Last week, the Legion of Honor received a special visit from Berkeley High School’s Latin class. This group of thirty-seven seniors took time out of the final, hectic days of high school to see Marvelous Menagerie: A Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel, which has served as their muse for the past several weeks.
After studying Latin for four years, members of Karla Herndon’s class recently took the AP Exam in Vergil, or completed the International Baccalaureate Program reading list, which included works by Vergil, Horace and Catullus. Needless to say, they needed a break. So, after learning about the exhibition from the Institute of Mosaic Art in Oakland, Ms. Herndon suggested the class collaborate on an art project inspired by the Lod Mosaic.
“When Ms. Herndon first proposed the idea of making the mosaic, I had absolutely no idea how much work it would take, but I also didn't realize how enjoyable and rewarding it would be,” said Hannah Long. Along with three of her classmates, Long was a project leader and made many of the preliminary sketches.
After Ms. Herndon purchased the materials (including scissors on sale for $1 per pair at Office Depot), the students began the painstaking task of cutting the paper to make the mini-tesserae (colored squares) necessary to create the replica. Using YES paste applied with paintbrushes, Ms. Herndon’s students then applied the tiny paper tesserae onto the drawn design. They quickly learned that the best tool for this delicate procedure was no tool at all, but rather a bent paperclip!
Each student took passionate ownership of the emblemata (or figure grouping) on which he or she was working: Frankie’s eel, Annie’s peacock, Lucy and Jenni’s quail, Fiona’s yin/yang fish, and of course, James’s magnificent donkey (among many others, including the school’s mascot, a yellowjacket)!
Students tirelessly worked on the mosaic throughout the day, during lunch, after school and even during other classes until it was finally completed!
When the students arrived at the Marvelous Menagerie exhibit at the Legion of Honor, they approached the Lod Mosaic with a new understanding of the scale and scope of such an artwork.
“I think that what amazed me most about this project was all of the teamwork that our class put into it,” Long said. “When I saw the Lod Mosaic, I was immediately surprised by how big and complex it was (because we had only re-created one portion of the piece). However, as I looked at it more closely, I realized how well I knew the portion we did do and it was so fascinating to see it in person. Seeing the real mosaic really made me proud of all of the hard work and focus we had put into making our version perfect.”
Later that week, Ms. Herndon's Latin class graduated high school. According to Hannah Long, “this was the perfect thing to do for our senior project because it really allowed us to work together and to bond with classmates that we had not been as close to during our time in high school.”
Drawing inspiration from a centuries-old mosaic artwork is an experience that will undoubtedly shape these students as they look to the future and the next stage of their lives! Marvelous Menagerie: A Roman Mosaic from Lod, Israel is on view at the Legion of Honor through July 24, 2011.