The Smither Park Memory Wall - Section 5
Designed & Constructed by: Mark Toth and Lisa Waskom
ABOUT THE DESIGN
As I was finishing up helping Lisa Waskom with her lamp post column, I began looking for another panel on the Memory Wall to work on, and an idea to apply. Panel 50 on the north end of the wall had been claimed by an artist a few years previously. He had initially bolted some chicken wire to the wall, but no one had seen or heard from him for several years, so I asked Dan Phillips if I could take over that panel. He said yes, if I could come up with an acceptable design and start working on it immediately. The first design that I presented to Dan was based on the mandalas used in some eastern and American Indian religious ceremonies. Dan said that he wanted to see something more whimsical.
The idea for Frosty-Bob was born out of two desires, 1) to create an installation that would honor my mother, who had passed away recently, and 2) to come up with a design that would use a lot of white tile, of which there was a excess in the Smither Park warehouse.
When I was about 7 years old, my family lived in Temple, Texas, in an old house that did not have air conditioning. During an unusually hot Texas summer, when I complained about the heat, my mother would say, “Think cool thoughts.” Recalling this, I thought about a snowman, which was not only a cool thought, but would obviously use a lot of white tile in its construction. Dan approved the resulting design, and Frosty-Bob was born.
With assistance from Lisa Waskom, work began on Frosty-Bob in August of 2018. Early work involved removing all of the chicken wire that was attached to the wall and designing the structure that would form and support the three hemispheres that would make up the body and head for the snowman. These structures were made from 3-inch wide strips of steel stucco screen that were bolted together in the center and bent into a half circle, with tabs on each end through which the ends of each strip could be bolted to the wall. There were 6 to 8 strips in each structure. Once the structure for the bottom and largest body element was attached to the wall, it was covered with strips of fiberglass mesh that had been covered in thinset adhesive mortar, using the technique often used in creating forms in papier mache. The plan was to cover the entire structure except for an opening at the top through which fill material (styrofoam, empty plastic drink bottles, etc,) could be poured, along with a very liquid thinset to fill and harden the body element.
On Saturdays when the weather made it impossible to work outdoors, Lisa and I used the tile saw in the warehouse to cut white 4-inch by 4-inch tiles into 16 1-inch by 1-inch tiles. Over the course of several Saturdays in August and September, we cut 2.500 pieces of 1-inc by 1-inch white tile
I was concerned about the bottom element of the snowman, in particular, not being strong enough to withstand people leaning or standing on it. It did not seem that the fill material was going to create a solid body, so I found a large, heavy piece of bowl-shaped metal (I think it was a dish antennae from a home TV satellite system) in the warehouse. Lisa and I drilled a 3/4-inch hole through the concrete block wall, threaded the “dish” onto it, and cinched it up against the wall by tightening a nut on the back side of the wall. This dish filled some of the structure of the lower element of the snowman. We filled the rest of the void with plastic bottles, styrofoam chunks and spray foam insulation. We then poured a very thin mixture of thinset mortar into space to make a solid hemisphere.
In December of 2018, Lisa and I used the same technique on the middle body element and the head, but we completed these considerably more quickly, because they were smaller and did not have to bear as much potential weight.
In late December, we began applying the small white tiles to Frosty-Bob’s body, starting at the bottom and working up. By the end of January, 2019, most of the bottom element of the body, as well as the buttons, eyes, nose and mouth had been tiled. Next on the agenda was attaching the structure of the arms (1-inch PVC pipe wrapped in steel stucco mesh) to the wall. These would be covered with 1-inc by 1-inch dark brown glass tiles.
When it came time to cover the middle body element and the head, more 1-inch by 1-inch white tiles were needed, so it was back to the tile saw to cut up more of the 4-inch by 4-inch white tiles.
Lisa designed the beautiful scarf that wraps around Frosty-Bob’s neck and flutters in the breeze. It’s structure is steel stucco mesh, cut to shape and covered with thinset-soaked fiberglass mesh before the tiles were applied. Lisa cleverly created the fringe on the end of the scarf with electrical wire from which she stripped the insulation.
Initially, I did not have a plan for the background, but the idea for a day sky on the right side of Frosty-Bob and a night sky on the left side came to me when, for Christmas, my brother Ted and his wife Karen, “re-gifted” me a plaster sun and moon.
The crown of Frosty-Bob’s hat is made from a fiberglass dome found in the warehouse, and filled with used golf balls, spray insulation foam, and thinset mortar. The brim is made from a bicycle wheel rim and steel stucco mesh. The crown was covered in tile and the pieces were assembled and attached to the top of the wall above the head, before brim was also tiled. We added white grout to make the “snow” on the top of the crown and the brim.
The finishing touches on Frosty-Bob were completed in October of 2019.
Fun fact: By the time Frosty-Bob was complete, Lisa and I had cut and attached more than 4,000 pieces of 1-inch by 1-inch white tile.