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