Client: City of Mesquite, Texas Fire Department
Location: Mesquite, TX, United States
Completion date: 2021
Artwork budget: $90,000
Julie Richey Mosaics, LLC
Trout in Hand Studios
Romeo De Candido
Romeo Luxury Mosaics and Construction
Two 12-foot-tall firefighters depicted in Italian and Mexican glass mosaic battle a wall of fire in this custom 12 x 12 foot mosaic created for the new Mesquite Fire Station #4. The image was designed by California artist and Texas native John Wehrle, founder of Trout in Hand Studios. Known throughout California and the PNW for his large public art murals, Wehrle collaborated with Texas mosaic artist Julie Richey, who was awarded the commission from the Mesquite, Texas Arts Council. Longtime friends, Wehrle and Richey had wanted to work together to see Wehrle’s designs realized in the mosaic medium.
The primary goal of "First In" was to create a dynamic, place-making mosaic for the façade of the new fire station. Located at a busy station which serves the Mesquite Rodeo, several hotels, a large commercial corridor and the nearby interstate, the artists sought to portray the strength and efficacy of the first responders. The Fire Department stakeholders also wanted to include the City's identity in the form of the fire department logo and both the current and historic fire fighters' helmets. The chief also asked that the figures be not be gender- or race-specific. The intent was to allow viewers to imagine themselves in the first responders' roles.
Once the commission was awarded, Wehrle worked to refine the design. Several iterations were submitted to ensure that the firefighters' helmets were accurate and reflected the current and vintage models.
The mosaic fabrication method is called "rovescio su carta," or reverse paper-faced. Wehrle printed the 12 x 12-foot design in reverse on heavy bond paper, utilizing eight 3 x 6 foot sections. He mailed the pattern to Richey, who assembled it into a 12 x 12 "cartoon" and worked for a year with one part-time assistant to complete the mosaic (all of the fabrication took place during COVID lockdown, so Richey was alone in the studio for the bulk of the project). The pattern was divided into 50 puzzle sections. The Italian and Mexican glass smalti mosaic was adhered to the reverse pattern using water-soluble paste. At installation, an expert in Italian paper-faced artistic mosaic was brought in to assist Richey's team at the fire station.
All of the Italian glass smalti in this project was originally part of California artist Millard Sheets Studio's stash of materials. Richey was able to purchase 5000 pounds of smalti through an artist acquaintance who was closing her studio. more than 200 shades of glass were used to create "First In."