Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Maria Jose Subiria

Passengers walking through the world's busiest airport these days may find themselves stepping on art.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is hosting permanent mosaic tile exhibits in the center points of Concourses A, B and C. One of the vast mosaic pieces depicts an 1850s map of the City of Atlanta, one is a colorful image based on a turbofan jet engine, and the third is an image of Stone Mountain.

"We are very excited to reveal these mosaic art pieces, which help establish a sense of place for passengers walking through the airport," said Katherine Marbury, manager of the Airport Art Program at Hartsfield-Jackson. "Although Atlanta is a relatively young city, these images remind travelers of the city's humble beginnings, its connection to aviation and the original appearance of one of our most famous natural landmarks."

According to Marbury, the mosaic piece entitled "Crossroads" on Concourse A was designed by artist Cheryl Goldsleger, professor and director of the Ernest G. Welch School of Art and Design at Georgia State University. The design of the mosaic piece includes a map of Atlanta in 1853, and a labyrinth that frames the central image of her work.

"The map shows an interesting aspect of the history of the city that is now considered an international city," said Goldsleger. "I hope visitors will find this piece of Atlanta history interesting when contrasted against the international image of Atlanta today."

Goldsleger said the first official map of Atlanta was commissioned by then Mayor John F. Mims in 1853, and was drawn by Edward A. Vincent, a civil engineer. The map, also known as the Vincent map, encompasses parts of Central, Decatur, Peachtree, Pryor and Wall streets, in downtown Atlanta, that still exist today. At that time, approximately 6,000 people lived in the city, according to Goldsleger.

"This small snippet of history, taken from much more in-depth research on Atlanta, led to the creation of this piece," Goldsleger said in a statement. "Urban space is one of the most telling aspects of a society. It is the spirit of what the Vincent map reflects that inspires this mosaic."

The labyrinth which frames the central image of the mosaic serves as a metaphor for exploration of Atlanta and the variety of the destinations beyond the city, she said.

"To young and old alike, it is an open invitation to interact with the design and 'walk the maze,'" said Goldsleger.

Marbury said natural stone tiles and some glass were used to construct "Crossroads."

"Initially, the influence for the color was taken from an urban environment and nature itself," said Goldsleger. "I also had the opportunity to visit the mosaic studio that translated my painting into a mosaic, and agreed with the studio [that] the various natural colors of marble that are available would be an ideal solution for the work."

Goldsleger said the design of her piece took two months to create, and that there were additional design changes afterward. The construction of the mosaic art piece took four to five months to complete, she said.

According to Marbury the paintings and designs of the artists were sent to Stephen Miotto, of Stephen Miotto Mosaics, a company based in New York. The paintings and designs were sent to Stephen Miotto Mosaics' studios in Italy, where artisans cut the tiles by hand and laid them on an "actual-size" drawing of the back of the mosaic. The artisans knew where to place each tile because the drawing was outlined by color. When a section of the mosaic was finished, it was glued to a piece of plastic netting.

"Once dry, the netting will be flipped over and installed right-side up when the mosaic gets its new home," explained Marbury. "This technique allowed the mosaics to be built off site and installed in days, rather than months."

Marbury said Concourse B's mosaic is entitled "Propulsion," and was conceived by mixed-media artist, Anita Arliss. The mosaic art piece portrays a spinning turbofan jet engine.

"This piece ... is based on a turbofan jet engine, and classical mosaic whirling motifs, as well," said Arliss.

According to Arliss, in order to better prepare for her creation, she was taken to Concourse B and provided with a blueprint of the area where her 21-foot mosaic art piece would be installed.

"I want people to experience beautiful color sections and a sense of buoyancy," said Arliss. "The airport experience these days can be stressful, and I hoped to give visitors a sense of calmness."

Marbury said manufactured glass tiles were used to construct "Propulsion."

Depicting Stone Mountain, the mosaic art piece entitled "Natural Wonder," by artist Donald Cooper, was installed on Concourse C, said Marbury.

"'Natural Wonder' is Donald Cooper's meditation on the majesty of one of our greatest local land masses," said Marbury. "It refers directly to the mountain itself, as well as to the mystery with which it had been imbued by the [people] who lived in this area before colonization."

Cooper, who resides in Atlanta, said he has been painting for approximately 50 years, and "Natural Wonder" was the first mosaic art piece he had ever designed.

According to Cooper, when designing the piece, he had to keep in mind that it would be viewed from the floor, at angle. His illustration of Stone Mountain includes an image of a large, flaming sun shining on the mountain in the day time, and a reflection of the mountain in a lake during the night, with the moon above the mountain's mirroring image.

Cooper said most of his work includes symbolism, and that "Natural Wonder" includes a vortex, which is a border that surrounds the central image, representing natural energy.

"I was interested in the natural aspect of it [Stone Mountain] and I wanted to honor that," he said.

Marbury said the construction of Cooper's mosaic art piece consisted of manufactured glass and natural stone tiles.

Hartsfield-Jackson's mosaic tile exhibits were authorized under the City of Atlanta's "Percent-for-Art" ordinance, which puts a portion of airport capital project budgets toward commissioned art work, said Marbury.

"The budget was $500,000, paid for under the City of Atlanta's 'Percent-for-Art' ordinance," she said.

In September of 2005, design solicitation began, and by the summer of 2009, the pieces were installed, she added.

"The Airport Art Program is always exploring new, creative and exciting ways to enhance the facility through art," said Marbury. "We hope passengers will continue to be amazed at the works, that lie in front of, and now, beneath them."