Salem Peace Mosaic in hibernation as fundraising begins for its future home

The colorful kaleidoscope of tiles that lined the exterior of the former Salem YMCA is nowhere to be found on the new building’s more modern concrete base.

But the Salem Peace Mosaic — depicting a river with various animals with a central mandala — survived the demolition of the building it once called home.

The iconic artwork is now in hibernation, awaiting its future home after a years-long effort to preserve the artwork ahead of the YMCA’s demolition. The mural was displayed on the neighboring YMCA-owned apartment building.

The Salem Peace Mosaic wraps around the base of a YMCA-owned apartment building on Court Street Northeast. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

“Nobody knows. People will say, ‘I’m so sorry the mosaic has been destroyed,’” said Lynn Takata, the artist behind the mosaic.

After a long wait, the project that will eventually house the mosaic is getting underway.

Plans to expand the Salem Riverfront Carousel studio, where volunteer artists work on wood-carved animals, will kick off with a fundraising drive in 2023, said Marie Bradford-Blevins, the Carousel’s executive director. 

Once the expansion is built, the Peace Mosaic will be displayed on the west side of the addition to the carousel’s existing building in Riverfront Park.

It’s a project the carousel’s leaders hoped to take on earlier, but the pandemic and closures put any expansions on the backburner for the nonprofit, which was among those struggling to stay afloat after revenue from events suddenly cratered.

Bradford-Blevins said the carousel plans to raise about $3 million to build the 2,100 square foot addition.

The nonprofit’s board will discuss specific plans at a January meeting before launching a campaign, she said.

“We’ve outgrown this room,” Bradford-Blevins said, standing in the crowded studio where volunteer artisan carvers work on animals.

The expanded studio space would have three new areas giving artists more space to work and the public a chance to view and learn about the process. The new spaces include a carving studio, a painting area and a self-guided viewing area, according to a 2019 public works presentation on the project.

Bradford-Blevins said there’s not yet a timeline for construction, since it will depend on how the fundraising campaign progresses.

The mosaic will be installed on the exterior wall of the finished building, with some new clay animal figures added to pay tribute to their larger counterparts on the carousel.

Takata, the mosaic artist, worked for years with a nonprofit called Save the Salem Peace Mosaic to raise money and find a way to remove the original artwork from the YMCA apartments on Northeast Court Street.

The artwork was removed in December 2019, covered with liquid foam and cut into eight panels, each weighing between 6,000 and 8,000 pounds.

The process was successful – Takata said the entire piece lost only about a cup and a half of tiles out of 50 feet of artwork. Pieces are now in storage, mostly at a city facility.

Travis Orr sprays liquid foam between a wood covering and plastic coating the Salem Peace Mosaic in preparation for the mural’s move in December 2019. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Takata said she still regularly fields questions from people who believe the mosaic was destroyed along with the YMCA, or don’t realize there are plans to display it again.

She’s recently held workshops to begin making new clay animals to add to the display. Takata said some work also needs to be done to cut down and reinforce the concrete on the back of the mural, since it was build at a time before concrete was routinely reinforced.

Otherwise, she said the mural is just awaiting the building expansion to move forward.

“We’re just in a holding pattern,” she said.

Clay animals that will eventually be added to the Salem Peace Mosaic were drafted during a December workshop at the Salem Riverfront Carousel (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.