Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles

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Our Lady Queen of Angels Church.  535 N Main St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. (click to view)

120' x 18' ft
Description / Interpretation: 

I was approached by the Historical Los Angeles Mission, Our Lady Queen of Angels to paint a large 120'X18' tile mural to be installed on an exterior wall. The subject matter was to be of the Vision of the Virgin Guadalupe as she appeared to Juan Diego an Indian peasant, combined with the flags of the Americas. Then a few months later the two famous Mexican volcanoes that are located near where the miracle occurred and the now extinct lake where Mexico City is now located were added to the request. I was faced with many challenges on this two year project and the experience taught me a great deal.


My artwork is produced on glazed commercial tiles and sinks or on my own handmade tile or pottery. For this project I selected 12"x12" white porcelain floor tile as my canvas. I use many types of colored and clear glazes fired to 1900° F to achieve a huge range of effects that have a durable permanent finish. I primarily use an airbrush to create my images but also rely on many traditional and non-traditional methods from glaze-chalks and pencils, a myriad selection of brushes, sponges, sticks, clumps of straw- anything to get that special effect.


In a way, the painting was the easy part. Waiting for a kiln to cool down wondering if any tiles had cracked in the firing process and how I would match a replacement when each tile has up to 30 layers of glazes applied was the hardest. The total firing time for the project was over 150 days so there was much nail-biting going on. In the end only 2 tiles broke that had to be replaced and on most projects I have had good fortune in that respect finding patience in the heating and cooling of the kiln lowers the risk of breakage. When it does happen I repaint several samples of the same broken tile changing the glaze consistency and technique slightly on each one, fire them and then select the best match.


The sheer weight of the 2000 tiles became a factor not only in the installation but also in the daily handling of them. At over 2 pounds each, the stacking, unloading, cleaning, restacking, numbering, arranging, loading the kiln, unloading the kiln, arranging again, boxing then delivering the tiles became quite the workout. The wall where the tiles were to be installed needed engineering not only for earthquakes but also its sheer mass. Expansion joints had to be incorporated every 10 feet as well. - EJ Harpham




Photo © Ian Robertson-Salt