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UW-Eau Claire Student Volunteers Time and Talent
to Repair University Mosaic

RELEASED: March 16, 2006

Sally Johnson by mosaic she repaired
Mosaic in Phillips Hall needing repair
Sally Johnson working on mosaic

Above, Johnson stands in front of the repaired mosaic. Center, a "before" photo shows some of the many areas where missing and damaged tiles needed replacing. Below, Johnson begins the grouting phase of the project. (Top and bottom photos by Rick Mickelson, UW-Eau Claire; center photo by Sally Johnson.)

EAU CLAIRE — University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students and faculty walking through Phillips Science Hall in the past few weeks may have noticed that something was happening to the colorful mosaic that has been on the back hall of the entrance to the building for almost 40 years.

The work was completed in 1967 by two art students, Steve Nelson and Tom Scheiflbein, working from a design by Ron Udy, a former UW-Eau Claire art faculty member who died about ten years ago. The semi-abstract piece of more than 16,000 glass pieces depicts life, energy and matter. When it was completed, Udy said it represented an artist's conception of the universe, rather than a scientist's.

Just a few weeks ago the work was in disrepair, with numerous missing tiles and crumbling grout. But now it looks like new again, thanks to the efforts of sophomore Sally Johnson of Eau Claire.

"Every time I walked past the mosaic in the hall at Phillips I cringed because it was in such poor condition," said Johnson. "I know how much work had to have gone into it, so I decided to volunteer to repair it."

Johnson appreciated the work that had gone into the original mosaic because she's been making mosaics of her own for the past four years.

She explained that she saw her first mosaics when she was about four years old and her family visited the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa. Father Paul Dobberstein, a German priest, created the huge shrine to the Virgin Mary over many years by gathering and combining rocks, minerals and precious stones into a series of nine mosaic grottos.

"I was so impressed by that, I think I just tucked it away in the back of my mind," said Johnson. "Then a few years ago, somebody showed me a mosaic birdhouse and it all came back to me. I started doing research and then started making my own pieces. I do a lot for gifts, but I've also sold a few pieces."

Contrary to what you might expect, Johnson is not an art student, although she is something of a Renaissance woman. Now a grandmother, she has an associate nursing degree and worked for 18 years in the health care field. But just recently, she auditioned for the music and theatre arts department at UW-Eau Claire in hopes of being accepted into the music therapy program. Johnson sings and plays guitar and writes her own songs.

A class in human biology is what took her past the Phillips Hall mosaic on a regular basis.

Johnson had to do a little digging to find out who was responsible for the piece. When she inquired about the Art Accessions Committee, she was referred to Tom Wagener, curator of the University's permanent art collection. Wagener told her the history of the mosaic, including the fact that it has been repaired several times in the past, and approved her request to clean it up once again.

A number of faculty and students saw Johnson working on the piece and told her they were glad it was being repaired.

"There were a few who told me they didn't like the piece," laughed Johnson, "but I think more people like it and think of it as a piece of university history."

Johnson credited the custodial staff at Phillips Hall for helping her in various ways and for finding a box of the original tiles she could use in the repair, although she did have to supplement them with some of her own. She also thanked her husband Dave, a tinner, for helping her with the project and teaching her a lot about construction.

"This has been a fun project and I'm ever hopeful that it will be preserved for eternity!" said Johnson.



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