Tessellation Tango

The finished mosaic mural.

Title: ‘Tessellation Tango’

Description: As the Primary Designer of this low-relief work, I later collaborated with Scott Frankenberger to fabricate, ship and install the work on the new forecourt face of the Math Science Research Institute building in Berkeley, California. Sir Roger Penrose was the special guest for the crowd of world scholars at the grand opening, for which we’d finished our 10-day installation just shortly before.

Medium: Handmade porcelain tiles (in only 2 rhomboid shapes) imprinted with numbers & odd number facts, broken commercial ceramic tile and protruding aluminum strips as a low-relief mosaic.

Year: I designed it in 2004, we made tiles in 2005 and installed them in 2006.

Dimensions: 5’ x  30’

This proposal (of two I submitted) was awarded the first place design prize in the MSRI competition from a field of national and some international entries.

The 30′ x 5′ design has 3 distinct areas:

  • A large area on the left side is based on a ‘3-D Cube’ pattern grid.
  • A small central transition area uses shapes from both patterns (but grids from neither)
  • A large area on the right side is based on a Penrose pattern grid
Close up of the two sections. The 3-D cube grid on the right & Penrose pattern on the left.

The 3-D Cube pattern

The gridded unit of positive metal lines and shapes creates a background grid, with larger negative space shapes made by removing adjacent grid units. Overlaid on (and in unison with) this background grid will be porcelain tiles, exposing the many interrelationships to be found within complex patterns. These color-glazed tiles highlight a myriad of pattern combinations made by connecting different units of the grid.

This clay tile area incorporates 2 different rhomboid shapes and three different ceramic glaze colors. Half to a third of these tiles were impressed with numerals and odd number facts (or relationships) for educational interest and additional texture.

The Central Area

The central area has more negative space and two similar but different ideas. One ‘cube’ of tiles from the 3-D cube pattern fits inside a raised metal hexagonal diagram extracted from that pattern. One cube from the Penrose pattern fits into a raised metal decagonal diagram extracted from the Penrose pattern.

The Penrose Pattern

This consists of a harder-to-imagine background base grid (created with positive shapes and raised metal lines), and more seemingly-irregular negative space shapes.

The immediate result is less of an organized appearance, but upon examination the Penrose pattern is discerned. Again overlaid on and in unison with this background, will be the glazed ceramic tiles, exposing even more interrelationships found within this complex pattern. The color tiles highlight the myriad of pattern combinations made by connecting different units of the Penrose grid. This clay tile area incorporates 2 different rhomboid shapes and three different main ceramic glaze colors, with 3 or 4 other glaze colors used as smaller highlights also. A third to half of these tiles will are also impressed with numerical information for additional visual texture and intellectual interest.

The tile and glaze colors are of a scheme chosen to work with the surrounding architecture and environment.

The tiles are roughly 6″ each. After all the handmade color tiles were put in place, the negative space was filled completely with broken bits of neutral tiles & grout.

Ice Pie Spirals

A photo of the glass tile mosaic, before it was completed.

“Ice Pie Spirals” is a 8’ x 12’ public art mosaic inside Tippecanoe County’s Klondike Elementary School. After seeing my “Ice Pie” mosaic, I was selected to be Klondike’s artist-in-residence for their 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years. In a hall where students pass by daily on their way outdoors, a wall between windows overlooking a nature courtyard with a pond provided a perfect setting for another educational nature mosaic.  By providing endless hours of visual interest (playing ‘I spy …’) while waiting in lines, my environmentally-based mosaic could once again offer a fun access to nature enjoyment and awareness.

With the cooperation of retiring art teacher Lisa Ariano, I was able to engage the whole school community – a diverse population of students (900 kindergarten to fifth graders, during her art classes), teachers, and staff – in creating tesserae from recycled magazines. Searching and finding thousands of nature images and words, we then incorporated them via decoupage under tiny, small and medium round glass lenses. Everyone made one or more (including new 2015-16 students), while both Lisa and I made hundreds of others. We printed simple to complex nature vocabulary and used labeled images for educational purposes from old dictionaries and reference books to celebrate our natural world. Over many weekends and summer months, slowly but surely this ‘cool’ mosaic grew on the wall as I carefully crafted as many individual tesserae as possible into my design. I also created a second area for educational nature visuals, by painting NATURE in super graphics and using extra tesserae as the border around a nearby hall board. With the help of scout troops who meet at the school, educational information (from DNR materials, identification book pages, nature brochures, calendars or posters) can change monthly.

Endorsed as a Legacy Project by the Indiana Bicentennial Commission in 2016, I consulted area nature groups and experts to include over 200 important flora and fauna native to Indiana: mammals, amphibians, trees, fruit, reptiles, plants, fish, birds, insects, flowers, places, etc. Collaborative public art projects like these perfectly integrate my interests in community, art, education and environment. My hope is to inspire a new generation with environmental appreciation to perhaps help counteract the destructive climate changes of global warming on our planet’s ecosystems, for a more sustainable future for earth.          -Linda Vanderkolk

Ice Pie

  • ‘Ice Pie’ is a 6’ tall by 14’ 4” wide mosaic.
  • It is affixed to a tile wall of the gymnasium foyer inside Cumberland Elementary School, West Lafayette, IN.
  • Special filters on the lights above help the colors not to fade.
A small percentage of the glass Tesserae I created with help from the students at Cumberland.
  • It is made up of thousands of tiny glass glob-all pieces, each with an image from nature adhered behind it so the image is visible through the clear glass piece. To our knowledge, this technique of incorporating images may not been tried before in a mosaic.
A close up photo of the date area before grouting the mosaic.
  • If you stand close to ‘Ice Pie’ you will see the image in each individual piece. You will see people, trees, flowers, animals, mountains, rain clouds, snow flakes, thousands of tiny images. Every image or word refers to the natural world that surrounds us. Taking a smaller piece of our beauty-full pie leaves enough for others.
The crossword I designed incorporating the school’s ‘good citizenship’ words with handmade porcelain letter tiles, went up first, and the glass tesserae went up around that.
  • Embedded within ‘Ice Pie’, on handmade ceramic tiles in a crossword layout, are Cumberland’s Life Skill words. Curiosity, integrity, pride, patience and friendship reflected some of our shared experiences with the students. Cooperation, organization, effort, perseverance, flexibility, problem-solving and sense of humor played important roles in our mosaic-making process. Caring, initiative, courage, common sense, responsibility, and resourcefulness are necessary values to teach for our planet to survive.
Nearly finished, without grout. All of the K-3 grade Cumberland Elementary School students helped to make the tesserae (found nature images under glass). (Artist included for scale.)
Close up of the mosaic before the grout was added.
  • From afar, ‘Ice Pie’s concentric elliptical rings may resemble the path of the planets orbiting the sun or the rings of Saturn. Some Cumberland students have observed that ‘Ice Pie’ looks like a giant eye, while others see a large icy pie in the sky or the earth surrounded by atmosphere and space. Some may see an overpopulated planet bursting under pressure, or rays of hope for our greener future.
  • It’s a fact that the issue of climate change needs to be addressed. What better place to start this conversation than in the minds of young students? ‘Ice Pie’ touches on this theme in a fun and interactive ‘I Spy’ way.
  • The idea behind ‘Ice Pie’ is to bring the proverbial “I,” not only the letter at the center of the design but literally you the viewer, together with your neighbors, your community, and the world beyond. It’s all about you and those around you seeing every small way you can help our environment even a little bit. Collectively we can have a greater impact on the world. Just as each Cumberland student made small glass pieces to help create this cool ‘Ice Pie’ artwork to be enjoyed by all, so might we save our planet by joining together in our efforts.
  • We hope to be invited to try it again elsewhere.
The finished mural


  • Tiled and painted mosaic mural
  • Collaboration with Scott Frankenburger
  • For IVY Tech Lafayette Campus
close up of a section of the pattern.

What began as a mutual appreciation of the mathematical relationships found in geometric patterns became an unforgettable experience in cooperation. We were able to use the best of both hand and computer skills, merge paint and tile by combining Scott’s ceramic expertise with my visual design abilities, and create a complex piece that neither of us could have done alone.

The artist at work, painting the grey areas of the background.

Just as Ivy Tech challenges its students, Scott and I were challenged to create a work that would serve the community for many years, through visually pleasing elements and symbolic meaning and message. And as Ivy Tech is a place for transition and change in individual lives, our design kept evolving and improving as we worked. Because so much of this work was created on site, it became a public work in the truest sense of the term. (While the people of Ivy tech watched our work grow, Ivy Tech also grew on us.)

The unity achieved by the complex arrangement of lines, shapes, colors and textures reflects the unity of purpose by all involved with this school. Ivy Tech’s decision to use artwork to enhance architecture reiterates the importance of the goals, beliefs and attitudes connected to this institution. A project of this magnitude underlines the sense that this is an important community site, where the contributions of many are gathered to be shared. That this is a place of intellectual growth, educational discovery, verbal & visual stimulation, personal satisfaction and lifelong understanding. Hopefully we set a good example for future students of what can be achieved with determination and discipline, cooperation and creativity.