Royal Oak artists Marcia Hovland, left, and Laurie Eisenhardt, right, work on a clay mosaic at Eisenhardt’s home studio July 13. It tells the story of Royal Oak’s past, present and future and will be installed at the new Royal Oak City Hall.

Royal Oak artists Marcia Hovland, left, and Laurie Eisenhardt, right, work on a clay mosaic at Eisenhardt’s home studio July 13. It tells the story of Royal Oak’s past, present and future and will be installed at the new Royal Oak City Hall.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Clay artists create Royal Oak-themed artwork for new City Hall

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published July 21, 2020


ROYAL OAK — Laurie Eisenhardt and Marcia Hovland, both of Royal Oak, have teamed up to create an interactive public art project sponsored by the Royal Oak Commission for the Arts’ inaugural artist laureate program.

The pair received a $5,000 stipend to fund a 5-by-8-foot ceramic mosaic featuring prominent figures from the city’s history and well-known staples around town. It contains approximately 400 pieces that fit together like a puzzle and will be installed in the main lobby of the new City Hall.

For several months, the pair visited various groups and events to solicit input on what should be included in the piece. Eisenhardt also spent a couple of weeks reading books from the Royal Oak Public Library to do a deep dive into the city’s background.

The pair finished the design, inspired by the early and colorful history of Royal Oak and its current uniqueness, right before the state’s executive stay-at-home order went into effect.

It includes boat builder Harley Wheeler; funeral home founder William Sullivan; librarian Elizabeth Briggs; architect Frederick D. Madison; entrepreneur William Hilzinger; railroad businessman Sherman Stevens; bell and brick maker Orson Starr; the Hamer family, ex-slaves who settled in Royal Oak and worked for the Starr family; and Mother Nature.

Other details include the Royal Oak Woman’s Club; Royal Oak Farmers Market; Royal Oak Musicale; the interurban; a woman driving an early car; Royal Oak cash crop wild cranberries; Native Americans harvesting corn, squash and beans; an early logger cutting down a white pine; wildlife, including a skunk, owl, raccoon, rat and hat-wearing caterpillar; and a giant oak tree in the center.

It will be surrounded by a border of pine cones and acorns.

The original plan was to include Lewis Cass, who governed the Michigan Territory from 1813-1831. Eisenhardt sculpted him and his quote that reportedly gave Royal Oak its name; however, the pair decided to replace him with Mother Nature after recent reports cited his roles in the Trail of Tears and slavery.

After the lockdown orders, Hovland moved her studio from her downtown business to her home and Eisenhardt worked independently from her converted garage-turned-studio. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, art fairs were canceled, so the duo has predominantly spent their time on the Royal Oak mosaic.

“By doing this, we’re also learning about ourselves and the directions we might go when we’re done with this,” Hovland said. “We’re kind of only doing this, not our other things.”

They created a GoFundMe page to fund the project as well as supplement their lack of income during what is normally the busiest time of year. At press time, the fundraiser had raised $3,237 of its $95,000 goal. To donate, visit and search “Royal Oak-Past Present and Future Mosaic.”

Eisenhardt and Hovland are currently sculpting tiles, making molds and slowly allowing the pieces to dry so they don’t warp and become misshapen.

“Clay is such a process,” Eisenhardt said. “We’re making duplicates of everything.”

The next step will be to photograph the mosaic, print it out in big sheets and number each tile so they can fire the greenware and piece it back together. After that, they will glaze the bisqueware and fire it again. The final step will be to assemble and grout the tiles on-site onto a cement backer board.

Their contract requires that the piece be finished in November. The tentative opening of the new City Hall building is slated for August or September.

Eisenhardt and Hovland forged their relationship more than 30 years ago. They studied painting together at the College for Creative Studies, and Eisenhardt credited Hovland with her start in clay. The pair collaborated on the 14 community mosaic panels in the Royal Oak Public Library’s children’s area.

“We know how to discuss things and resolve issues, because issues come up and you have to meet deadlines,” Hovland said.

While they work well together, each artist has a different style. Hovland’s works often feature a mosaic of smaller pieces, give off the vibe of a children’s storybook, and encapsulate her sense of humor. Eisenhardt’s whimsical pieces showcase her attention to detail, use of texture and understanding of glazes, and she is not afraid to go big.

Both artists said they enjoy being part of the clay community, which they describe as warm, inviting and collaborative.

“Things have worked out in a weird sort of way,” Eisenhardt said, referring to the pandemic freeing them up to work solely on the mosaic, as well as the social justice movement guiding them in a better direction.

She included a quote on the Mother Nature piece from Zimbabwean writer Matshona Dhliwayo, who lives in Canada: “An oak tree is a daily reminder that great things often have small beginnings.”