They call it the Berlin Wall…..

I have a wall in my backyard which the neighbors call the Berlin Wall. I must say I was rather surprised to hear this – yes it is large and grey and it demarcates the boundary between properties. The wall is fourteen meters long.

When we moved in, I thought that the wall was perfect for a mosaicing project and it wasn’t too long before I got stuck into it. It took me some time to decide what to put on it. I have had several people ask me to document my progress – so here’s the first installment.

I wanted to design something with a slightly Dutch theme incorporated. Eventually I decided to base the wall on one of my favorite childhood stories – The Owl and the Pussy-cat by Edward Lear, written in 1871. My father used to read it to my brother and I.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea 
   In a beautiful pea-green boat, 
They took some honey, and plenty of money, 
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note. 
The Owl looked up to the stars above, 
   And sang to a small guitar, 
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love, 
    What a beautiful Pussy you are, 
         You are, 
         You are! 
What a beautiful Pussy you are!” 
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl! 
   How charmingly sweet you sing! 
O let us be married! too long we have tarried: 
   But what shall we do for a ring?” 
They sailed away, for a year and a day, 
   To the land where the Bong-Tree grows 
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood 
   With a ring at the end of his nose, 
             His nose, 
             His nose, 
   With a ring at the end of his nose. 
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling 
   Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.” 
So they took it away, and were married next day 
   By the Turkey who lives on the hill. 
They dined on mince, and slices of quince, 
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon; 
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand, 
   They danced by the light of the moon, 
             The moon, 
             The moon, 
They danced by the light of the moon.


So I set about drawing my design and got to work. The key elements of the design are of course the Bong-tree, the owl, the pussy-cat, the boat and the moon. Each of these elements will figure in the design. I happened to have brought with me from New Zealand (as one does) five large boxes of broken china, an assortment of blues, greens, reds and browns (collected post Christchurch earthquakes). I chose to use china because the frosts here in the Netherlands in the winter play havoc with the glazes on wall tiles. The water freezes on the tiles and blows off the coating. So I got to work sorting out my boxes of china and cutting pieces to size. I began with the pond, which is attached to the wall. I had to drain the pond which was no mean feet- its about a meter and a half deep. As I got to the bottom I discovered two toads living at the bottom. So I transferred them to a nearby stream, thoroughly cleaned the pond and then worked on the pond wall from inside the pond. I also took the opportunity to fix a couple of small holes in the pond lining while I was at it. My color scheme is entirely based on the china I had available, guesstimating at quantities of appropriate materials. In a couple of areas I have used red smalti to add depth of color to the piece. I have placed my initials in the top left hand corner using two brass letters off an old headstone.

I completed the pond by adding the words of the poem in ceramic letters and of course the cat. The rest of the poem (i.e. verse II) will flow into the main wall behind.

For the main wall I needed a design that fits with the poem as well as incorporates a Dutch theme so I decided to design using two inspiration points: Gustav Klimt’s tree of life and Karla Gerard’s sunny landscape paintings. Using those I developed my own design incorporating Dutch bulb fields, wind mill and Amsterdam house. The bong-tree forms the main character on the wall so that’s where I have begun. As I progress down the wall, I will add the moon, the owl and pussy-cat in a boat and other elements as well.

Unfortunately there’s a tree trunk in the middle of this photo, I will follow up with better photos. For the branches of the Bong-tree I have used a mixture of china and mirror as well as three different grout colors. The china areas (i.e. the image itself) must be  grouted before any of the background goes in. Grouting china (which does not form a smooth flat surface) is a laborious task and my least favourite aspect of the project.

Detail of Sarah’s Berlin Wall
The initial design- the Owl and Pussy Cat wall by Sarah-Alice Miles
The Owl and Pussy cat wall by Sarah-Alice Miles
The Pussy-cat from Edward Lear’s poem – the Owl and Pussy-cat.

I’m now having to fill in the background. I have chosen bright white marble which I am cutting from blocks using a hammer and hardy. As you can imagine this is quite an undertaking for a 14 meter wall. But once the material is cut the process of adhering to the wall goes relatively quickly (in mosaic terms).  Particularly as I am not grouting the marble. The natural quartz in the marble reflects the sunlight adding a special quality to the piece. Its amazing to see the wall and image come to life as the background marble goes into place. Both china and marble do not produce neat uniform shapes so there is a sense of freedom in the piece. It is not a tight perfect fit.

Next week another update.

More photos of progress to follow.



  1. Fabulous amazing and beautiful what a work of art .
    You look so rested and very radiant xxx
    So happy for you to see you so content with your art .

    1. Thanks Susan. Enjoying my new found freedom but have not forgotten those still struggling with earthquake issues.

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