BEMIDJI --- When it was suggested that a pre-planned mosaic project at Bemidji State University be put on hold due to COVID-19, Minnesota artist Stacia Goodman had other ideas.

She saw the inconvenience as an opportunity to leave a lasting impression of a point in time -- reminiscent of memorials made by students in school during major hurricanes or global wars. Goodman wanted to create a mosaic, which will grace the walls of the new Hagg-Sauer building, to memorialize and represent a class whose education at BSU was affected greatly by a historic event.

The piece will be dedicated to BSU’s Class of 2020. Goodman said mosaic art is the perfect metaphor for the community which has come together after an event like a global pandemic

Goodman addressed the graduates during BSU’s virtual commencement in May, making an appearance from her studio via Zoom.

Stacia Goodman, a Minneapolis-based artist commissioned to install a mosaic on the new Hagg-Sauer Hall, holds up a small example of how the mosaic will look during BSU's virtual event broadcast on Zoom on May 8.
Stacia Goodman, a Minneapolis-based artist commissioned to install a mosaic on the new Hagg-Sauer Hall, holds up a small example of how the mosaic will look during BSU's virtual event broadcast on Zoom on May 8.

“I’m creating a fabulous, really big piece of mosaic art which will be going into the new Hagg-Sauer building this fall, so I hope you’ll have a chance to come back and check that out on campus,” she said. “I’m thrilled to say that we will be dedicating this artwork to you, the graduates of 2020.”

Goodman said she has a soft spot for the class of 2020 and their situation due to the virus, because her daughter is also graduating from college this year. Seeing her daughter’s disappointment made her want to find a way to support and celebrate the class.

The final product

The mosaic will be made up of pieces of the class of 2020, literally. Goodman often constructs her mosaics using supplemental materials that connect viewers to the site, such as pencils in a mosaic for an elementary school. BSU’s mosaic will be home to items donated by students, coaches and professors.

The planned final piece will represent a sunrise over Lake Bemidji made up of colorful tiles, donated objects and words submitted by students. It will hang over the doors of the main lecture hall in the new Hagg-Sauer building.

“Some donated objects include: hockey sticks and golf clubs, bobbers and fishing poles, canoe paddles and (cross country) skis, dividers and surveyors tools, and more,” said Mitch Blessing, assistant professor of technology, art and design, who was on the artist selection committee.

“(Goodman) provided examples of how she tastefully incorporates these meaningful objects into her glass mosaic tile design, fitting in by shape and color, scattered throughout the whole piece, and we were very happy with the concept.”

Goodman prefers to include used items in her mosaics, especially items that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

“If there’s a way for us to kind of rescue it and resurrect it into artwork, that’s another sweet spot,” she said.

Engaging the viewers

Goodman said the cornerstone of public art is “stakeholder engagement,” which to her means getting the ideas and feedback of those that will see and interact with the art frequently.

“That is really what I specialize in -- creating site-specific public art,” she said. “And when possible, we have that stakeholder engagement in there.”

In the context of this project, stakeholder engagement basically means getting the students involved, Goodman explained.

Initially, words were not a part of the planned design. BSU considered putting the mosaic project on hold due to the pandemic, but Goodman pushed to continue anyway and found a way to connect the students to the art, despite the distance.

An initial mock-up of the mosaic shows the overall design, before the idea of adding words in was presented. 
An initial mock-up of the mosaic shows the overall design, before the idea of adding words in was presented. 

When given the go-ahead for the mosaic, Goodman and BSU put out the call for students to submit words that “capture their feelings about their time at Bemidji State University, or your feelings about the end of your time at BSU and the impact that COVID-19 has had on your experience.”

Both English and Ojibwe words will be incorporated in the mosaic -- a total of about 12 will make it into the final project.

“Because a mosaic is really about being pieces of a whole and it’s the whole that needs to be really magnificent and beautiful and tell a story,” she said. “In a way when we are talking about community, creating a mosaic is a wonderful metaphor, and it’s a great way to use this artwork to rally this community.”

One of the reasons Goodman was chosen as the artist to complete this project was her initial design’s appeal to BSU’s connection with the land and its desire to provide a sense of place.

“What sold the committee on her was her concept of an installation with a very local natural theme -- but not one that was too over the top with pine trees and loons -- her very evident knowledge of and comfort with mosaic materials and installations, and above all her express desire to interview and gather information -- and eventually actual objects -- from faculty, staff, and students to inform her work and actually be installed in it,” Blessing said.

The process

First, came the planning process and initial designs. Then, students submitted words, and objects were collected to incorporate into the piece.

Now, Goodman is beginning to fabricate the mosaic in her studio in Minneapolis.

She plans to document this over the course of the summer. In a recent Facebook video, she showed the pieces of the mosaic laid out on the floor of her studio. Goodman has been updating the mosaic’s progress on her Instagram account, @staciagoodmanmosaics.

The mosaic will be constructed in pieces that will then be transported to Bemidji where the final installation will take place, likely at the end of the summer.

About the artist

“I love words and I love visual art,” she said about the BSU project. “I just don’t think that I’ve ever been this excited about a project before.”

Goodman is a self-taught Minneapolis-based artist. She created her first large-scale mosaic in 2008 for her children’s elementary school that was celebrating its 100th anniversary and did so using school supplies to craft a two-story mosaic in the shape of a tree.

“That’s how I dove into it, I dove in big,” she said laughing.

She’s proud to say that her first mosaic is still intact and beautiful.

“I’m a storyteller first, a self-taught artist second,” Goodman said. “Using the ancient medium of mosaics, my creations are a conduit for sharing stories unique to place, time and people.”

Goodman describes her mosaic art as site-specific, connecting the final piece to the area it is displayed. Her work can also be seen on other regional college campuses, including St. Cloud State University and the University of North Dakota, as well as the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Hagg-Sauer progress

The original Hagg-Sauer building was demolished in August 2019, with construction beginning on the new Hagg-Sauer building in October 2019. The building is expected to be completed in the fall of 2020 and will house the proposed 27,700-square-foot Hagg-Sauer Academic Learning Center -- which will include modern, flexible-learning classrooms.

The Hagg-Sauer building will be complete in September, according to Adam Nickelson of Terra Construction. The mosaic will be over the entryway to the building’s main lecture hall, which is meant to mimic the former Hagg-Sauer large lecture hall.