Home Savings in Columbus, Ohio: Marlo Bartels’s Ceramic Tile Mosaic Saved

Marlo Bartels, ceramic tile mosaic for Columbus Ohio Home Savings, 1988; as photographed in Gail Paris Discovery Garden, Clinton Elementary School, by Terry Miller, courtesy Shirley Hyatt
Marlo Bartels, ceramic tile mosaic for Columbus, Ohio, Home Savings, 1988; as photographed in Gail Paris Discovery Garden, Clinton Elementary School, by Terry Miller, courtesy Shirley Hyatt

One of the fun summer activities here in southern California is the Festival of the Arts / Pageant of the Masters bonanza in Laguna Beach. I went as a child (and have seen it since copied on Gilmore Girls), but this year I had a chance to return thanks to spending a few days in the studio and around town with Marlo Bartels.

As we have discussed, a number of artists were given Home Savings commissions in the final years of the art program, beyond just the Sheets Studio. Many of these locations are outside California, and often the local community does not know they are part of a larger series — hence they are even more threatened with destruction.

Marlo Bartels, "Third Reef," Brooks Street ceramic mural on stair risers, 2009-2010
Marlo Bartels, “Third Reef,” Brooks Street ceramic mural on stair risers, 2009-2010

Marlo Bartels creates wonderful ceramic tiles by hand, shaping grooves and choosing glazes, and then matching bright colors and themes to the local landscape, whether it is a set of steps down to the beach in Laguna (replete with sea shapes and colors; see left) or creating artwork for corporate clients such as the Chart House restaurants and Home Savings. (Bartels also created the art for the wonderful Cancer Survivors’ Park in San Diego, my hometown, and has numerous residential and public commissions, as his website explains.)

Bartels’s work in Woodland Hills is threatened; I wonder whether his work for Home Savings in Thousand Oaks, Palm Desert (with Eric Johnson) and Monterey Park (with Astrid Preston); Pembroke Pines and Dunedin, Florida are associated much with his name or Home Savings.

The large image you see above is of Marlo Bartels’s mosaic for Columbus, Ohio, in 1988; a mosaic by Denis O’Connor and Sue Hertel at 6280 Sawmill Road, in Dublin, Ohio, in 1990, is gone, showing how quickly these bank buildings, no longer built for permanence, can disappear.

But the story of Marlo’s Columbus mosaic has a happy ending. As you can see, Marlo’s materials may be different, but he followed a rather standard Home Savings way of creating branch artwork — visit the city, look for something distinctive (the skyline), use local symbols and icons (Ohio state flag; state bird; local animals; shapes that echo those of the Moundbuilder peoples) and then put them into a permanent, colorfast material, such as ceramic, and hope to celebrate the community forever.

Marlo Bartels, Columbus mosaic ready for transport, 1992. Image courtesy Marlo Bartels.
Marlo Bartels, Columbus mosaic ready for transport, 1992. Restoration was necessary in part due to vandals knocking over the transport. Image courtesy Marlo Bartels.

But in 1992, just four years after installation, the bank building was torn down (UPDATE: after it and the Graceland Shopping Center it was in were damaged in a fire) and the mosaic was threatened. Thankfully, the Casto Corporation (owner of the shopping center) was willing to help save the necessary wall, and Susan Gaunce of the local Clintonville Area Commission contacted Marlo and brought him to Columbus to help with the reinstallation and teach a few workshops. The mural then became the backdrop for the Gail Paris Discovery Garden at Clinton Elementary School.

I have just heard from Shirley Hyatt, author of Clintonville and Beechwood, that Clinton had been closed for renovations, but when it opened for this school year — this week!–the tile mosaic is to be brought inside, so the kids can see and touch it more often–and where it can be protected, hopefully for decades to come.

Thanks for Terry Miller and Shirley Hyatt for providing this image (and the updates). More of the move, the restoration work, or Marlo’s sessions in Columbus–or any of the outside-California locations–always welcomed!

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