In January 2003, a consultant brought in to evaluate the Tiger Spot mosaic on Lowry Mall said MU should consider permanently removing the artwork or be prepared to maintain it “throughout the years.”
On Thursday, three years after receiving the report from New York-based mosaic expert Stephen Miotto, university officials announced that Tiger Spot, which has been under repair various times since it was unveiled in October 2001, will be replaced.
In a statement released Thursday morning, MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said the university “made every effort to maintain the mosaic in the face of constant challenges presented by the deterioration of the artwork, apparently caused primarily by the weather. Unfortunately, several efforts to repair the damage have not survived additional battering from the Missouri weather.”
But, three years ago, Miotto said weather was only one factor in the failure of the mosaic, which was created by local artist Paul Jackson.
In a two-page report, dated Jan. 13, 2003, and obtained by the Missourian through an open-records request, Miotto noted the overall condition of the mosaic as poor, with numerous tiles that were missing, broken or split. Miotto admitted that the process Jackson used was so “unorthodox” that he had some trouble understanding what had happened to the mosaic.
Eventually, he concluded several factors contributed to the problems. The 420,000 glass tiles that comprised the 30-foot mosaic were too thin for an exterior pavement.
Typically, floor mosaics are constructed with glass that is ten millimeters thick, Miotto said. However, Tiger Spot was constructed with much thinner glass, about three to four millimeters thick.
Also, Jackson’s method of casting sections of the mosaic off-site, then hand-patching them in place left “too many voids and weak areas,” making the work vulnerable to water and other weather damage. Miotto also said that Jackson and his crew of volunteers failed to install expansion joints around the perimeter of the mosaic, which would have helped relieve pressure that naturally occurs with ground mosaics.
Miotto suggested five ways to address the poor condition of the mosaic: moving it indoors or placing it on a wall; recreating it in another location; renovating it; redoing the mosaic using thicker tile, marble and stone; or tearing it up.
“I cannot say if the mosaic can be saved and at what cost,” Miotto said.
On Thursday, Miotto, who was paid $1,150 for his evaluation, said that, had it been his decision, he would have torn it up.
“To be honest, he said, “I would have removed the whole thing.”
Jackson disputes Miotto findings. He said the construction process was not the problem, but rather what he counted as 32 separate occasions of vandalism that led to the mosaic’s demise.
“The problem was the holes punched into it by vandalism,” Jackson said.
Tiger Spot was built with private donations totaling more than $192,000, said MU spokesperson Mary Jo Banken. Problems began to emerge almost immediately after it was unveiled, and in July 2004, MU hired artist Tom Edwards, one of the volunteers who worked on the project with Jackson, to organize and manage the job of restoring the mosaic.
The UM System Board of Curators approved a contract to pay Edwards $9,000 for past work and expenses. The contract, which was extended earlier this year, called for Edwards to receive $400 a month, plus reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses, through this December.
Before Thursday’s decision to replace Tiger Spot, the cost of repairs had come to close to $87,000, all of which was paid with private money, Banken said. Edwards received at least $17,200 of that total for his work.
In January 2004 the Missourian reported that $11,000 was spent on a new drain for the site, and the cost was billed to MU.
MU’s first announcement that Tiger Spot would be replaced said that Edwards was part of that decision. However, the artist said Thursday that he was “crushed and devastated” at the decision, which he did not agree with.
Edwards said his restoration of the mosaic is about 92 percent complete. He said he was grateful and “extremely honored” to work on the project, but that five years of his life are now “down the drain.”
“It’s a terrible, terrible mistake,” he said of the decision to end the project.
Banken said that new designs for the site will be considered, but that a timeline for replacing Tiger Spot has not been determined. Jackson said he was invited to be part of an advisory board that will help decide what’s next, and that he hopes Edwards is part of the next project.
Several donors contacted said they were disappointed that the project did not succeed. Some expressed concern that the decision to dismantle the mosaic was premature. “I’d hate to see it go unless there was another plan, or a real good reason to replace it, something more spectacular, something as equally appealing,” said benefactor Roger Bumgarner. “I think they better think long and hard about whether it’s the time to replace it.”
Tricia Volkert said she thought Tiger Spot never lived up to its potential.
“I thought it was a beautiful picture,” she said. “I was hoping they’d get it to work. But I’m sure the university and their art people will come up with something fitting of the campus.”
— Missourian reporter Phillip Ameling contributed to this story