The Salem Peace Mosaic wraps around the base of a YMCA-owned apartment building on Court Street Northeast. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
After more than a year of work from local advocates, Salem’s Peace Mosaic mural will be removed and preserved during demolition of the YMCA, with a long-term plan to move it to a yet-to-be-constructed studio at the Riverfront Carousel.
The colorful 60-foot mosaic was installed around the base of a YMCA-owned apartment building in 2011.
It’s the brainchild of Salem artist Lynn Takata, who held workshops around Salem where more than 600 residents, ages two to 85, placed tiles and crafted ceramics to create the shimmering display of animals, a river, a mandala and a Tree of Life.
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Takata and concerned citizens formed a nonprofit organization, Save the Salem Peace Mosaic, last summer after YMCA leaders decided to move forward with building a long-awaited new fitness center. That project meant demolishing the apartment building that’s now home to the mosaic.
With grants from the City of Salem, private foundations, and a $100,000 contribution from the state, Takata said the group has contracted a structural engineering firm and contractor to remove and preserve the mosaic this fall. It will likely be several years before the artwork will be on display in its new home.
“It’s not perfect to have to wait, but I’m just delighted that the mosaic can be saved. It’s been a huge amount of time and energy from so many people,” Takata said.
The mandala at the center of the Salem Peace Mosaic, installed on a YMCA-owned apartment building in downtown Salem.
Many details about the mosaic’s future are unclear, including an exact timeline for its removal. Takata said the first step is for workers to assess the building and figure out how best to remove the artwork without damaging it.
The actual removal will likely take place this fall, though the exact time depends on the YMCA’s schedule for demolition. Preparations will take about a week or two, she said.
During the removal, the mosaic’s surface would be covered with form-fitting foam to protect it, then with plywood anchored to the concrete wall. Workers will cut the wall into about eight sections for storage and preservation.
The City of Salem will store the mosaic at a public works yard until its new home is ready for it, public works spokeswoman Heather Dimke said.
If everything goes according to plan, the mosaic’s new home will be adjacent to the Riverfront Carousel. The carousel is operated by an independent nonprofit organization which has been planning to build a new studio, called “The Stables,” in the park.
The carousel is still raising funds for that building, which would showcase the work of woodcarvers and painters. Marie Bradford Blevins, the carousel’s executive director, said they hope to include the mosaic, though the plan must be approved by the Salem Public Art Commission because the mosaic is city-owned.
Takata envisioned the artwork to convey “Salem means peace” to residents and visitors who might not be aware of the word’s roots. Salem is derived from the Arabic “salaam” and Hebrew “shalom,” both of which mean peace.
The message is cemented through “Capital,” a poem from former Oregon Poet Laureate Paulann Peterson, inscribed across the mosaic. “Salem, we're speaking Peace each time /we say your name,” it reads in part.
"Capital," a poem by former Oregon Poet Laureate Paulann Petersen, flows across the Salem Peace Mosaic. (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)
Over the past year, those fighting to save the mosaic spent time gathering public testimonials about what the artwork means to them. Many wrote of the community effort that went into making it.
“The mosaic was a community labor of love - a unifying event,” one read.
“I walked by the peace mosaic while living on the streets. It turned my whole day/attitude around,” another resident wrote. One offered to house the mosaic at her home if no other location could be found.
Atkinson-Noland & Associates, a Colorado-based structural engineering firm, has worked with advocates to develop a plan to remove and safely store the mosaic. Salem contractors CD Redding Construction will carry out the work.
An early estimate from a Portland conservator put the cost of the project at about $400,000, the Statesman-Journal reported last summer. At the time, Takata said she believed she could do it for substantially less.
She said the exact cost won’t be known until the engineering firm gets a better look at the YMCA building, but said she believes the group has raised enough to cover the removal and reinstallation. That includes $25,000 from the City of Salem and the $100,000 from the state, secured by Sen. Peter Courtney during the 2019 legislative session.
Takata said the group is exploring ways to have sections of the mosaic on display while it’s in storage. She said the community aspect of the artwork was the reason it was able to be saved.
“There’s collaborations between siblings that now live in different parts of the country,” Takata said. “People have very strong feelings about the mosaic.”
Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.