Ashburn mural turns heads in two directions

DOUBLE TAKE
By Jill Devine

Alisson Guzman is 10 years old and lives in Ashburn’s Farmwell Hunt neighborhood. She frequently walks (or rides her scooter) down Waxpool Road with her parents. 

“When I first noticed it, I thought it was pretty cool,” she said. “From one side it’s one picture and from the other side, it’s another picture.” 

Alisson is talking about a small, but intriguing mural that appears on the side of a new apartment building. The work is the latest creation in our community by famed Loudoun artist Joan Gardiner, owner of Unison Pottery and Tile located near Middleburg. 

The mural, 12 feet wide and 7 feet tall, is called “Migration.” It highlights an exterior wall near the playground at the new Waxpool Apartment complex being built near Waxpool and Ashburn Village Boulevard. And as young Alisson noted, it offers two entirely different views to pedestrians and commuters passing by. 

Those traveling east see an expanse of deep-hued autumn leaves and migratory insects. Those heading west see spring cherry blossoms and sweeping birds set against an intensely blue sky. The dual scenes were achieved because the tiles, rather than being laid flat, were set at angles, creating two-sided columns along the wall. 

“I’ve always wanted to create an agamograph, and this location was the perfect place to do it,” Gardiner said. 

Agamographs, named after Israeli artist Yaacov Agam, use optical illusion to create images that change depending on the viewing angle. 

Along the mural’s bottom row are small tile “books” with printed facts about local wildlife migration. “I’m hoping children and adults will read these books and become interested in our seasons, watching for the migration of the insect populations and the arrival of blooming cherry blossoms and our red-winged blackbirds,” Gardiner said. 

Aimee Curl, a studio assistant for Gardiner who helped create the tiles, said every project she’s done with Gardiner surprises her. 

“It wasn’t until installation that I could fully appreciate the beauty of Joan’s vision with this mural, and I was stunned by the colors of the glazes as they came out of the kiln.” 

ASHBURN CONNECTIONS

Gardiner founded Unison Pottery and Tile in 1976. Her handcrafted commissions grace some of the finest private homes and businesses in Loudoun, but the 73-year-old artist says she is most proud of her public art murals, found in more than a dozen libraries, schools and community spaces throughout the county. 

Joan Gardiner

Locally, Ashburn Library on Hay Road houses tile panels by Gardiner in its lobby that give a fanciful archeological tour of Ashburn soil complete with “fossils” embedded in the wall. 

“It definitely generates interest. It’s one of the first things that children are drawn to – those fossils,” said Melissa Howley, a library assistant at the branch. “It definitely adds to the ambiance here.” 

Gardiner says none of her murals would exist if it wasn’t for her friendship with one of Ashburn’s early residents, the late Steuart Weller, owner of now-closed business Weller Tile and Mosaics. 

“I owe my success to Steuart Weller,” said Gardiner, who met Weller in 1982 when she hired him to install some tiles she had created for her home. 

Weller recognized Gardiner’s talent and connected her with customers eager to buy her creations. Until Weller’s death in 2007, the two worked in tandem, with Gardiner creating tiles and Weller installing them. Rocky Hall, a former Weller employee, reunited with Gardiner to install the tiles at the Waxpool Apartments project. 

THE NEWEST MURAL

The Waxpool mural was commissioned by Kim Hart, managing partner of Good Works, the company that, together with Green Street Housing, developed and owns Waxpool Apartments. 

“Joan is a very significant artist in Loudoun County,” Hart said . “We are proud to be the first to install one of her public murals in an outside space where everyone can see and enjoy it.” 

One of the first to see the finished mural at the Waxpool Apartments ribbon-cutting in March was Ashburn District Supervisor Mike Turner. 

“Public art grounds us and reminds us of what’s really important in life,” Turner said. “What I like about this mural is that Loudoun County is all about migration. We have a demographically cosmopolitan population. Our people are in a constant state of movement, and I can’t think of a county in the nation where migration would be a more apt theme.” 

Alisson Guzman admits she didn’t necessarily fully grasp the themes and meaning of the mural when she first spotted it – saying she thought it was just there for “entertainment.”

And then she offers an insightful observation for a 10-year-old: “Art explains things about the people who make it – the artists – and how they think.”

And thanks to the new mural, Ashburn and the wider community continue to learn about how Joan Gardiner thinks and how she sees the world.

Jill Devine is a freelance writer and former magazine editor from Loudoun County who writes for a variety of Virginia publications.

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