Mosaic Murals: The History May Just Be The Beginning
July 1st, 2007

July-August 2007

By Eric Carson

The history of mosaic murals, which dates back 4,000 years, like many lasting art forms can be traced directly to the Romans, or more accurately, the expansive Roman Empire. During its reign, the mosaic mural art form of the Romans spread to every region under its power, with many believing it was the Greek artists under Roman rule and later the Byzantines who truly mastered the craft. The world famous mosaic work uncovered from the ashes of Vesuvius at Pompeii had a decidedly Greek influence.

The word mosaic itself earns its root from the Greek word mouseion, meaning “appertaining to the muses,” which sounds just about right. Intricate mosaic murals, or any collection of pieces of marble, glass, ceramics or stone embedded in some form of cement, can be downright awe-inspiring. Whether in the form of large scale public art or smaller more detailed portraits, a mosaic mural has a way of forcing a passerby to stop, gaze and wonder, “How did they do that?” Or perhaps at the very least, “How long did that take?”

This sublime medium of the past has begun to make a splash here in America, as architects, designers and even homeowners increasingly look to the ancient art form for the creative freedom and unlimited design and color options it provides. The recent trend in the United States, driven largely by increased exposure to the medium gained through the Internet and the relative ease of world travel, combined with the widespread rise in the popularity of ceramic and glass tile materials, has sparked a renewed interest. Now, everywhere from casino, hotel or restaurant walls and floors, to residential bathrooms are considered prime canvases for the modern mosaicists.

“The world is shrinking,” said Sonia King, a mosaic artist and author of Mosaic Techniques and Traditions (Sterling Publishing). “Mosaic murals have always been more prevalent in Europe because of the rich tradition and history, but through exposure, more and more architects have come to realize the importance of the medium. The growth in the US has been driven from the outside in, and with the availability of more traditional mosaic materials it has moved more from a craft to becoming increasingly art-centric.”

The art form itself is no easier to accomplish today for the artist than it has been at any point in history, still requiring incredible levels of skill and uncommon attention to detail. What has changed is the ability for any end-user with an idea or the simple desire to have a mosaic mural installed, to easily realize this ambition.

How easy? Well, as easy as sending in a fax or an email or even just a picture taken from a digital camera to a firm offering a mosaic mural program. Companies like the Oregon-based Hakatai Enterprises, through its innovative mosaic mural and design program, will design and fabricate hand-cut, ready-to-install mosaic glass murals on mesh-backed sheets with paper facing out of a photo, painting, CAD or detailed drawing, with an almost limitless range of mosaic glass tile color options and textures available, ensuring an exact replica of your vision in any size.

Of course, a skilled installer is still a necessary component, but murals in any size are simply labeled appropriately by section, rolled up like a carpet, and shipped in circular tubes ready to be installed. Glass murals, or murals made from combinations of ceramic tile and natural stone, can be installed on any interior or exterior wall or floor where traditional ceramic, porcelain or stone tile applications would be suitable.

The installation of the mural, though much more complex, still requires the basic necessities of any tile install: a clean, firm and properly graded substrate, a waterproofing membrane in wet areas like a bathroom or for exterior applications, a modified Portland cement thin-set, and the proper grout selection based on the tile materials. Smaller more detailed murals can be delivered and installed in one piece, but it’s the larger murals, delivered in sections, that require more skill and precision to successfully install.

With Coverings 2007 still fresh in everyone’s mind, a perfect example of a modern mosaic mural made from a wide combination of ceramic, stone, porcelain, glass and metal products, is the 15’ x 13’ masterpiece created by Harri Aalto of Creative Edge Mastershop. Aalto, one of the world’s foremost waterjet fabricators, long inspired by the impressive Chicago skyline, created a mural depicting the “stone” city, installed it with state-of-the-art setting materials from LATICRETE, and left it hanging in McCormick Place as a treasured gift to the people of Chicago.

Though perhaps not quite as intricate as the 4th Century Christian art murals created by the Romans, Aalto’s mural does speak to the technological advancements that make this art form increasingly more appealing and achievable in modern times. The stone, ceramic, and porcelain tile were precision cut with water-jet technology, which of course didn’t exist in ancient times. The 1,500-pound mural was set permanently in place with a thin, load-bearing thinset, and the design was completed and uninterrupted by utilizing LATICRETE® SpectraLOCK™ PRO Grout’s 40 different color options. Again, not exactly an option for the Romans at Pompeii.

Still, the sheer power and intricate detail of mosaic murals, and even the techniques passed on by the ancient Roman masters, continue to inspire the modern architect, designer and mosaicists. And with the full knowledge that what once was can never truly be again, perhaps the future holds another chapter, or even a new level of mosaic artistry for future generations to behold.

The possibilities, like that of a mural not yet created, are simply limitless.

Eric Carson is the senior writer at Communicators International, Inc., a full-service marketing and communications firm based in Portland, Maine. Contact him at:, or visit


Floral from Hakatai’s custom program.

Chicago Skyline by Harry Aalto of Creative Edge Mastershop features ceramic, stone, porcelain, glass and metal and 15’x13’ artwork.

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