Thousands of portraits fill Museum of Surrey’s mural wall to create large river-photo mosaic

The photo mural mosaic at the Museum of Surrey. (Submitted photo)The photo mural mosaic at the Museum of Surrey. (Submitted photo)
A “before” photo shows the stairway at the old Surrey Museum, before it became the Museum of Surrey in 2018. (Submitted photo)A “before” photo shows the stairway at the old Surrey Museum, before it became the Museum of Surrey in 2018. (Submitted photo)
The installation of the mural mosaic at the Museum of Surrey in 2018. (Submitted photo)The installation of the mural mosaic at the Museum of Surrey in 2018. (Submitted photo)
A closeup view of the mural mosaic at the Museum of Surrey. (Photo: Tom Zillich)A closeup view of the mural mosaic at the Museum of Surrey. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
A closeup view of the mural mosaic at the Museum of Surrey. (Photo: Tom Zillich)A closeup view of the mural mosaic at the Museum of Surrey. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

A curved wall of the atrium stairway showcases the largest and most compelling image at the Museum of Surrey.

The so-called “mural mosaic” is a photograph of the Nicomekl River created with thousands of unique photos of people at places around Surrey over the years.

The project was initiated by Colleen Sharpe, curator of exhibits, back in 2017, when museum expansion plans were set in motion.

Consisting of 43,800 images, the mural includes 2,461 duplicated photographs acquired from several sources, including people photographed at Surrey community events. The public was also invited to submit photos through an online campaign, and Surrey Archives provided more than 1,000 historic photographs.

Sharpe said the project was inspired by a similar photo mural at Langley Fine Arts School.

“My background is work as an art curator, and when I saw this wall (at the museum) I had this idea to make something special of it,” Sharpe recalled. “We looked at a bunch of different ideas for the wall, including digital screens and other things. Then I saw a newspaper article about the wall (in Langley), and they did a smaller photo mural mosaic. So I got contact info from them about who helped create that. It was somebody in the Netherlands.”

This led Sharpe to contact Sybren Haagsma, with the company APP Helmond. He created special software called Mosaizer XV that organized the original images by tone to assemble the overall river image. Printing and installation were co-ordinated by Uno Digital.

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Printed on vinyl and applied in giant strips, the photo of the Nicomekl was taken near Blackie Spit, Sharpe explained.

“An assistant curator at the time, Jessie McLean, and I drove all over Surrey to find a river scene with some depth,” Sharpe recalled. “We knew we wanted to feature one of Surrey’s rivers or creeks, a waterway, but we needed something with depth so it would look good on the wall.”

The photo mural, which measures 46 feet by 15 feet, showcases Surrey and its many faces.

From far away, notes a post on surrey.ca, the mural looks like a river which leads to the museum’s Indigenous Hall. “The river theme reflects the 1,400 kilometres of rivers and streams from Surrey’s geography. It emphasizes that rivers have been a connection point for all people in Surrey for thousands of years. It also reminds us that rivers in Surrey are a source of transportation, food, sustainability and connection. The river theme was inspired by our renewed relationship with our three land-based first nations.”

The mural wall was unveiled along with the museum expansion project in September 2018.

“It was so popular when it opened, and we had so many people looking at the mural, looking for their photo in the mosaic,” Sharpe recalled.

The project involved some interesting portraits, if ever the museum wanted to do a scavenger hunt or similar activity.

“For example, there are portraits of the TD Explore Zone animal characters on the wall including the museum mascot, Raj the Raccoon,” Sharpe revealed. “There is also a mannequin from pre-2005 when the museum was based near Cloverdale Fairgrounds. There are a couple of illustrations made by a Surrey resident (e.g. a cowboy) and even a painting of sasquatch from Harrison Hot Springs.

“We only allowed pets in the photos submitted if they were with their owner,” Sharpe added. “There is one exception to this. There are two pug dog photos on the mural wall. These are the dogs of the former owners of Uno Digital who did the printing.”

Looking ahead, Sharpe said the museum is hoping to install a digital kiosk that allows people to engage more with the wall — to zoom in to find their photo on a copy of the image, for example. This would include some of the background story and installation images.



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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Museum of Surrey