Gary Dostle (left) helps install his River of Life mosaic.

Laticrete donated all of the installation materials for Gary Dostle’s River of Life mosaic, which was commissioned by the University of Iowa for its new Campus Recreation and Wellness Center on the Iowa City campus. As an active member of Mosaic Art Now, Laticrete co-owner Henry Rothberg spearheaded the donation for the London artist's 10’ by 47’ porcelain tile mosaic art mural depicting the Iowa River. The mural is installed as the flooring for the main lobby of the 20,000 sq. ft. fitness center.

The mosaic features a field of river-blue, 3/4” by 3/4” hand-cut porcelain mosaics interspersed with Bisazza glass highlights, along with darker textile patterned sections and French Winckelman unglazed porcelain mosaics.

Mosaic installers work on the River of Life mural.

“I imagined the ground the Iowa River flows over as the rich pattern of human existence, culture and knowledge. The river travels through light and dark patterned sections of well-being and in some parts, the blue lines break out completely, portraying the extremes of a life not in balance,” said Drostle.

With polymer-fortified thin-set mortar and cement-based grout from Laticrete, a special team of skilled mosaic artisans completed the elaborate installation using the traditional two-step method direct over masonry. Sent from London in 16 boxes of paper-face mosaic mounted on 200 sheets, the River of Life now rests in a cropped field of terrazzo as the centerpiece of the three-level wellness and fitness facility.

Given the size and incredible amount of detail involved, the mural took hundreds of days and countless hours of planning, measuring and adjusting by professionals hired by Drostle for the architecture commission. The project drew some of the world’s best known mosaic artists to his studio by the Thames.

An installer mixes Laticrete 254 Platinum thin-set mortar for the River of Life mosaic.

Mosaic artist and Texas native Julie Richey began the project with a two-week trip to London to work closely on the mural with Guilia Vogrig, a graduate of the prestigious Spilimbergo Mosaic School in Italy. Vogrig, along with Notre Dame PhD candidate Levente Borvak, Richey and Drostle, all traveled to the University of Iowa campus nearly six weeks later after carefully labeling each sheet and packaging the mosaics for shipment to the U.S.

Back in London during the final stages of planning, Laticrete technical service experts worked with Drostle and his team to create the right materials spec inclusive of the Laticrete warranty program. Laticrete 254 Platinum thin-set mortar was used to install nearly 300,000 mosaic tiles.

The completed project.

“We went through six, 50-pound bags of Laticrete 254 Platinum,” Richey said. “We set the mural in an assembly line process each with a specific job. Moving in rows, left to right in order to work off the fresh Laticrete mortar, Levente would hand me a section of the mural and I would place it. Gary would follow, tamp and flatten the mosaics, and Guilia would begin to sponge the brown paper with water to relax the pasta amido flour paste from the surface.”

During the final two days of the installation, mosaics were installed with Laticrete PermaColor Grout.