Devon Life witnesses the creation of a beautiful new mosaic for the RD&E

In an empty city centre shop unit, a mosaic mural is being created through the combined efforts of artists and volunteers that will soon transform an outside space at the RD&E

Tree of Life

In an empty city centre shop unit, a mosaic mural is being created through the combined efforts of artists and volunteers that will soon transform an outside space at the RD&E


Over the summer, artists and volunteers have been working in an empty unit in the Guildhall Shopping Centre on a beautiful and inspiring mosaic mural that will eventually find a home in a courtyard at the Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, to be enjoyed by cancer patients and their family and friends.Called ‘Tree of Life’, the large-scale piece has been designed by local artists Lucy Rockliffe and Jess Carvill (who are collectively known as ArtStorm Project) in collaboration with patients and nurses, who were keen to create something that would be ‘calming and uplifting’, and which will be installed on three walls of the small courtyard at the end of Yeo Ward. Flower beds have been built into the paving and planting will complement the mural, transforming the area into a serene space. Included in the design are individual ceramic tile elements hand-made by patients – including those on the ward as well as in recovery – and their families in collaboration with local cancer support charity Force, which organised workshop sessions. Further sessions saw teams of volunteers turn the empty shop in the Guildhall into a hub of creative activity, with participants getting involved in every aspect of the process, including breaking up ceramic tiles into smaller pieces and painstakingly placing them on sections of mesh according to the intricate design. Being in the shop space also generated a lot of interest from passing shoppers, who regularly popped in to see the progress of the work, and to chat to the artists and volunteers. It has resulted in a real community feel to the whole project, and working on the mural has proved to be cathartic for many of those involved.Volunteer Lynne Wright, who has been treated for cancer at the RD&E and is helping with the project, commented: “I have always admired the artwork in the hospital corridors. Through Force I was able to take part in a six-week art course, which helped me through a difficult time. I was asked to join the mosaic project and am really enjoying my involvement in it. It is good to think that I am giving something back to the hospital in a way that will give pleasure to other patients.”

The Tree of Life mural will be installed in the courtyard off Yeo Ward in November.

The mural project is led by Exeter Healthcare Arts (EHA), based at RD&E, which secured around �10,000 in National Lottery funding to support the artwork. “This is a truly inspiring community art project and one which will be of huge benefit to patients on Yeo Ward, and their families and friends,” says Stephen Pettet-Smith, who heads up EHA. The donations of tiles from local businesses have been key in allowing the artists’ to achieve their vision for the piece, especially the specialist glass mosaic tiles from Original Style, which have an iridescent quality that creates a real sense of depth in the work.“The generous donations mean that we’ve had far more scope for colour, ensuring that the finish is richer and more nuanced,” says Lucy. “The specific quality of the individual pieces elevates the whole piece, really bringing the image to life.”Once ready, these completed sections of the mosaic will then be carefully transported to the hospital, where they will be pressed onto the courtyard walls, which will have been covered in a special type of grout. Topps Tiles, based in Marsh Barton, have generously agreed to assist with the all-important installation process – no small feat in a piece of work on such a scale.Traditionally, mosaicists would incorporate other contemporaneous artefacts into their work – such as pottery, jewellery and coins – as a way of referencing the locality of a work and the people who had made it. Lucy and Jess are keen to continue this traditional, and see it as an important aspect of the mural’s composition and overall aesthetic.“In the spirit of mosaic, we’re bringing in a lot more materials, coming together as an artwork, almost as a metaphor for the collaborative community working on it,” says Jess. 

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Everyone involved would like to extend their thanks to the National Lottery for awarding the grant, Force for facilitating the workshops, britishceramictile and Original Style for the donation of raw materials, and the Guildhall Shopping Centre for providing an empty shop unit free of charge in which the artists can complete the project before it is moved to the hospital.