Precision Installation Yields Captivating Tile Art Mural
The City of San Antonio's Department of Arts & Culture and the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) have joined forces to enhance the university campus with captivating public art installations. "Discovery Enterprise" is the stunning new tile mural recently installed to wrap the corner of UTSA's new San Pedro I building, located opposite City Hall. Local artist Mark D. Hogensen's mural was selected from concepts submitted to the public art project, which sought a piece that creatively interprets "San Antonio's past, present, and future." Hogensen's design, marked by his bold and engaging imagery, has been masterfully brought to life in the 10-foot-high by 58-foot-long tile mural. The flawless execution of the artist’s vision is the direct result of a highly precise development and installation process.
Hogensen chose porcelain tile as the ideal medium for delivering his design because of its beauty, extreme durability and ability to match his drawing. From recent work done in San Antonio, Hogensen knew Erin Albrecht, owner of J&R Tile, a family business well-known in San Antonio. As a NTCA Five-Star Contractor, J&R possessed the expertise needed to tackle the unique challenges posed by the art tile installation. To ensure precision and quality, Albrecht engaged Tile Artisans Digital Imaging LLC, a Florida-based company specializing in kiln-firing porcelain tiles to precise mural specifications. Throughout the production process, Hogensen received sample tiles for his approval. Tile Artisans used Hogensen’s digital artwork for the precision transfer of his “Discovery Enterprise” design, which resulted in 580 bespoke 12” by 12” porcelain tiles.
The commitment to precision continued once the tiles arrived in San Antonio. The J&R team initiated their process by conducting a dry lay of all the tiles, ensuring the mural tile-by-tile plan was flawless and the unique tiles exhibited no quality aberrations. A pivotal challenge for the mural installation was the university's stipulation that the mural be movable once installed. To comply with this requirement, Albrecht collaborated with engineering experts to devise an innovative framing system for the mural.
Gus Tolleson, a J&R team member with expertise in metalworking, played a crucial role in constructing a set of eight custom welded modular metal frames held in place with a bolting system, to securely hold the tiles and enable later transport of the mural. This framing system was designed with waterproof backer boards and sealants to provide robust moisture protection. The one-of-a-kind system also incorporated removable expansion joints to facilitate the safe breakdown and relocation of the frames at a later date. J&R’s comprehensive approach not only met the university's requirement for movability but also demonstrated their commitment to sustaining the mural's longevity and integrity under various conditions.
Next, J&R selected the mural’s tile adhesive and finishes, prioritizing long-term, high-performance outcomes. Albrecht reached out to Chris Kain, Digital Technical Manager and Heather Ruhl, National Technical Manager at H.B. Fuller, maker of TEC® brand installation materials. They promptly recommended the new TEC® TotalFlex XMS Tile Adhesive, representing a game-changing category of adhesive designed for highly challenging wall applications, like the UTSA public art mural. In addition to withstanding San Antonio’s 40°F to 95°F+ annual weather fluctuations and the rigors of a high traffic downtown environment for the long-term, the new premixed TotalFlex XMS eliminated the near-term hassle of getting water to the installation. The ready-to-use, easy-to-apply product proved to be a convenient and time-saving solution for the installers. Albrecht noted that “we appreciated the partnership of TEC technical support on this project. They trained our installers on TotalFlex XMS at our shop, and were with us on-site to answer any questions.”
To ensure success, J&R carefully devised a precise four-station process for the mural’s installation. Since the mural’s busy downtown location meant scaffolding had to be built and taken down each day, the efficiency of the installation process was more important than ever. The four stations for included:
Tile Staging – The tile order was prepped and double-checked to ensure accuracy.
Adhesive Troweling – The adhesive was applied to each tile. Note: TotalFlex XMS Adhesive required a time-saving single-side application.
Tile Placement – Tiles were precisely placed one-by-one on the frame system already attached to the building.
Immediate Cleaning – Any stray adhesive was promptly and easily removed.
Adding to the complexity of the installation, the mural’s bright overhead LED lighting and direct daily sunlight meant lippage would be highly noticeable, so it was imperative that the tile installation be flawless. The experience of the J&R installers, the uniformity of the custom tiles and the easy-to-use adhesive played critical roles in avoiding lippage.
One problem that could not be avoided was the unexpected heat wave during the install where San Antonio temperatures soared over 100°F. In response, the J&R team quickly pivoted and moved installation work to evening hours, thus eliminating any temperature-related application issues. J&R’s senior installer Gilbert Rivera commented that “even with the challenges, installing this mural was a great experience. We got to know the artist, Mark, when he joined us on-site. TEC® TotalFlex XMS helped us save time so that we were able to come in under budget. At J&R, when we come in under budget, the installation team gets the labor savings back as a bonus.”
The mural installation culminated with grouting and filling the expansion joints with color-matched sealant. For these finishes, Hogensen chose the color Jet Black from J&R’s go-to TEC® AccuColor Plus Fast Setting Grout and TEC® AccuColor 100 100% Silicone Sealant. Cured in just four hours, AccuColor Plus Grout offers resistance to stains, efflorescence, cracks and mold, all of which were important for the longevity of the outdoor mural. Known for color consistency, the AccuColor products proved to be the perfect complement to the myriad tile colors with the 1/8” grout and sealant joints blending into the overall design. The end-result is a colorful mural where the graphic 3-D imagery takes center stage, appearing to leap off the building façade.
The “Discovery Enterprise” captivates the daily passersby with its awe-inspiring images. The successful realization of this striking public artwork involved a high-precision development and installation process from inception to completion. "Discovery Enterprise" now stands as a testament to the successful collaboration between the City of San Antonio and UTSA. For many years to come, the mural will be enriching the campus with its vibrant representation of the city's past, present and future multifaceted narrative.