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EXTREME DETAIL | The making of a public art masterpiece


Terrazzo public art installation at Clinton Airport, Little Rock, AR
The title of the artwork is a tribute to Arkansas poet laureate Jo McDougall’s 2010 anthology "Under an Arkansas Sky".

There was something about this project. Every person who worked on it knew it would require ingenuity and their best effort. In her design proposal for the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport, entitled Over an Arkansas Sky, artist Tiffany Black describes her design as being “intricate, in motion, and peaceful.”

Achieving this vision using metal divider strips, ground stone, and epoxy seemed like a big stretch, but somehow, the finished 2-dimensional terrazzo floor evokes emotion and transports air travelers to a place of peaceful, natural beauty.

The largest and most complex public art project in 92 years

The 4,600 square foot floor is the centerpiece of the renovation of the airport’s pre-security terminal lobby. It was described by Paul Berra, President of Missouri Terrazzo as “the most complex project we’ve installed in our 92-year company history.”

Efforts to deliver this masterpiece began months before the original tile floor was removed and Berra’s team began in-filling the subfloor. Terrazzo & Marble Supply Company (T&M) was the materials partner on the project. They supplied dozens of samples to Black and the architecture team before construction began. It was determined that 50 epoxy colors and 50 custom aggregate mixes were required to achieve the design vision. The entire project took 5 months to complete. Mike Brawley of T&M shared this about his team's experience "Public art projects are never easy, but they sure are gratifying. Like all the project partners, we went the extra mile to achieve this amazing result. For us, that included custom aggregate mixes that included mother-of-pearl and other natural elements that added to the depth and sparkle of the design."

Translating the design for terrazzo

“The flora and fauna included represent all regions and ecosystems of Arkansas. Symmetrical, majestic mockingbirds symbolize the magic of flight that happens at Clinton Airport every day. A central flower references a compass rose.” – from Over an Arkansas Sky design brief
Draft architectural drawings of Clinton Airport terrazzo floor
The design features native Arkansas species including 16 types of insects, 12 types of plants, and 1 bird.

Black typically creates large scale painted murals. She executed this design digitally, with intricate detail that mimics the brush strokes in her painted pieces. Creative Edge was selected for the project due to their proven ability to translate complex designs for accurate reproduction in terrazzo. Berra confirmed that Creative Edge was the right partner for this project. “Hiring Creative Edge was absolutely the right move. Their design and engineering work was phenomenal.”

A+ install team brings skill, passion – and patience

“The team had to execute a highly functional and flawless floor. That’s always a given. The bigger issue in this case was the need to also inspire people with a beautifully complex work of art.” Explains Jim Thompson, VP at Creative Edge “You don’t accomplish that with an ordinary team. You need an A+ team.” He continued. That A+ team included the Missouri Terrazzo and T&M teams, plus technicians and engineers like Creative Edge’s Kevin Thornburg. Kevin understands the design needs of terrazzo and was able to re-tool the design using CAD while maintaining the integrity of the original design. The re-engineered CAD drawing was then used to waterjet cut StencilTek transfer sheets that expedite layout and assure design accuracy, and FrameTek metal dividers which aggregate and epoxy mixes are poured into.

Once FrameTek and StencilTek were installed, Missouri Terrazzo’s best craftsmen went to work. “Our team worked hard to get the detail right. Even using tweezers to put aggregate into tiny spots on butterfly wings that were smaller than a dime.” Recalls Kevin Rickman, Project Manager at Missouri Terrazzo. He shared a surprising statistic to illustrate just how complex this project was. “Patience was pretty high­ on the list of skills needed. On a typical project, our team can complete 1,200 to 1,500 sq ft in a day. On this project, we sometimes completed only 2-3 sq ft per day due to the need to mix so many colors and pay close attention to detail.”

Tricky transformation in the heart of the airport

 Creative Edge FrameTek waterjet cut metal divider strips made the complex design possible.
Install was done in stages within temporary walls to meet TSA requirements. Photo credit: Terrazzo & Marble Supply Co.

2.6 million travelers pass through the Clinton Airport each year. That pace of traffic didn’t slow during the renovation. The terrazzo installation was completed in stages in the center of the busy terminal. Project pre-planning included working with TSA on a system of temporary walls to define the work area while allowing for 5-foot clearance around sensitive and busy screening areas.

The wall system worked well to accommodate security requirements, but it caused some anxiety for the install team. Upon completing one section, the walls would be moved so crews could begin the adjacent section. At one point, Rickman recalls a wall running right down the center of a butterfly. “Our crews held their breath as they watched that wall come down. We were essentially working blind, and that butterfly could’ve been a mess. We were relieved to see that it turned out perfect, thanks in large part to the Creative Edge frames, stencils, and design plans.”

The result is much more than a floor

“This is one of the best public art installations in the country. Hands down.” – Paul Berra, President, Missouri Terrazzo

Technically, the quality of the installation is perfect. There is no bleed of colors, and every inch of the nearly 15,000 linear feet of divider strips is ground evenly. But that’s not the only reason this project is a source of pride for all involved. Their job was to replace a tile floor with a new terrazzo floor that will endure hundreds of thousands of footsteps per day and last for decades. Simultaneously, they were tasked with creating a stunning work of art that will impact a community for generations. "We are so proud to have been a part of this project.” Says Berra.

Praise for the finished work includes an award from the National Terrazzo and Mosaic Association and accolades from many in the traveling and art communities.

Enjoy some close-ups of the award winning project

Some photos courtesy of Terrazzo & Marble Supply, Missouri Tile, and Tiffany Black


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