Sierra to the Sea - Mosaic Mural at the School Park Community Garden

This 800 square foot tile mosaic mural is was completed in August, 2016, on the wall along the School Park Community Garden's driveway, behind Auburn City Hall and the Auburn Police Station.

The project was lead by Arts Commissioner Katy Fries, designed by Arts Commissioner Michael Kent Murphy. Concept development began during the summer of 2014, and production of the mural began in June 2015.

The Auburn Arts Commission has sponsored all material and service costs for the production of the mural, with thousands of hours of artistic and installation efforts donated by well over 1,000 members of the greater Auburn community.


Michael's design concept provides an artistic interpretation of an overhead view of the American and Sacramento rivers as they flow from the High Sierra, through Auburn and Sacramento, into the San Francisco Bay and out into the Pacific Ocean.

The land mass is divided into non-representative color blocks, with a rock-lined blue river winding across the state. With Katy's design input, the land mass has been built using around 20,000 hand-made tiles, while the river has been designed primarily as a classic mosaic of broken commercial tiles.

The concept design left a great deal of room for artistic interpretation of the detailed design as the project developed.


Throughout the summer of 2015, Katy and her daughter Molly Fries worked with over 1,000 youths at summer programs and other events throughout the Auburn area, with the assistance of numerous adult helpers. Each participant was handed a 6-inch by 9-inch slab of clay and given access to bins full of stamps, toys, tools, and odds & ends to create texture on the slabs. These slabs were then taken home, allowed to partially dry, then cut into tiles ranging from 1/2-inch to 4-inches, in circles, squares, diamonds, hexagons and octagons.

These tiles were bisque-fired in several kilns volunteered by artists around town, then glazed and high-fired for durability with the assistance of artist Virginia Dains, in various shades of green, orange, red, yellow, purple and gold.

In the meantime, Michael obtained donations of over 200 square feet of commercial tiles in various shades of blue.Tile tape, thinset mortar, grout, buckets and tools were purchased. Work tables, shade structures, ladders and scaffolding were borrowed.

Since Katy is also the manager of the School Park Community Garden, the storage shed on the premises was available, allowing tools and supplies to be kept on site.

Tile Installation

The first tiles were mounted to the wall on September 5, 2015. Layout and installation continued on practically every dry Saturday, and the occasional other day, until the last section of tile was mounted on June 5, 2016.

The original design of the mural allowed for a great deal of creativity and evolution in the detail design work as the process went on. A typical development day would generate around 20 square feet of new tile installed.

Dozens of volunteers contributed to the detail design and installation - those working 10 or more days on the design, in addition to Katy, Michael and Molly, include Arts Commissioner Brian Fries, Kathleen Sailor and Ryan Goodpastor. (Brian and Ryan have both joined the Arts Commission since beginning the mural work).

Finish Work

July of 2016 was dedicated to grouting the whole wall. Katy and Ryan were the heavy workers on this project, with considerable help from Brian, mosaic artist Kristin Derrick Thomas, and others. Custom grout colors were mixed for each color section, to provide contrast with the main tiles and the highlight colors.


The mural was dedicated with a celebratory event on August 5, 2016, with words, music, food and fun. Over 200 people attended the event.