Ceramic Tile Mural Celebrates Royal Oak History
(Lara Mossa, Dec. 17, 2020)
ROYAL OAK, MI – A mosaic of tiles with faces, trees, animals, cars and more is waiting to greet guests to Royal Oak’s new city hall building. Laurie Eisenhardt and Marcia Hovland created the mural, which depicts the rich history of the Royal Oak community.
“We wanted to have something that could be a little bit informational but also explore and value the history of Royal Oak,” said Hovland, who has a studio in Royal Oak. “There are bits and pieces of little stories within the mural.”
Eight feet wide by 5 feet tall, the ceramic mural includes pictures of historical figures as well as flora and fauna and items that represent Royal Oak’s past such as cars and locomotives. Etched with a blue background and framed with a golden-brown border, the mural also shows wildlife such as deer and racoons alongside whimsical characters.
“I like the history I’ve learned from it,” said Judy Davids, Community Engagement Specialist for the city. “I feel like it’s a good teaching moment for our city. It’s very colorful. Every time you look at it, you see something different. I feel like it shows that we promote public art. We support artists.”
One of her favorite parts of the mural is the family of Henry and Elizabeth Hamer, Davids said. A couple who escaped slavery through the underground railroad, they worked for the Starr family – the first manufacturing business in Royal Oak. The Hamers’ descendants have lived in Royal Oak for 155 years and a distant granddaughter, LaKeesha Morrison broke into tears when she saw the picture, Davids said. Other figures include the city’s first librarian, Elizabeth Briggs, and Orson Starr, who is famous for making cow bells.
“I just absorbed myself with Royal Oak history, and I started to become very intrigued,” Eisenhardt said.
The Royal Oak Commission for the Arts named Eisenhardt and Hovland artist laureates last year. As such, the arts council commissioned them to create the mural for city hall. Besides celebrating the 100th anniversary for the city next year, Royal Oak also opened a new city hall in August. Currently, the city hall, which is at 203 S. Troy St., is not open to the public because of Covid-19.
Having received the creative freedom to dive into their topic, the pair interviewed many local residents and learned a lot about the history of Royal Oak, then worked together to compile the images and make the molds. They started working on the mural late last year and completed it this month. Besides installing the mural. The City will add new lighting to show off the masterpiece. In addition, a pamphlet will be available so viewers can learn about the history depicted in the collage.
Friends for more than 40 years since they attended College for Creative Studies in Detroit, both Eisenhardt and Hovland are professional artists. Each has had a tough year with the Coronavirus canceling art shows.
A Royal Oak resident since 1988, Eisenhardt is married to Richard Doyle and has a grown son, while Hovland is married to Denis DeSandre. Both described the project as a “labor of love.”
“I really like it,” Hovland said. “I feel like it turned out really nicely. We really are happy with it. It looks really nice in the spot where it’s at. It communicates several stories in a larger mural.”
Jason Gittinger is Chair of the Commission. “My favorite part about it is that it was born from conversations, stories and a ton of community input,” Gittinger said. It really is one of the best projects our Royal Oak Commission for the Arts could have supported with our first “Artist Laureate” for our community. Marcia and Laurie have set a high bar for all future recipients of the honor.”
Fellow Commissioner Patricia Paruch, who is also a City Commissioner said “It’s so hard to pick a favorite part! Each individual element is a story of its own. That’s the beauty of it. It shows the amazing variety and diversity of the people and events and images that make up our history. It features early settlers like the Starr and Hamer families, the large variety of trees that share our neighborhoods, and homages to things like the Dream Cruise. And pay attention to the gorgeous border – intricate oak leave branches with acorns in a luminous glaze. Incredible work by both artists. We’re so fortunate that they are a part of our community!”
Learn more about Royal Oak’s commitment to public art on the Commission for the Arts webpage.