Northeast celebrates Earth Day and latest mural

Rebecca Koop celebrated Earth Day by unveiling her mosaic mural on the facade of her studio, Back Door Pottery at 3922 St. John Ave.

“I’m happy, I’m very happy,” Koop said while friends and neighbors admired the 450-foot mosaic, seeking out different designs hidden in the tiles.

She initially had the idea for the mosaic in 2005. That year, she began collecting tile, 95% of which came from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

“Two and a half years ago I actually put the first tile on the mesh,” Koop said. She created the first mosaic square foot on June 25, 2018.

Each individual tile was attached to mesh with a drop of adhesive, leaving as much bare tile as possible. The mesh was then adhered to the wall with thinset.

Forty-six people assisted Koop with the project on Wednesday nights over the years, many of whom were in attendance Thursday night wearing green “participant” ribbons. Each “tile apprentice” each received a small bag made from the mesh with one tile of each color inside, and a button with their Zodiac sign.

The mosaic mural features the Zodiac signs, phases of the moon, constellations, marine life, and other meaningful, Earth themed symbols. She even included a map with Kansas City and New Smyrna Beach, Fl., the hometown of her friend Bobbi Baker-Hughes.

Back Door Pottery is hard to find, in the middle of the block between Clinton Place and Monroe Avenue, Koop said. The mural has already been added to the Chamber’s Mural Map, which plots all the murals found throughout Northeast and surrounding neighborhoods.

“Now I can say I’m where the Earth is, and the community garden. I want to see more art, I’ve always wanted to see more art in Northeast,” she added.

Koop cancelled her pottery classes in March and April of 2020 as COVID-19 descended on Kansas City, but the studio became her refuge.

Every day for two and a half years, she averaged three hours a day after her full-time job as the Event Coordinator with the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce. There were some days where she would put in 12 hours, working long past her last class of the night.

“I was working a lot, when I wasn’t at the Chamber, I was here doing tilework,” Koop said. “I could come here and it was really a wonderful refuge… it was very therapeutic.”

Koop estimates she dedicated 2,520 hours to the project over the past two and a half years. She laid the last section of tiles on August 2, and finished grouting and sealing the mosaic on October 14, 2020. Throughout the entire project, 655 volunteer hours were put into the wall. 

“I didn’t throw a party when I put the last tile up there,” Koop said. “It wasn’t done because I still had to grout it, but it just felt good.”

She plans to install a light fixture to illuminate the mosaic at night.

Northeast resident Rol Deng makes a point to drive by the mural each day on his way to work at the Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s really good art, really beautiful,” he said.

Live music returned to the St. John Community Garden courtesy of Scott Hobart and Beau Bledsoe. Lighting a bonfire to roast hotdogs among the flowering fruit trees, and celebrating the completed project was not only a meaningful way to thank her helpers, but preview the activities that occur there each summer.

One of those helpers was Sarah Sommerkamp, who lives and works at Jerusalem Farm in Pendleton Heights. Koop initially connected her to the community garden up the street, and when she saw Koop was working on the mosaic, she took interest.

“I’m always game for trying something new,” – said. “I just showed up one day and worked with her, got a sunburn for a few hours… I would connect gardeners to her garden after they graduated out of my gardens. I just really liked her, I think she’s a pretty neat lady.”

Sommerkamp enjoys all of the painted murals in Northeast, many sponsored by the Chamber, and thinks Koop’s mosaic adds some much-needed color to the neighborhood.

“I think having more beauty around us is fun, makes driving around fun, and kind of brightens up the neighborhood,” Sommerkamp said. “The whole thing is just an expression of her artistic sense.”

Information about Back Door Pottery’s workshops can be found at https://backdoorpottery.com

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