The mosaics in the Chinese Garden just got their first major restoration since 2006. Being exposed to the elements is hard on the artwork, so Garden staff does minor repairs on them with some frequency. “I will be setting up a preventative maintenance schedule to ensure all of them are pressure washed and sealed yearly,” says General Services Manager Kevin Mattingly. “This will help protect them, but all of this type of flat work that is laid up in mortar–be it brick or stone–deteriorates rapidly due to the frequent freeze thaw cycles of our St. Louis winters.”
Occasionally, the mosaics need more considerable repairs. Earlier this month, the mirrored crane mosaic at the south end of the Chinese Garden had to be fully removed, cleaned stone by stone, and then restored. For more major jobs like this, the Garden often calls on artist Grace McCammond.
“I just showed up to stick rocks in the ground,” she jokes.
This isn’t the only project McCammond has worked on in the Garden; she’s also done a number of other things, including the designs on the Bavarian Garden house and the dome above the Ottoman Garden throne.
Garden staff worked alongside McCammond to complete the project. First, the mosaic’s image was preserved by tracing it onto a clear, acrylic sheet. One of the two mirrored cranes was missing a significant number of stones, so only the complete one was traced and then copied. Next, the rocks were all removed and hand-cleaned using a cleaning solution; this way, all of the original rocks could be used when the mosaic was restored. Then, the acrylic sheet was laid down over the new mortar mix so that the traced design could be cut into it. McCammond then worked for a week to put all the new stones in place. Lastly, the freshly laid mosaic was cleaned and sealed to keep it looking new. “This was by no means a solo project,” McCammond says, noting that she had a lot of assistance from Garden staff along the way.
The crane is a common symbol of good fortune across a number of cultures, especially in Asia. It is widely used in Chinese imagery to represent longevity.
After completing the mosaic, McCammond is off to other projects–first a mural in Ballpark Village, then a ghost painting at Union Station.
“I paint all kinds of stuff,” McCammond says. “I’ve painted everything–from here at the Garden to private homes to fire hydrants to Grant’s Farm.”
Kristina Schall DeYong––Digital Media Specialist