Piecing it together

Jennifer K Mahal

NEWPORT BEACH -- Mia Tavonatti wiped the surface of the tile mosaic

with a damp yellow sponge. Beside her, sister Tara worked on placing

grout on a mosaic of seashells.

Classes had let out at Newport Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon

and a number of children and their parents were milling about, watching

the pair place the final touches on the nine mosaic murals they are


A surfer riding the waves. Newport Pier at sunset. A trio of junior

lifeguards racing down the beach.

“These were gaping holes with broken terra cotta tiles,” said Shannon

Jakosky, looking at the front of the school.

That was before Shannon Jakosky’s husband, Jack, got the idea to

beautify the school where their three children -- Mariah, 9, Keegan, 8,

and Seneca, 6 -- attend. Jack Jakosky is also an alumnus of Newport


“It is truly a vision of Jack’s to bring life to the building,” his

wife said.

In August 1999, Mia Tavanotti was asked by Jack Jakosky if she could

do a set of nine mosaic murals representing “The Peninsula.”

Tavonatti, a Newport Beach illustrator and painter, had never done a

mosaic before.

“I said ‘absolutely.’ To me, [mosaic] is just another medium,”

Tavonatti said.

The murals will be publicly unveiled Saturday in a dedication ceremony

at the school.

Each 3-foot by 7-foot mural took an average of 300 hours to complete,

with the two slightly larger pieces taking 350 hours. Tavonatti used

thousands of tiles to create the nine incredibly detailed works of art.

The first mural Tavonatti did, “Funzone,” uses only 30 colors. But the

palette grew to around 500 colors by the time “Sealife,” the ninth mural,

was completed.

“To get depth, you need get light color, then a little darker and a

little darker,” Tavonatti said. “I had a hard time trying to find a light


The mosaics cost about $5,000 each. No school funds were involved. The

money for the project came from private donors -- including Councilman

Tod Ridgeway, the Segerstroms and a number of community associations.

Brass plaques with donors names will be placed above the artwork.

“It’s a community gift of art that happens to be on a public school,”

Shannon Jakosky said.

The Jakoskys have been very active in the school, helping to build the

millennium wall and the kindergarten playground, among other things.

“I don’t think there’s a child here that can’t relate to any of these

murals,” said Shannon Jakosky, whose next project is to start an arts and

garden club to support more school projects.

To create each mural, Mia Tavonatti used a process called the

“indirect method.” She would enlarge her drawing to full size, tape it to

a workstation and then the sisters would glue tiles to it face down. Once

that was complete, the work moved to another site, where it was mounted

on a backing board covered with a type of mortar. Upon drying, the mural

was flipped over and the paper removed.

Then the mural was grouted for a smooth finish. Parent Paul McKelvey

donated his skill and time to install the murals onto the front of the

school building, welding them into place.

“When the sun hits them, they’re gorgeous,” said Tara Tavonatti.

Principal Denise Knutsen said she especially likes the mural that

shows junior lifeguards running on the beach.

“It depicts how active our kids are here,” she said.

Knutsen said she thinks beautifying the campus is important to the

students’ state of mind, giving them a place to be proud of.

Children at the school seem to adore the new artwork.

“So far, from what I can tell, the surfer is their favorite,” Mia

Tavonatti said.

But everyone seems to like something different.

“I like the surfing one because it’s kinda cool with the waves,” Tara

Green, 6, said.

Her friend, Markie Ramage, 6, liked the seashells because “they’re


“I like the pier,” said Michael Hafer, 6.

“What one do you like best?” the first-grader asked his mother, Betty


“I don’t know,” she said. “They’re all wonderful.

Hafer, who has seen three of her children pass through Newport

Elementary over the years and has two -- Michael and 11-year-old Kortney

-- there now, said the mosaics are a great improvement.

“The broken tiles were looking a little sad,” she said.

FYIWHAT: Unveiling of nine mosaic murals

WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday; dedication ceremony starts at 2 p.m.

WHERE: Newport Elementary School, 1327 W. Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach

CALL: Cathy Kinney, (949) 723-4757.

Order forms for T-shirts and sweatshirts featuring the “Surfers” or

“Seashells” murals are available at the school or at the ceremony.