Roman Mosaicist's - The Modern Equivalent?


Roman Mosaicist's - The Modern Equivilent?

A lot of the time I hear people hold up the example of contemporary mosaic artists as the modern equivalent of the ancient mosaic craftsmen. In my opinion though there are other examples which are closer to them.

If you look at these images of road workers setting out a herringbone style pavement in the town centre of Bury St Edmund's (UK) you will see the similarities. They have a job which can be quite monotonous but needs to be done to a good standard as it is a pavement which will take a lot of wear. Through doing the same job numerous times they have the skill to be able to 'see' the whole of the setting out before it is even half way done. Problems are anticipated and slight corrections made before it becomes apparent to the unskilled eye.

Thanks to the workers of Suffolk County Council for taking the time to explain their way of working to me.

 1. The workmen use, amongst other things, the distance between the border bricks and the edge of the herringbone pattern to determine if the line is going off. Every so often they might run a piece of taut string across the width and this should run through the same joints in the pattern.

2. The long view of the work in progress. The principles of how they are working here are, to my mind, exactly the same as those used by the mosaicists of 2,000 years ago. These workers have in common with those craftsmen than a modern day mosaic artist. I make this distinction because the emphasis is not solely on the work produced but rather on the way it is produced.

3. Notice the stages of work, in the foreground the leveled area, next a layer of sand and this has then been carefully leveled to to give the final working surface.  

4. The area has been carefully leveled and the bricks go down in an even line. Obviously with all the bricks cut to the same size it helps in getting the line correct but it doesn't mean to say it can't go out. 
This is where working in a set manner and to a consistent standard you develop the eye to tell when a pattern is going out of sync long before you need a string line or other markers to tell you.
Look also at how tidy the setting area has been kept, this way it is much easier to check the bed is level.

5. Here is a section of the same roadway but further on. There is the area between the drain covers where they could have easily just placed the bricks in horizontal lines. Note though they have taken the time to set out the diagonal pattern. A perfect example of skilled workmen adding in a small piece of art!

6. Here is that section further on and again, with the area ahead of the drain grill, they've elected to set out something more pleasing to the eye.