Public Mosaics by Mike Mandel seen at Sam Nunn Atlanta Federal Building, Atlanta - Sitting Down at Rich’s

Sitting Down at Rich’s

This mural recognizes the legacy of Rich’s Department Store, which for many years was the cornerstone of Atlanta’s downtown and is now one part of the Atlanta Federal Center.

The mural tells the story of two dreams that in a strange twist of history became intertwined here. On the one hand, an immigrant family comes to Atlanta to establish a business and in the process makes a commitment to the well-being of the community. And on the other hand, almost a hundred years later, that same family department store becomes the site for the famous lunch counter sit-in led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to protest the prevailing policy of segregation.

To dramatize the historical legacy I investigated photographic imagery within historical archives of the civil rights period in Atlanta and the social history of Rich’s Department store. The mosaic tile mural extends floor to ceiling. It begins on a 30’ wall and wraps around that corridor wall right up the stairs to the second floor. Rather than looking like pictures mounted on a wall, the images become the wall in a bold scale.

I have also integrated into the wall a series of larger porcelain enamel ‘tiles’ each measuring 8 x 10 inches that contain a photographic image printed on its face that pertains to the civil rights issue and to the history of Rich’s department store. As one approaches the wall these images are visible at close range. There are actually two viewing distances, one from a long perspective to view the mosaic, and one close-up to view the inset photographs.

Meet the Creator

"Over a period of thirty years I have designed both temporary (billboards) and permanent (tile mosaic) artworks specifically for public sites. My work has been primarily focused on public art projects transforming photographic imagery into largescale glass and porcelain tile mosaic murals. In 1974 I received a Masters in Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute, concentrating in Photography. Among my awards are four fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Fulbright fellowship, a MacDowell Colony Fellowship and numerous other grants and awards. My work is represented in museum collections throughout the world and I have published extensively. In 1977 Larry Sultan and I authored Evidence, a photo narrative comprised only of images that we found in government and corporate archives, such as police, fire departments, aerospace and engineering firms. The photographs were originally made as documents of crime scenes, rocket experiments, etc. But by inventing a new sequence within the book format, they come to symbolize an entirely new message about the failure of faith in progress and technology. This book has been recognized as a precursor to subsequent postmodern strategies of photo practice, and was re-published in 2004 by Distributed Art Publishers in New York. My most recent book is a collaborative effort with my wife, Chantal Zakari, entitled The State of Ata, 2010. In 2006 I was invited to participate in the 4th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art, “Of Mice and Men,” in Berlin, Germany. In 2009 I participated in Art Basel, Switzerland, and Photo España, Madrid.

In the 1980's when I recognized that photography was becoming transformed into a digital medium I began to work with photographs on the computer. A digitized photograph is comprised of numerous square units of color called "pixels." My interest in public art and specifically in finding a way to translate photographs into a more architectural scale led me to the idea of a mosaic based on electronic imagery. A one-inch ceramic or glass tile could be considered a real-world analog to the electronic pixel, and thousands of these tiles could add up to become a wall of photographic imagery. My approach to permanent public art is to tap into the intertwined stories of history, myths, images of land and community. I recognize the documentary power of photography and find strategies to translate this energy into public design."

Available for commission/custom work