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It’s time to celebrate walls! Here’s why.

It’s time to celebrate walls! Here’s why.

Wall with Hadrian’s oracles inscribed, Delphi, Greece.

Are we destined as mosaic artists to spend the rest of our lives making walls or following paths? Isn’t that, when push comes to shove, what andamento really is? If so, hurray! Wall making and path following (or walking the line as Rachel Sager would say) are primal, necessary, satisfying, and fundamental to everything we do. From the beginning of civilisation to its inevitable end – there is no society or community that has not needed to do one and usually both. Humanity’s most celebrated structures are usually, at heart, nothing but stones or bricks carefully and skilfully stacked on top of each other.

Village house wall with recycled stone, Corinth, Greece.
Village house wall with recycled stone, Corinth, Greece. @Helen Miles Mosaics
Zippori citadel wall with sacrophagi
Zippori citadel wall with recycled sarcophagi @Helen Miles Mosaics

Now, when so little seems left for us to discover, wall making and path following are still part of our ordinary, instinctive human activities – our thirst for a place to be, our search for the fastest route, the quietest trail, the simplest journey from bed to shower to breakfast table to door. So all around us, embedded in our worlds, our streets, our contemporary lives and our ancient ruins are silent, invisible mosaics:  piled up, falling down, leaning over or running like ripples through and around and over everything we do.

Dry stone wall, detail, Perthshire, Scotland
Dry stone wall, detail, Perthshire, Scotland. @Helen Miles Mosaics

My own mosaic journey began unwittingly with helping my father repair the dry stone walls around our fields in Scotland. So let’s celebrate walls (I’ll save paths for another blog post). Let’s look up and pay attention to these protective, commemorative, swaggering or utilitarian assemblages of parts which in their turn celebrate us and our smaller, quieter, studio-based wall making.

Dachau concentration camp wall.
Dachau concentration camp wall, Germany. @Helen Miles Mosaics

Over a number of years I have been collecting photographs of walls. Some lovely, some interesting, some more lovely and more interesting than others. Then one day a wall turned up on my Facebook feed which sent a shiver of delight down my spine. The wall, posted by Canadian mosaic artist Julie Sperling from her holiday in Mexico, spurred me on to collect my walls together and show them to you. I have kept the photo gallery below deliberately random – I don’t want you to focus on the types or the colours but purely on their wall-y mosaic-ness.

Morelia wall, Mexico.
Morelia wall, Mexico, 2. @Julie Sperling.

The collection came about randomly. Sometimes I would screech the car to a halt by the side of a road, suddenly plunge off down an alley where nothing of discernible interest could be seen, or spend an awful lot of time staring at blank-faced surfaces when everyone else was cooing over views or poring over more interesting things. There is an understandable concentration of Greek walls but few walls over the past few years have escaped my attention.

Wall, Acrocorinth, Greece.
Wall, Acrocorinth, Greece. @Helen Miles Mosaics

Where possible I have dated the walls or noted the materials used but I don’t really feel that that is the point. In a few cases I am unable to track down even where I took the photographs so the walls, being walls, have to stand alone. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that they illustrate how ubiquitous and varied walls are. How, from our ancient ancestors to our present-day wall builders, the art of wall making has remained fundamentally the same. We fear, we control, we contain, we crave shelter and safety, we make walls (and mosaics). We always have. We always will.

First, sometimes a wall is not just a wall:

western wall jerusalem
Western Wall, Jerusalem. @Helen Miles Mosaics




  1. Rachel Sager

    Oh Helen! What a gorgeous article! I read it aloud to my Man over coffee just now. I bet you have more to say on this subject of walls and our need for them and I can’t wait for the next installment.

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