Letitia Huckaby is a nationally-recognized photographer and multimedia artist based in Fort Worth. In 2010 she completed a public artwork for the Ella Mae Shamblee Branch Public Library which was newly constructed on East Rosedale when Huckaby’s work was superbly built into the site. A mosaic and stone path begins at the entrance patio, then winds its way through the front doors and past the reference desk leading to a literary garden. The patchwork design of the path complements an abstracted grid of photographs printed on sheet glass and multicolored glass blocks in a prominently featured window in the front of the library. Together, this work is entitled 35 City Blocks and it poetically reflects the artist’s studio practice in her exploration of genealogy, history, and themes of family and community.
After nine years outside this busy public building, some losses have occurred in one section of the mosaic glass blocks, and there are several areas where the natural stone pavers now are displaying cracks. The biggest area of damage lies over a joint in the sidewalk where the mosaic path is embedded. The two slabs of concrete on either side of the joint are no longer on a completely even plane which has led to water penetration and material losses over time.
Fort Worth Public Art contracted me to make the repair in the mosaic and stone that spans the expansion joint of the front patio sidewalk. Uncovering the process of the path’s construction felt a bit like artistic archaeology; I wasn’t quite sure what I would find underneath. What I discovered was that the mosaic glass tesserae are adhered to thin pieces of in individual blocks, the most damaged portions of which I extracted to make the repairs. During the extraction, adjacent pieces of stone and loose tiles were also removed. The gap in the expansion joint was later infilled with strips of concrete backer board to help level the surface. The original mastic on the removed glass and stone pieces was moist and mildewed. I left the site open overnight to dry out and took care to grind off the layer of mildewed mastic on the pieces.
I recreated most of the blue mosaic block in my studio, while the red and yellow glass tesserae were infilled onsite. The original stone pieces were cleaned up reset onsite. Mapai brand products Keralastic and Kerabond were used for the mortar. Keralastic is a liquid polymer additive which when mixed with the Kerabond powder creates a mortar with flexible properties that should stand up better to the movement of the expansion joint in the future. Small quantities of Keralastic are impossible to source and it is very expensive; I had to buy a large two gallon container when all I needed was one quart. And like gesso, Keralastic can go bad and become spoiled and stinky, so after this project the remainder went into my studio fridge with the sign “NOT FOOD” in hopes that it keeps longer!
Mapai black grout was used with the Keralastic additive to make for the most flexible joints. The area of broken marble took on more of the grout than I anticipated, so if I need to make a spot repair in the future, I will remember to use a white grout in this area to disguise some of the seams. Better yet, if this area cracks again, I would seek to replace the marble blocks and reposition their joint to follow the seam in the concrete.
While I worked the repair, my dear assistant spot-cleaned the outdoor mosaic and stone path with denatured alcohol to remove stains caused by gum and chewing tobacco. It was then fully cleaned with a multi-purpose sodium hydroxide cleaner and scrub brush.
Similar damages might occur again in the future of this work. The conservation and repair of public artworks are part of their lifecycle and are an integral part of planning the future of a public art collection. I have the honor of now being a part of the life of this public artwork created by an artist I admire so.