A Q&A with Ole Avenue Project Tile Artisan Sarah Swan-Kloos ’21
One of the most stunning features in the new Ole Avenue residence hall is a multistory tile wall in the main lounge — and there’s a great story behind it that features an Ole.
St. Olaf College alumna Sarah Swan-Kloos ’21, a tile artisan at Mercury Mosaics in Minneapolis, worked on the layout of the tile. The background of the wall features a pattern using ASCII text — the binary computer language — that spelled out a shortened version of “Um! Yah! Yah!” to create a simple gradient of colors to reflect the changing seasons. Every tile in the feature wall was hand-created.
Swan-Kloos recently shared what it was like to work on this project, what she hopes the wall brings to the space, and the path that led her to work as a tile artisan. (Also, scroll down for an Instagram reel showing how the team at Mercury Mosaics created the wall!)
Tell us about your work as a tile artisan. What type of projects do you work on? What does your work look like day-to-day?
I primarily work in the layout section, which involves arranging tile in our standard patterns that are then ready to ship to clients. I also get to work on custom designs, such as the one for St. Olaf, which are more complex and specific to a client. On a day-to-day basis I will usually work on a combination of standard sheets and a custom design with a coworker — there is a lot of collaboration involved!
Were you surprised that just a few years after graduating from St. Olaf, you ended up working on a project that really aims to capture the essence of the college through art?
Yes, this project took me completely by surprise! According to our design team the college had been working on this project since 2017, which is when I started my first semester at St. Olaf. It felt like a full-circle moment getting to work on this project that had been in development since I started college. It was a very poetic way to look back on my college experience through the images I was making with tile.
What was the most fun part about working on this project?
Getting to create the custom shapes in the image. A lot of the shapes you see in the tile we cut custom from bisqued tile. After glazing the tile, we got to put the pieces back together like a puzzle, which was a very satisfying and rewarding process.
What was the most challenging part about working on this project?
The most challenging part by far was the size of the project. It sits at 21 feet x 30 feet, which is much bigger than our normal custom designs. Because of this we had to divide the piece up into sections, which took about two weeks at a time to complete in full.
What do you hope that this wall brings to the space in the new residence hall?
A lot of the imagery of the piece features landmarks of campus that I associate with memories of being on the Hill. I hope that it brings the same nostalgia to students with their own unique memories of campus.
At St. Olaf, you majored in studio art and art history. What was your path like from St. Olaf to your current career?
A lot of the skills I learned in the Art Department had to do with the process of creating art. When looking for jobs after college, I wanted something that could give me more experience with process that I could take to my own artistic practice, which is exactly what this job entails.
What else were you involved in on campus?
While I was usually in the print studio in Center for Art and Dance, I was also involved with KSTO as a radio host and a graphic designer!
To see the process of putting the Ole Avenue Project tile wall together, watch the Instagram reel below that Mercury Mosaics captured. Um! Yah! Yah!
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