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{From the 2024 Spring magazine}

Written & Photographed By WENDY HOBDAY HAUGH

For people of all ages, the North Creek Mosaic Project is an extraordinary must-see! This stunning 220-foot long, 4-11-foot tall mosaic wall showcases the wonders of the Adirondack region, from its diverse flora and fauna to its countless fun, four-season recreational activities. Prominently located on Main Street in North Creek, a quaint hamlet in the Town of Johnsburg, the wall stands as a testament to what a community can accomplish when people work together for a common cause. Over the past 10+ years, a wondrous mix of more than 2,075 volunteers—including Johnsburg Fine Arts members, townspeople, and visitors—pitched in to transform an ugly concrete retaining wall into a spectacular mosaic canvas. 

Spearheading this lengthy, incredibly complex project is award-winning North Creek artist, teacher, and gallery proprietor Kate Hartley, who not only envisioned the wall’s dramatic transformation but applied for numerous grants to get the endeavor underway, designed the thematic content, taught volunteers of all ages how to work with mosaics, and oversaw the wall’s day-to-day and year-to-year progression. Hartley offered numerous workshops, summer camps, and school sessions to teach basic mosaic techniques and inspire people to take part in the adventure of a lifetime. Although the tiling is now completed, some of the grouting—a warm weather undertaking that insures the tiles remain securely in place—remains to be done. 

The North Creek Mosaic Project consists of a variety of materials, including ceramic tiles, shells, beads, glass fragments, and pebbles. Residents, businesses, and visitors not only contributed financially to the cause but donated leftover home renovation materials, shell collections, and glass bottles of every variety. Local grant sources that generously supported the project include The Johnsburg Occupancy Tax Committee, Rivendell Foundation, Sandy Hill Foundation, Glenn and Carol Pearsall Adirondack Foundation, Community Fund for the Gore Mountain Region, LARAC and NYSCA Arts Education.

“Town of Johnsburg seventh graders initially calculated there were about 160,000 pieces on the wall,” Hartley says, “but we later figured the number to be closer to 200,000. Johnsburg second-graders completed different elements each year, including making beautiful birch trees, a deer family, and various fish and butterfly species. Seventh and eighth graders made all the skiers and snowboarders, and high school and middle school students created trees from smashed and slumped wine bottles.”(Slumping is a process by which gravity and heat from a kiln are used to reshape glass.)

“High schoolers, together with groups of adults, created many challenging elements,” Hartley continues, “like a rustic campsite, a soaring osprey, and many of the larger animals like our almost full-sized moose! So many people contributed to this project in so many wonderful ways.”

Kate Hartley designed the wall to depict the nature and recreation of the North Creek area on an ideal spring day, when rafters are already on the river, and people are still skiing on Gore Mountain. “I consider the wall to be a mosaic of stories,” she explains. “Kids worked on it with their friends, parents, and grandparents, often multiple times at different ages over the years. And all of them will be able to visit the wall years from now, perhaps with their own children, and point out the pieces they did. This mosaic project is a source of pride for the Johnsburg/North Creek community and for everyone who contributed in any way. Everybody felt they were a part of something amazing.” 

In 2021, Hartley transformed a former funeral home/restaurant down the street from the Mosaic Project into her own H’ART Studio & Gallery. In this bustling community gem, Hartley teaches a wide range of classes, including water colors, mosaics, needle felting, clay hand-building and outdoor pit-firing. Additional workshops and classes are offered by guest artists. This vibrant gallery houses the fine art and crafts of more than 30 area artists, so be sure to stop in and browse after walking the wall!  

Walk the wall once, and you’ll quickly realize you need to walk it again and again. The scenes depicted are so cleverly detailed and action-packed no way can you see everything in just one pass! You could spend hours, days even, studying this impressive mosaic mural. Images of critters abound, including bear, deer, fox, loons, cardinals, turtles and fish—and that’s just a partial list! Activities abound, too, from biking, whitewater rafting, tubing, and kayaking to fly-fishing, hiking, and skiing. 

One scene, requested by a homeowner living above the wall, shows three women tubing down the Hudson River. Since Kate Hartley couldn’t find a decent picture of this activity to work from, she and her good friends Debby and Wendy went tubing themselves, taking pictures of one another as they floated down the river. Afterwards, using their photos as templates, they recreated their experience in mosaics.

Dazzling with color and bursting with energy, the North Creek Mosaic Project reflects not only the diversity of the region but the commonality of its creators: thousands of different people of all ages who gave of their time, talent, and sweat equity to create a masterpiece. Without question, it will stand as a gift to people near and far for generations to come.      

Visit The North Creek Mosaic Project year-round! Meet Kate Hartley at her H’ART Studio & Gallery, 276 Main Street, North Creek, NY 12853; 518-681-9921.