flat river stones were all crafted and artfully placed on the wall to depict life in a cross-section of a mountain stream and its riparian (streamside) zone.
West spent the last year in the creeks and her streamside studio at LCC studying specimens and images of stream life. Using her findings, West created unique ceramic tiles that together bring this masterpiece to life. Throughout the summer, community members joined in to help craft and glaze the hundreds of tiles of stream and riparian species. West then completed the public art project by permanently installing the mosaic in the breezeway at LCC in Shelton Laurel.
Familiar species like bobcat, raccoon and osprey peek out from streamside trees and flowery margins. But the stars of the watery mosaic are less well-known: the 20 or so species of colorful native fish like darters, shiners, suckers and chubs as well as a camouflaged Hellbender and tiny aquatic insects set amongst the rocks that grace the underwater portion.
Kids and folks of all ages are loving the opportunity to get a closer look and to hunt out the many fascinating species represented - all in ceramic. A guide posted nearby lists the species and their locations within the mural. A playful otter frolics on the surface. Mushrooms - even a zombie-making Cordiceps and its captive insect grub - symbolize the complex soil interactions that help feed the stream ecosystem. Weird creatures like a hogsucker, star-nosed mole and hickory horned devil hide amongst the tiles.
West received a grant from the NC Arts Council, support from individuals on a GoFundMe account and a contribution from Laurel Community Center Organization to support her project. She used images provided to LCC by NC Fishes and Freshwaters Illustrated and from local photographers to complete the work.
“Heather’s mosaic is an artistic masterpiece, and also remarkable for the accurate depictions of all these amazing species, their habitats and interactions,” said Mary Kelly, an ecologist who helped suggest some of the featured species.
The Laurel Community Center welcomes all and celebrates healthy streams at 4100 NC Hwy 212 in Shelton Laurel and is open for visitors 10-2 pm Tues- Fri, including a Madison County Welcome Center. The Center’s six-acre campus is open dawn to dusk 7 days a week and includes a long section of Shelton Laurel Creek that is open to anglers and visitors, a fitness path and playground. Call LCCO at 828-656-3633 or check out the website at laurelcommunitycenter.org for more information
This project was supported by the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural resources.