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BYU–Hawaii Mosaic Undergoes First Stages of Conservation Process

Haskins adding marks to the carrier facing of the mosaic.
Photo by Douglas Ferreira

Brigham Young University–Hawaii has called on the help of art preservationist Scott M. Haskins to oversee the de-installation of the mosaic on the front of the David O. McKay building. Under Haskins' guidance, the mosaic will be detached for safekeeping during the upcoming construction work on campus.

The mosaic consists of thousands of half-inch pieces of glass called “tesserae” made in one of the renowned Italian mosaic workshops in Venice, Italy just after World War II. Hundreds of sections of the mosaic were shipped to Oahu in 1958 to be put together like a puzzle. Each pre-prepared section of the mosaic was attached to the cement wall by expert tile installers working as labor missionaries at the time.

Scott Haskins looking at the tesserae of the mosaic.
Photo by Douglas Ferreira

Now de-installing the mosaic, Haskins is following the original traditional installation techniques in reverse. “If you were to detach the mosaic tiles from the wall, then they would fall apart and all you would have would have is a bunch of little tile pieces that turn into a pile of nothing,” Haskins explains.

His team spent two weeks performing tests to compare which modern adhesives and removal techniques would be safest for the mosaic. To preserve the original composition, Haskins and his team then covered the mosaic with several layers of adhesives and fabrics to act as “a carrier/facing/armature” to hold the tesserae together once they are removed from the wall. Haskins explains that this technique has been used to transport mosaics for thousands of years all around the world.

Because the protective facings temporarily cover the mosaic, Haskins and his team carefully traced the outline of key figures and details onto a transparent plastic sheet to serve as a guide later in the process. With this map, Haskins will know where to separate sections of the mosaic and how to put them together again when the restoration work takes place later this year.

Haskins has been preserving art for over 50 years, and when it comes to this mosaic, he has “enjoyed every minute of it.” Work on the mosaic will recommence in September with the return of Haskins and his team. "We knew this delicate process would take quite a bit of time,” said Kevin Schlag, operations vice president. “We weren’t quite sure what we’d find as we started, so that’s why we are doing this now. We are so happy we have engaged Scott. He is truly an expert," Schlag said. When the new campus welcome center is complete, preserved portions of the mosaic will be displayed as a prominent feature in the new building.