Royal Oak-themed clay mosaic installed in new City Hall

By: Sarah Wojcik | Royal Oak Review | Published January 12, 2021

 Royal Oak artists Laurie Eisenhardt, left, and Marcia Hovland, right, stand before their 5-by-8-foot Royal Oak-themed ceramic mosaic installed inside the new Royal Oak City Hall.

Royal Oak artists Laurie Eisenhardt, left, and Marcia Hovland, right, stand before their 5-by-8-foot Royal Oak-themed ceramic mosaic installed inside the new Royal Oak City Hall.

Photo provided by the city of Royal Oak

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ROYAL OAK — The two-weekend installation of a 5-by-8-foot ceramic mosaic featuring prominent figures from Royal Oak’s history and well-known staples around town concluded during the first week of December.

The artwork now lives in a thoroughfare of the new Royal Oak City Hall where those passing through can admire its intricate details. The interactive public art project features more than 400 pieces that fit together like a puzzle.

Laurie Eisenhardt and Marcia Hovland, both of Royal Oak, teamed up to create the piece, sponsored by the Royal Oak Commission for the Arts’ inaugural artist laureate program. They received a $5,000 stipend from the city, some financial assistance from a crowdfunding campaign, and finished the project as a “labor of love.”

For several months, the pair visited groups and events around the city to solicit input on what should be included in the piece. Eisenhardt also spent a couple of weeks doing a deep dive into Royal Oak’s history at the Royal Oak Public Library.

The duo 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 in March.

After that, Hovland said, the two worked in their separate studios and consulted each other remotely to ensure they remained on the same page. When they had to meet, they donned face masks.

The finished piece includes boat builder Harley Wheeler; funeral home founder William Sullivan; librarian Elizabeth Brigs; 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; the Native American “three sisters”: 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 is surrounded by a border of pine cones and acorns glazed in a burnished gold.

Both Hovland and Eisenhardt said the glazing process went smoothly, and they received help to construct the frame, supports and other labor to install it. They created the blue background hues from three separate glazes and incorporated pops of color, including many greens, throughout.

“Art makes (a building) feel like it has a soul,” Eisenhardt said. “The piece is an intricate nod to history and the past, and I really wanted it to be like a bridge between the old and the new. It’s a very contemporary piece, but the framing’s old-school burnished gold was very intentional.”

Hovland said she was pleased with how the mosaic turned out and with the city’s support for artistic initiatives.

“I’m happy that it’s in the City Hall. I think it’s a nice place for it,” Hovland said. “I’ve heard a lot of good comments from people.”

Eisenhardt said the finishing touch will be to seal the grout.

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.

The former City Hall shuttered in November due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the new City Hall has not yet reopened to the public.

For more information, visit romi.gov or call (248) 246-3000.

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