Piecing together a public beautification project

Story and photos by Keya Keita – The Garden Island

A wall that designates a planned housing project is not normally anything that would cause a second look. “Long, solid and stable” would adequately describe most. But in the case of Grove Farm’s new subdivision off of Nohou Street behind Costco, something beautiful is happening to the long, solid and stable wall — by the hands of O‘ahu artist Leah Kilpatrick Rigg. Some 15 mosaic panels highlighting Kaua‘i’s unique plants and flowers are currently in the last stages of installation, completing a year-long process of design, fabrication, preparation and installation.

Rigg began her mosaic career as a little girl playing with pieces of torn paper in the living room corner. “I always knew I would end up in the arts — but I had no idea it would turn into what it has,” said Rigg.

Graduating from University of California, Los Angeles in art history, Rigg went on to get her master’s in therapy, working with children suffering from autism in a home-therapy practice.

“Autism to mosaics … both take a lot of patience. Something that doesn’t really come naturally to me, but I guess it’s my way of calming down,” said Rigg.

Traveling to both Europe and Thailand, Rigg became fascinated with the art of mosaics in cultures around the world. Especially interested by art nouveau and Antoni Gaudi in Spain, Rigg remembers spending hours trolling around the mosaic fantasia of Park Guell in Barcelona. “The lizard fountain was mesmerizing,” she said.

Later Rigg was introduced to basic mosaic craft by a friend, and began to experiment with the form. Born and raised on O‘ahu, Rigg naturally uses Hawai‘i’s unique tropical foliage and wildlife as subject matter. She completed major public art commissions ranging from a 23 foot wall for Punahou Middle School to a 17-foot by 25-foot installation on a self-storage building in Kaimuki on O‘ahu, all in the past four years. “This has been a huge learning-by-doing experience,” Rigg said.

“Some of our executives had seen Leah’s work on O‘ahu,” explained Marissa Sandblom of Grove Farm, “and her style really fit into Warren’s (Haruki) vision of this aspect of the project.”

Rigg’s work is often placed in spaces seen by large numbers and serves the valuable function of bringing art into public spaces. “There was no obligation for Grove Farm to do such an expensive and extensive project such as this one,” said Matt Rigg, Leah’s father, who helps with the installation of her mosaic murals. “They really enhance this space by adding original art to be enjoyed by the passer-by, and they are using their own money towards cultural enrichment.”

Sandblom explained, “The wall and sidewalk was beautifully constructed by Carl Matsumara and driven by Dave Hinazumi’s leadership.

We hope it will be used by neighbors who like to walk their dogs or kids who like to ride their bikes. We wanted to make it specific to Kaua‘i by having the color purple be a major element, as well as including pikaki flowers, mokihana berries, red ti leaf and taro.”

Rigg started working on the designs nearly a year ago — now in the form of mosaics along Nohou Road. Beginning with white bisque tiles, Rigg hand glazes and fires the perfect squares in her home kiln. She then “breaks them to pieces.”

“I start to put the pictures together with the broken pieces and then cut specific pieces to fill gaps or holes,” Rigg said.

Unlike the tradition of Italian mosaics, detailed and pixelated in unbelievable detail, Rigg’s aesthetic is more broad, abstract and primary. More Leger, less Michaelangelo.

With the priceless help of her father and her husband, Doug Kilpatrick, the installation of a work is truly a family affair. The two craftsmen and artist have been installing the Pikaki wall mosaic over the past two weeks, while flying back and forth from O‘ahu.

The Rigg’s have three children, ages 2, 4 and 11, who have already learned “the art of breaking tiles,” said Rigg. “I dream in pieces the way some people who do a lot of typing dream about letters on keys.”

Working with fragments causes Rigg to see every image in its mosaic form. “I can translate most designs into broken up bits of tile — chunks of color,” she said. “I am so thankful to Grove Farms for finding me — we’ve had so many people walk by and say thank you … it’s great when your work can add beauty and dimension to a place; everyone wins.”

For more information on Leah Rigg’s work visit her Web site: www.leahkriggmosaic.com.

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