Saltburn150 Mosaic Project

Mosaic making is addictive. “We’ve had people say that they’re going for a train and can only fit a couple of tiles in, but three trains later, they’re still working away,” says Helen Gaunt, who has been masterminding this Saltburn150 project with fellow artist Derek Mosey.

The community artists, who are based at Saltburn Artists Projects in Marske Road, were approached by a member of Saltburn’s 150 Committee and asked for ideas to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the first passenger steam train. Believing that mosaic projects always enhance an area, Helen and Derek proposed one involving the local community. “We’re always on the lookout for sites,” explains Helen, “and I’d thought for a while that the big expanse of wall with five bays at the side of Sainsbury’s was crying out for mosaics.”

She feels that the site’s proximity to the railway is particularly apt and a steam engine will feature on the central panel. Derek adds: “It will be good for people to see the artwork as they come into Saltburn on the train. Much better than a blank wall!”

They’re getting the community involved in all aspects of the mosaics’ production. They visited Saltburn Learning Campus and collected ideas from children aged from three to sixteen. Helen turned their thoughts into designs which can be made into mosaics and on a series of Saturday mornings this summer, Helen and Derek are on site by Sainsbury’s wall, (thanks to the supermarket), giving passers-by the opportunity to add prepared coloured tiles to the boards. They listen to people’s comments while they are placing tiles and sometimes tweak the designs to include their memories.

“We’ve had varied kinds of audience participation,” says Derek. “When we erected the first completed mosaic in June, the people from the Dundas Street shops opposite came out and broke into spontaneous applause!”

The pair explain that preparation for the activity sessions is crucial. They transfer the designs onto wooden boards, which are cut into four for transport. The tiles are bought in packs of two centimetre squares of coloured glass and are cut into suitable shapes at the Artists’ Studios, so that anyone can place them without needing to use cutters or tools, public safety being paramount. The tiles have a bumpy side to which weather-proof wood adhesive is applied. They need to be placed on the boards with space between them, so that grouting can eventually be applied. People are encouraged to apply the mosaic tiles within the design framework using the prepared glass tiles.

Councillor Vera Rider unveils the first mosaic.

Councillor Vera Rider, Chair of Saltburn, Marske and New Marske Parish Council unveiled the first panel in June. It is a pre-1900 view of Saltburn, including structures such as the Halfpenny Bridge and cliff hoist, which are not with us now. A pierrot, who was appearing in ‘The End of the Pier Show’ this summer, unveiled the second panel in July. It depicts the town in the 1920s. Nigel Pease, the great great grandson of the town’s founder, Henry Pease, unveiled the third panel in August. This features the town’s early days, including Henry and a steam engine.

The third mosaic is revealed.

“The fourth panel will depict Saltburn town buildings, including the Brine Baths and the fifth will depict the Valley Gardens,” says Derek. “We want the mosaics to have a sense of time, but they’re not a historical document and won’t be cluttered with too much information. They’re fun and colourful and show nature too. Look for the oystercatchers in panel one and swallows, sand and house martins and swifts in panel two………”

The mosaic-making has been filmed by David Jinks of Fridge Productions, who has been commissioned to make a documentary of 150 celebrations this year. Helen and Derek have also noticed families taking photos of themselves contributing to the panels. “It’s been a wholly positive experience,” says Derek.

Accompanying his children, Phoebe aged eight and Libby aged five, Dan from Marske says as they contribute to the mosaic one August Saturday morning: “It’s a fantastic project to involve the children in. They really love it when they see the mosaics going up.”

Saltburn residents Alison and Nancy Pierce agree, as they get involved in choosing tiles. “It’s a wonderful idea. We come from west of the Pennines and it’s like dry stone walling!”

Helen and Derek, who have been self-employed artists for over thirteen years, met in Saltburn on a Creative Business course. Helen is an artist, designer and illustrator, with a BA Hons Graphic Design First Class and PGCE; Derek is a sculptor, designer and maker. Derek began in business making historical artefacts and replicas. As well as mosaics, Helen and Derek create murals, willow sculptures, wood carving and fire sculptures. They have recently been involved in a project with young people from Saltburn, organised by Groundwork North-East, to create square mosaics around the town as a thank you to townspeople who have gone the extra mile to help them. In the future, Helen would like to see a town trail for children to find them all; I bet it would be popular with adults too!

Documentation about the mosaic projects can be accessed at and the artists can be contacted on 01287 281891 or 07811 494869 or email:

No comments: