Mosaic display at Vindolanda

Art Project: Pieces of Vindolanda

In 2016 and 2017 nine museums and archaeological sites took part in Hadrian's Cavalry art project. Lead artist Karen MacDougall kept a diary of the process. Here are her memories of the ambitious mosaic project at Roman Vindolanda.

Project: Pieces of Vindolanda

"Barbara Birley, curator of collections at the Vindolanda Trust, showed me some of Vindolanda's treasures. These included the iconic Vindolanda horse which has become the site’s logo, the lovely leopard pin and the griffin. All these beautiful things were in use around 2000 years ago. No mosaic work has yet been found, but Barbara was keen for us to create one as legacy artwork in the courtyard near the site entrance.

Haltwhistle First School pupils spent a busy morning at Vindolanda, exploring artefacts, finding treasures and touring the site. We drew patterns and the iconic animals to inspire our mosaic designs.

Mosaics in the making

In school I showed the children examples of mosaic work from British Roman mosaic schools which existed around the time Vindolanda was a working fort. We looked at the different ways to lay the tesserae (small blocks of stone that make up a mosaic). Some had wonderful Latin names such as:

  • adamento  - how the tiles flow across the mosaic
  • opus vermiculatum - an outlining technique

After drawing Roman patterns seen at Vindolanda on squared paper, year 3 pupils put these in their Arts Award portfolios. I chose the most popular patterns and we worked out how to use them as our borders.

Chamfrons and coffee stirrers

Everyone enjoyed trying out real mosaics, making their own designs within my templates. We selected one version of the horse, leopard and griffin and two chamfrons (horses' head armour). These were developed on a sticky backing in reverse ready to lay into the adhesive. A 2mm gap between tiles was achieved with the help of coffee stirrers!

The mosaics were fixed to the wall just before the Cavalry Exhibition opened and received lots of positive comments."

- By artist Karen MacDougall

Karen's haiku reflecting on the project

Fragments - stone and clay

Chequers pattern the border

And the horse stands tall.

More art projects

Take a look at the full list at Diary of a Hadrian's Cavalry Artist.

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