Artists have captured the beauty of the Finger Lakes in photographs, paintings, and other media for centuries. Now the Finger Lakes have been portrayed in a mosaic mural entitled “Roots in the Finger Lakes” at Cayuga Community College. The piece was designed by Cayuga students with oversight from artist-in-residence Jennifer Gandee and faculty member Melissa Johnson.
Gandee and Johnson began their work last fall through a series of meetings with students and the faculty/staff of the Art Department. “We envisioned this as a complete learning process from the start,” Gandee said. “First, I introduced students to examples of mosaics and the history of the medium going back to ancient Babylon, Greece, and Rome. We began the design process by asking students to sketch out their ideas for the mural and then discussing them as a group. Through the discussion and brainstorming process we realized we could combine several of the ideas that were generated: a tree trunk and roots, sedimentary layers with fossils, and the Finger Lakes. Once we had our idea, we created a large collaborative drawing of the image.”
The chosen design incorporates multiple ideas and elements into one unified piece. “We combined the iconic imagery of the lakes themselves into an underground setting,” Johnson said. “The lakes became the roots of a large tree, growing in multi-colored layers of soil and stone, and interspersed with fossil and organic imagery.” An outdoor wall which is visible in the walkway leading to College's School of Media and the Arts (SOMA) was selected as the site for the mural. SOMA brings together the College’s programs in Media Production, Audio/Radio Production, Studio Art, Music, Theatre, Writing and Literature.
“The wall always looked very empty and in need of some beautiful and inspiring art,” Johnson said. “It seemed that a mosaic mural was ideal for the location and would help identify the location of SOMA. It was also a chance to build on the energy of the mosaic murals created in the past few years in downtown Auburn. Jesse Kline, who was involved in the downtown mosaics, is sharing her expertise and helping with the final stages of the installation. Jen has been amazing in making this project happen and sharing her talent to create a beautiful and meaningful mosaic for the College.”
With the design approved, work began on producing approximately 1,000 tiles, plus broken tile donated by local businesses, which make up the mosaic. In April the wall was prepped for installation and the placement of the pieces began. “Students from the Art Club and other students have put the mosaic’s pieces into place,” Gandee said. “We also invited employees, CCC alumni, and other community members to stop by, view the work in progress, and even install some of the pieces.”
“This project will benefit the entire CCC community,” College President Dr. Daniel P. Larson said. “This is a striking addition of permanent art work to the Auburn Campus. Eventually, we would like to add a small outdoor seating area where students and the College community can read, study, play music, and appreciate this work of art. Involvement in this project gives our students a sense of community, pride, and accomplishment.”
The mosaic mural project is funded by the Cayuga Community College Foundation, through its Daniel C. Labeille Artist-in-Residence Endowment. The Labeille Endowment is intended to stimulate Cayuga’s students by exposing them to a level of artistic endeavor and performance above and beyond what is normally available to them. Jennifer Gandee is a long-time adjunct instructor at the College, a talented ceramics artist, and the director of Gandee Gallery in Fabius, N.Y.