The marble and ceramic tiles take random shapes when shattered, so it takes some skill to fit them in place.
Buttering a mosaic tile with adhesive takes the the right touch.
A shell earring is tucked in a gap
a Swarovski crystal is nested like a star amoung blue glass gems in the sky.
Front to back, Neva Welton, Elise and Jerry Lazar grout and scrub the mosiac tiles Monday morning. Welton finds that a toothbrush works best for removing the charcoal black grout from the tile faces.
It won't be long until stars glitter in broad daylight in the sky over Helper.
These aren't ordinary stars. They are gold-painted ceramics, with an occasional Swarovski crystal inset for some extra sparkle. They rest in a sky of hundreds of deep blue glass gems.
And that's just the topmost part of a work of art that is nearing completion beside the Helper Mining and Railroad Museum.
It's a mosaic representing the city, its history and environment.
"I've taken lots of pictures of the the things that represent Helper," says Salt Lake mosaic artist Elise Lazar, who designed the work. Her concept reflects a bottom-to-top horizontal motif based on the geologic strata that make the scenery.
A thin black vein of coal underlies the 5-by-14 foot composition, moving up through subsurface rock, soil, sagebrush, snow and then sky.
Curving through the landscape is a railroad track with brightly-colored cars that were handmade by Helper kids over the summer.
You can also see Highway 6 and the Price River.
Each one of the thousands of odd-shaped tiles has been painstakingly fitted and glued in place by Lazar, her husband Jerry and colleague Neva Welton.
"Would you like to give it a try?" Elise asks a visitor. She picks up a fragment of white ceramic tile - part of a mountain snowcap - and looks for a spot where it will fit on the outline she has drawn. "It's like a big jigsaw puzzle. This should fit right here."
Then she explains how to "butter" the back of the tile with adhesive. That means getting a gob of the glue on a spatula and carefully applying it. Too much adhesive will squirt out the sides of the tile when it is pressed to the wall, too little and the tile won't stick.
"Now press it gently and hold for about 20 or 30 seconds until its stays by itself," she says.
Imagine repeating this process a few thousand times and you'll get an idea of the work that goes into the creation of a mosaic of this size. Elise Lazar has worked on bigger ones. She has recently worked Sanpitch Dragon that decorates the wall of a walkway under the US 89 underpass in Gunnison.
She has also been on a team that decorated the exterior walls of a warehouse in Oakland, Calif. That was where she attended a week-long workshop taught by Isaiah Zagar, the Philadelphia artist who has earned national acclaim for his work.
As to why she got interested in this particular form of visual art, she simply states, "It just felt right."
She and her team are adding a few "treasures" to the work to encourage people to take a close look. In addition to the Zwarovski crystals, they have filled gaps with such things as polished stones, fossils, ceramic birds, shrubs and glass ladybugs.
Mirrors also play a part in the composition. "Mirrors add dimension and sparkle," she explains. "Also, you yourself are reflected in the work."
Then she points to a shiny pale circle in the sky of blue gems. "That's a full moon. We put it in on the night of the full moon."
While the trio of artists are conducting the final assembly, the mosaic has been a community effort. Jinni Fontana-Lund, who has spearheaded the project along with this year's Helper Arts and Music Festival, gives credit to local companies that donated materials and labor. Derek Way made the concrete base, Geneva Rock donated concrete, Howa's, Sutherland's, and Central Commission also provided materials.
Children and teenagers who made the train cars got instruction from local artists and Helper artist Kathleen Royster fired the clay in her shop kilns.
Fontana-Lund also gives credit to the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, which contributed $500 and designated the work as a "Random Act of Art."
"It's an example of the city, the festival and the museum working together," she says.