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New mosaics embed style into Texas A&M San Antonio campus

Oscar Alvarado.jpg
Amando Vasquez
Oscar Alvarado with his 14' X 17' mural at Texas A&M San Antonio

Two new art installations at Texas A&M San Antonio are turning heads. They’re the work of mosaic and concrete artist Oscar Alvarado. The first is in the ceremonial garden in front of the Central Academic Building.

“The Presidential Seal mosaic that's in the very center of campus, and it's used as a tradition that they have there during a ring ceremony when someone graduates they're allowed to walk across it and take their selfie,” Alvarado said.

If you’re thinking that seal is several years old, you’re not wrong, but you’re not quite right either. Alvarado’s is a replacement.

“The university had previously had a mosaic there and there was some failure. It cracked. It started separating from the surface,” he said.

Oscar Alvarado
Presidential Seal at Texas A&M San Antonio

So Alvarado’s job was to dismantle the old, then re-design and re-construct the new one.

“We found the problem. We plugged the hole, we put it in an anti-fracture moisture membrane and then we placed our mosaic,” Alvarado said. “On top of that, I'm confident it'll last.”

The next recently-finished mosaic is an unrelated 14-by-17-foot wall mosaic inside the Classroom Hall building.

“They wanted it to be river themed. So after playing with many designs, I came up with essentially a map of Bexar county, a modified satellite view, where I enhance the creeks and rivers greatly,” he said.

Amando Vasquez
Oscar Alvarado and his helper installing mosaic
Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Arts & Culture News Desk including The Guillermo Nicolas & Jim Foster Art Fund, Patricia Pratchett, and the V.H. McNutt Memorial Foundation.

The creeks and river flow from northwest to southeast before leaving the county, and thereby the mosaic.

“The roads you'll see I did all in limestone and in travertine tiles,” he said.

He didn’t build the artwork at its final resting place. In fact, the method he used to create the enormous mosaic is highly detailed.

“What I did was I created an easel that was 14 feet by 17 feet in my studio. I reproduced that image full size. I also created scaffolding suspended from the ceiling of the roof so that I could get up on the higher parts,” he said. “And then on top of that, I put a fiberglass mesh where I adhere the tiles one at a time to the fiberglass.”

He built the mosaic completely in-studio, but then he cut it up into manageable sized pieces.

“So that mesh is cut through the gaps in the tile and made into essentially a puzzle. And I number the pieces and then stack them and then reassemble them one at-a-time on site,” Alvarado said.

Oscar Alvarado
Detail of panther mascot on mosaic

Interestingly, this big mosaic has kind of a secret, hidden in plain sight.

“Also, there are about maybe 30 1-inch-by-1-inch gold tiles I place wherever I have public art throughout the city,” he said.

Alvarado’s work is mainly public art, not behind museum walls, so most of it you can see…if you know where to look.

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Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii