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Squares of color and light

Jamaica Plain mosaics celebrate Latin culture

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Squares of color and light
A mosaic map of Hyde Square. (Photo: Courtesy of the Hyde Square Task Force)

Jamaica Plain artists Richard Youngstrom, Fiona O’Connor and Andrea Tamkin partnered with Hyde Square Task Force recently to bring a community-made mosaic to the Church of the Blessed Sacrament’s plaza. Funded by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ Creative City grant, the project brings visual public art to JP’s lively Latin Quarter.

Author: Courtesy of the Hyde Square Task ForceCommunity members place tiles on a mosaic.

Author: Courtesy of the Hyde Square Task ForceAntiviolence graffiti is replicated in a mosaic.

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The semi-permanent mosaics, featured in both mural form and on the square’s outdoor picnic tables, depict maps of the neighborhood and culturally significant items. One square depicts a dove and a pineapple, symbols of peace and hospitality, and bears the words, “Stop Violence, Create Peace.” Another shows a map of the land between the Jackson Square T station and Hyde Square. Youngstrom says, “It’s detailed enough that you might be able to put your finger on where your house is if you live in the neighborhood.” The mosaics not only bring beauty to the square, but also foster a sense of community pride.

Though the artists did most of the assembly, Hyde Square Task Force students and other community members helped brainstorm the subject matter for each piece. Hyde Square Task Force also hosted a number of free mosaic classes throughout the summer to educate the public on the process. In a press release, Tamkin said, “Working in mosaics is very meditative, it’s like solving a puzzle. I love seeing how the pieces fit together, creating a surface reflecting light in a magical dance.”

Andover Newton Theological School in Newton donated the Italian glass tiles for the project. They arrived at the school in the 1980s due to a shipping error and had been sitting in the basement ever since. The 200 pounds of tile were pre-cut in mosaic size pieces, which lent themselves perfectly to classes for newcomers unfamiliar with glass cutting.

Youngstrom has been working in mosaics for 15 years, and wanted to bring more visual art to Hyde Square Task Force’s performance-heavy programs. “Mosaic art lends itself to public art projects because it’s not only beautiful, it’s durable,” says Youngstrom. The mosaics were approved for two years of display time, though Youngstrom expects them to last much longer. The picnic tables will be brought indoors during the winter and returned as weather warms up in the spring.

In a press release, O’Connor said, “We hope that visitors connect to Hyde Square as an active and energetic place, filled with people, color, music and food from Latin America. We hope the mosaics add to the welcoming place the church plaza has been in the community for decades.”

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