Mosaic Placemaking with Karla Christensen

EFF: Tell us a bit about yourself and the source of your inspiration.

Karla:  I grew up in Mexico and California where tile was bright, colorful and plentiful. I’ve always loved tile and began painting it a few years ago, after an eight month stay in Spain and Portugal, photographing, drawing and painting both classic and original designs. I love travel and other cultures, a home filled with handcrafted work, streets of stone, nature, public art in unexpected places.

My passion for medieval, sacred, folk and Romanesque designs adapts itself to the simple lines and bright colors of tile work. Combining whimsical and sacred, mundane and spiritual, I paint what I love to see, and like to use pre-renaissance kind of perspective, which means to me that the size and placement of objects has more to do with how I feel about them than about distance or point of view.  Thats why in my murals a dandelion flower might start ordinary and grow to mythical proportions.

There is a joy and comfort created by decorating one’s house to suit one’s taste.  Some of us take it a little further. We look at the town we live in and wonder what we could do to make it more the kind of place we like to live.

Stacey Hurlin was thinking like that when she created Fairfield 1st Fridays Art Walk, Betsy Howland and her daughters when they started Revelations.  With my background of living in Mediterranean countries, I often wish to bring tile and mosaic into Fairfield.  When I walk by my mosaics I’m happy, not because I made them, but because its the kind of colorful and cheerful ceramic work I like to see.

EFF: How does your work reflect sustainability?

Karla: My mosaic murals are made from recycled china, glass, pottery, stone and tile, as well as jewelry, stones, and other found objects. I also purchase primarily recycled glass tiles is colors I need.   Several companies make lovely irridescent glass tile from old coke bottles.

Community members gather at the murals to find where their donations were used.  They talk to each other about it, so in a way it becomes a kind of local memory wall, containing one person’s geodes, someone’s grandmother’s favorite teacup that came from the old country with them, a ceramic tile made by a child, a heart-shaped rock given as a love gift and carried back from Mallorca and on and on.   They give the visitors bureau stories with which to promote our community.  The broken materials are not in the landfill; instead they have been transformed into beautiful artwork.

EFF: Your work is beautiful–it’s hard to imagine the materials were destined for the landfill.  What are your community murals to date?

I have completed three large outdoor public art mosaic murals. Each was made with mostly recycled materials and community volunteers:


“Garden for Winter” 10′ by 6′ on the south outside wall of Revelations, 2010


“Sunflowers” 3′ by 11′ on the West wall of the walking alley, near the sidewalk on Broadway.2011


“Tea and Scenery” 10′ by 6′ on south wall outside Revelations 2012

All of these public art pieces have been partially funded by the Iowa Arts Council through the Fairfield First Fridays Artwalk’s Maze of Murals program.  Also from private donations and the Fairfield Cultural Alliance, and Revelations.

EFF: Tell us about Placemaking.  How does Placemaking happen with mosaics?

Placemaking is when community gathers to plan and make community spaces their own.  Placemaking invites community to take their town from generic to fascinating.

I invite community to participate in three ways:  1) They donate materials.  2) They tell me stories about the materials  3)Anyone is able to come to my studio to help make the mural, or come up to the wall to put some pieces in.  They can help as much or as little as they like.

Inviting community into the process creates: 1) good times for friends, and families, 2) buy-in for the work of art itself, 3)promotes community awareness 4)   I place the murals in locations that are well-traveled but not beautiful, and that creates interest in cleaning up the downtown walkways. 5) pride in accomplishment 6) its nice for me to have company, feedback, creative expression added to my own plans. 7) ownership

EFF:  So murals are great for recycling, placemaking, building community and aesthetics.  Benefit to planet and people are clear–what about profit?  Is there any economic benefit?

Karla:  Murals are good for the community because they attract tourists.  The more creative, expressive and unusual our town is the more tourists we get. Tourists spend money at local businesses, restaurants and motels.   Employing local artists and promoting them is also good for the economy.

EFF: What is your latest project?

Karla:  I have recently been selected for an Iowa State public art project, to create murals for the Marshalltown Veteran’s Home, the second largest veteran’s home in the U.S. The murals will be of recycled materials and will include participation of residents.

EFF: Where can your work be seen or purchased?

Karla:  In the studio I make painted tile murals, mosaics, tables, mirrors, frames, clocks, etc.  These small items can be seen and purchased at my studio during Art Walk or by appointment.  100 1/2 N. Main Apt 1.   I take commissions for mosaic and painted tile backsplashes, signs, architectural detail, and large murals, both indoor and out.  I also do mosaic consulting for those who wish to install their own mosaic detail and I give mosaic classes.  Many of the people in the classes do not need instruction, but come to enjoy doing a craft with a group of friends and or to use my comfortable fully supplied studio.

Some of my small pieces are on display at Revelations, in the gift section.

EFF: How can people learn more and take classes?

Karla: My website is

My phone 541-788-1703.  Studio visits by appointment.  Call to arrange.

“Making mosaic pots” a class to start September 8th, Saturdays, 2 to 4pm, four weeks, for $95. Limit six people.