Artist Paul Jackson’s Tiger Spot mosaic on Lowry Mall was described as a “wonderful vision” by MU Chancellor Richard Wallace at its unveiling 11 months ago.
That vision of the colorful face of a Bengal tiger has since been marred by mineral deposits and broken tiles. Now, MU will spend an estimated $11,000 to build a drain to protect a project meant to be funded entirely by private donors.
To date, about $180,000 in donated funds have been spent on the project, according to the MU News Bureau. MU’s College of Arts and Science is overseeing the project.
Trey Davis, development officer for the college, said it is mounting a campaign to raise an additional $50,000 to establish an endowed maintenance fund for the mosaic. However, the fund will not finance the Lowry Mall drain, which will be paid for by MU.
White calcium deposits have outlined the seams between the 2-foot-square sections of the mosaic, giving the 30-foot circle a patchwork appearance. Hundreds of the 420,000 Italian glass tiles, which cost $18,000, have been reduced to fragments, possibly the result of vandalism.
In addition to vandalism, Jackson blames rainwater running off the steps of Ellis Library for the tile damage and the white calcium deposits.
“It’s like Niagara Falls,” Jackson said. “It’s incredible the velocity that the water builds up running off the steps.”
Phil Shocklee, assistant director of campus facilities, said that based on Jackson’s recommendation, construction of a 65-foot-long, 6-inch-wide trench drain at the foot of the steps of Ellis will begin Monday. Shocklee said the drain will cost MU $11,000.
Nancy Moen, director of communications for the college, said it is not using donated funds to pay for the drain because the runoff was also affecting other areas of Lowry Mall.
Jackson has no doubt that vandals are responsible for some of the damage. “You can see the hammer blows,” he said. “They’re perfect circles, but the damage spreads to the surrounding tiles.”
MU police have investigated the reports but are considering several explanations. “Some of our guys weren’t convinced that it was vandalism,” said MUPD Maj. Jack Watring. “After they talked to several people, they think it might be weather or water damage.”
Osmund Overby, a professor of architectural history at MU, said the Tiger Spot departs from established practice. “There’s a long history of small glass-tile mosaics, but usually inside churches, and certainly not outside in a climate like ours,” Overby said. He said that for outdoor, in-ground use, mosaics are usually made of larger stone pieces that better withstand freezing and thawing.
Jackson said the temperature changes are not to blame. “I think it came through the winter fairly well,” Jackson said.
Jackson hopes to have the mosaic repaired in time for its first anniversary at MU’s homecoming on Oct. 22. His plans include coating the mosaic with a sealant to help prevent further water damage. “I’ll be out there repairing it until the end of my days,” Jackson said. “I owe it to all the volunteers who worked on the project.”