Bringing Together Art and Food

Fire Up Late Night Grill brings art mosaic into Catlett Residence Hall

Walking into Catlett Residence Hall, the impressive history and heritage of Elizabeth Catlett is everywhere. Catlett, who was the first African American woman to receive an MFA at the University of Iowa, is prominently featured throughout the hall. Beautiful murals, engaging artwork, and history inspire its visitors and residents. Amongst the art work, Catlett Residence Hall also has another connection, food. Located inside the hall is Catlett Market Place and the Fire Up Late Night Grill.

Designed to fulfill the hungry late night cravings of students and the UI community, Fire Up Late Night Grill is open to students from 9:00 p.m.-midnight, Sunday through Thursday. “We really saw the grill as an opportunity to not only provide food for students, but to create all the items that they love,” said, Jill Irvin, director of University Dining. The grill offers a wide variety of items including chicken tenders, French fries, breakfast sandwiches, mozzarella sticks, grilled burgers, and mac n’ cheese.

A Work of Art

The grill, formerly a mundane blue ordering window, lacked artistic inspiration and vision. To Jeff Aaberg, director of facilities and operations for University Housing and Dining, the grill seemed like the perfect place to display another piece of art. “To leave Fire Up Late Night Grill without artistic work, seemed to us as a missed opportunity. The heritage of Elizabeth Catlett and her work, encompasses the space. So it is only fitting that we use this location as another spot to display this artistic vision,” he said.

To make this vision a reality Aaberg choose to reach out to Adam and Dawn Eikamp, owners of Eikamp Arts, located in Dubuque, Iowa. Adam, an Iowa native, studied painting at Iowa State University. His wife, Dawn, assists with the creative vision. As the creative force behind the pair, she devised the concept for a fire themed mosaic to be installed, with special attention paid to reflecting Elizabeth Catlett’s African heritage.

Working with a design, the Eikamps needed to reach out to an artist to make this mosaic a reality. That is where Lee Sanderson came in. Sanderson, a Zimbabwean native, had never heard of Elizabeth Catlett. “Although, I had never heard of Ms. Catlett, I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of this project and the mosaic tile inspiration,” she said. Sanderson, the director of Burnt Earth Designs, a tile company located in Zimbabwe, manages the design, creation and installation of hand painted Zimbabwean tiles. Sanderson says that she was so excited to step out of her usual triangle and square tile patterns to create something organic and new, that she decided to fly across the world from Africa to the United States to install this piece pro bono.

“We decided on a flame shape tile design, which we made using our dedicated hand flattening, hand cutting, and hand painting process. The idea being that no tile would be the same shape or color,” said Sanderson. The placement of the tiles happened organically, as Sanderson created the tiles in Zimbabwe before flying to the United States.

Leaving a Legacy

The completion of the project now allows the vivid fire and smoke mosaic to work in collaboration with the design of Catlett’s artwork and the entire residence hall. Adam Eikamp knows that the Fire Up art installation is truly a tribute to Catlett and her career. “We appreciated the opportunity to work with Mr. Aaberg again. Looking back on it now, it has been a unique experience to create for a university, which appreciates this art and invests in it as part of the integral experience of attending college,” he said. Both Sanderson and the Eikamps completed the installation in late July.