The Belmont House 165th Anniversary Celebration Mosaic
Updated: Jan 11, 2019
In November 2016, I was honoured when Maria Elias, the CEO of Belmont House, asked me to make a mosaic to commemorate the upcoming 165th anniversary of Belmont House. And her request was quite specific - it had to be a cross so that residents and family and guests would be reminded that Belmont House is a Christian residence, and has a rich history as a Christian charity that all started with a small group of Toronto church women who recognized the need for a place for women to live when they were released from prison. Maria also felt, as it was Canada's 150th birthday, that something to celebrate the occasion should also be included in the mosaic. I had one moment of hesitation. I am not a religious person, so a cross has no special meaning for me. However, I wanted to accept the challenge and realized I would have to put my own views aside, and to respect what a cross signifies for Belmont House. So I accepted the commission and I was excited to get started.
But before I could get started, there was one major thing we had to agree upon - the location of the mosaic. For three reasons.
1. Where it was displayed was to be seen by people when they entered the building. In other words, it needed to be prominently displayed. It also had to be a decent size so that it could be seen.
2. Where it was displayed would determine some of the materials I would need to use.
We agreed on the size and place. The ca 60 cm x 90 cm mosaic would hang on the wall beside the entry to the dining room. During the day the natural light shines and sparkles on the glass, and in the evening the wall is well lit. And, importantly, there is a lot of traffic down that hallway. It can also be seen from the front desk when newcomers first come into Belmont House.
So, now, the materials. The wall is also beside the entrance to the Stillman Garden, so the mosaic would be affected by the weather coming in through the opening and closing of the door. Changes in temperature and humidity could affect the mosaic's base. The base had to be moisture resistant so that it wouldn't warp, and it would not be affected by changes in temperature.
The base that would work best is the kind of backing board used in bathrooms specifically because it is moisture resistant. However backing board is extremely heavy and is very difficult to cut. Luckily, a new product from Germany, called Wedi board, is becoming more readily available in Canada. Both moisture resident and light weight, it was the perfect substrate. The challenge was to find it! Eventually, after having my poor husband, Tom, drive me around the city a few times, we found it. So that was step one taken care of.
Then, the design! Maria wanted a cross, but the design was up to me. I came up with 4 different designs to submit to Maria. I also put together a number of colour choices for the mosaic.
I knew right from the start that the cross itself would be in yellows and golds, and the background would have to contrast with the cross so that it would be the prominent feature of the mosaic. I brought in samples of the colours and materials I would use in the cross, and I made a small sample piece to show what it could look like. My style has evolved into a more abstract style rather than the traditional mosaic style I worked in for many years.
I also put together some glass and tile samples for the background, in blues, greens, shades of gray, and a few earth tone colour combinations.
I showed everything to Maria and after some discussion, we eliminated one of the designs. But Maria couldn't decide so I presented the design and colour choices to the management team, and together they decided on the final design with the rays of light emanating from the cross and the background colour of an aqua green/blue tone.
Now I could finally get started.
The cross itself is actually one piece which is attached to the background piece, so the cross sits about a 3/4 inch (or about 10 mm) higher. I cut out the pieces of the cross, glued them together and applied a tape specially made for the Wedi board material and then applied more glue over the tape.
Since the board has a cement surface, I needed to apply a skim coat of thinset. I used a yellow pigment to colour the thinset, and then applied a thin layer of gold metallic paint onto the cross so that any of the transparent glass I used and any of the gaps between the glass would still have the yellow-gold shine.
The mosaic is comprised of three crosses to signify the Holy Trinity.
The first cross, made of stained glass, lays flat against the background.
The second and main cross, with rays of golden light emanating from the centre, is raised to capture and reflect light from the many types of glass of which it is made; including stained glass, smalti, 24K gold Italian smalti, and pearls.
In the centre of the main cross is the third and smallest cross, with its circular centre of three brass rings to symbolize the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The mosaic background, made of glass tile hand cut to size, includes a stained glass emblem of Belmont House, a majestic chestnut tree near its McMurrich St. entrance.
To commemorate Canada’s anniversary the mosaic includes the emblem of Canada’s 150th birthday, the maple leaf designed by Ariana Cuvin also done in stained glass.
The mosaic also includes two stained glass doves, the symbols of love and peace.
Overall, the mosaic represents Belmont House’s total commitment to the spiritual well-being of its residents and tenants.
The unveiling, which took place at the Belmont House Anniversary Tea on December 2, 2017, was a huge success. I was most honoured to have Toronto Mayor John Tory unveil the cross at the party. I spent the rest of the evening posing for pictures and answering questions about how, and why, and what I used, and what the mosaic symbolizes. I had a blast! It was a terrific evening.