Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Student Art Project Becomes A Memorial

By ALISON BATLEY | Published April 21, 2005

The pope mosaic was originally designed as a gala project at Pinecrest Academy, but I believe God intervened because he wanted it as a Pope John Paul II memorial for the school.

The tribute began in the fall of 2004 in the 10th-grade sculpture classes. Each student sculpted an individual six-inch square clay tile of the Holy Father with care, slowly bringing life to the clay. Upon completing each individual piece, the students brought their pieces together to unify the whole image. Many of the areas needed to be refined, some areas needed more clay, and in other areas the clay had to be carved away. The students then used damp sponges to smooth all the clay surfaces. Once the initial stages of the sculpting process were completed, each of the 24 pieces was tested by fire in the kiln.

During the firing process, 12 of the 24 pieces shattered into pieces in the kiln. This test of patience gave the students a great opportunity to mirror the pope in his fidelity to his mission of perseverance and faith in his old age.

The only two detailed pieces of his sculpted body that stayed intact were the tile with his fingertips of his right hand and the central part of his face. My students and I thought that these remaining intact pieces seemed to be symbols of Pope John Paul II’s spirit. His right hand represented his continual disposition to bless others and his piety in consecrating the Eucharist. The tile of his face was a reminder of his strong mind, which continued to bring insights to the faithful until his death. His ability to reason and make insights never wavered though his body weakened.

Toward the end of fall semester, the girls’ sculpture class attempted to recreate the 12 pieces that had shattered. When they were remade and refined, they were put to the test of fire again.

This time, all but one of the pieces survived the refiner’s fire. Providentially, the piece that broke again was the Holy Father’s neck, a providential foreshadowing of the throat illness that would start his final decline of health.

In a quick attempt to finish before the semester show, a student tried again to finish this piece, and again it broke in the drying process.

A final attempt to make this piece was made on the last day of class, and the final piece actually survived the kiln test. However, time to finish the grouting process was not available.

The unfinished mosaic remained in the art room for much of the semester as I waited for an opportune time to put the last mosaic piece in its place.

I placed the final mosaic piece in its spot moments before I heard the radio announcement that the Holy Father had breathed his last breath.


Alison Batley is an art teacher at Pinecrest Academy, Cumming.