John Pratt Mosaic House demolished, Creative 360 preserves the murals

   Like the small pieces of shattered glass, mirrors and ceramics that adorned the John Pratt Mosaic House on M-20, the house itself shattered in a scheduled demolition by Bierlein last Friday. But thanks to Creative 360, owners of the house, 12 mosaic murals have been saved and preserved. 

     Prior to this, “We worked for quite awhile to see about restoring the house itself,” says Creative 360 board member Alex Rapanos. This was the direction in early 2020 prior to COVID. Once things re-opened and got going again in 2022, Laura Vosejpka, Creative 360 Executive Director, wrote and received a grant from The Michigan Arts and Culture Council to fix the building, making as she says, “One last ditch effort to save the house.” The grant was for a mid-tier-level restoration requiring matching funds. By that time, however, there had been more damage to the structure. “Due to moisture, things started going from bad to worse,” says Rapanos. “According to a couple of contractors, the house was not worth saving. Once deterioration begins, it’s exponential.”

The John Pratt Mosaic House was demolished in mid-October.
      Despite the unsafe and unrepairable conditions of the home, “[We knew we] needed to save the art. We were told the roof was going to cave in, pulling down the walls right along with the murals,” says Vosejpka. So she called the state grant director to discuss the new scope of the project. “I told them we now needed to demo the building instead of restore it, and that I would love to use the grant money to do this, as well as of course, save the art.” According to Vosejpka, she got confirmation that the grant scope was fine, and the original purpose of it was still being met.
    “Next we put out word to the artistic community of who might want to work on this project,” she says. “ We needed a commitment.” Allise Noble, Creative 360 Artshop Lead Faculty was hired as the project manager.
Allise Noble and her team working to restore John Pratt's murals. 
     Noble says the first step was to take a lot of pictures and measurements [of the mosaic murals on the house] to have a guide for reassembling. “At first, we were not sure how many full murals we’d end up with, but we were excited we were able to save most of them except for a couple.”
     The actual work began with paint scrapers in hand where the individual pieces were removed. “We put everything in plastic bins separated by color and section in order to stay organized; it took about a month for this part of the process,” she says. “Then we soaked the pieces in a bleach and water solution, scrubbing those that needed it,” Noble says. “This part took longer than we thought and was pretty daunting.”
      The restored mosaic murals started to take shape with the reassembly. Vosejpka says, “She [Allise] is amazing. She is so talented . . . to be able to sit with a five-foot board, sketch each mural to scale and meet the spirit of it.” The individual murals were scaled from six-feet tall to five in order to accommodate the backing board used and the potential portability of an exhibit. Pratt’s original murals used broken mirror pieces for the background, but in the restored versions, Noble and her team used new pieces instead. In addition, bottle caps used on the mosaic house were rusted beyond removal, and so new caps were used in the redone work. In addition to their own photographs and measurements, they also relied on a self-published book by Robert Iwamasa entitled The John Pratt Book.
Noble’s crew included local artist Victoria Miller, special education teacher and Bay City artist Kerry Myers, and Dow High graduates Clara Allington and Yazzy Safadi, both of whom are now in art school. “The team was great to work with,” Noble says.

“We were able to save his art and preserve his legacy."
As she reflects on the entire process, she says, “It was very interesting to see items like ceramic birds that probably belonged to John Pratt when he was working on the house,” the home he grew up in until graduating from Midland High in 1956. After this, John spent time in New York City doing various things from window dressing at Macy’s, owning an antique store with quite a collection of Tiffany style shades, and taking clowning lessons.  Eventually he returned to Midland, but mental illness plagued many of the years to come according to the You Tube video narrated by Jan List that’s shown on Creative 360’s website. 
An image of John Pratt in his clown outfit hangs in the hallway at Creative 360.
     The video goes on to say that in 1990, after a rocky road toward recovery, John, who owned the home after his parents’ death, became “enthusiastic about the collaboration between the arts and mental health.” Likely inspired by his participation in Creative 360’s (then the Creative Spirit Center’s) “Give Me Shelter” program, John began work on the mosaic house. It is said this work helped him rediscover life.

        John died in 1997 and willed the house to Gladwin/Midland County Mental Health, who in turn gave it to Creative 360 the next year so they could preserve its mosaic folk art.  25 years later, Noble says her favorite part of the whole restoration project was that, “We were able to save his art and preserve his legacy. It shows that those who struggle with mental issues can make great contributions.” She also says the project is a testament to the healing power of art. “How it can help us get through difficulties, and how [we can] wake up each day with something to be excited about.”

     Currently, the murals are housed at Creative 360, in its new location at Jefferson and Chapel Lane in Midland. The next step is to decide how best to display them for public viewing. Regardless of what that looks like, Vosejpka says, “We know for sure we want to use them to create a story, John’s story, the house and how it came to be. We’re still deciding, still listening to all of the ideas; we want the community to be proud of our decision.”

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Read more articles by Amy Hutchinson.

Amy Hutchinson retired from the Midland Public Schools in 2018 after 32 years at Midland High School. During that time she taught Journalism and English, advised the student newspaper Focus, and served as department head of English and World Language, International Baccalaureate Coordinator, and Assistant Principal. She earned her bachelor's and master's degrees from Central Michigan University and was a Gerstacker Fellow at Saginaw Valley State University. She volunteers for Midland County Senior Services and her church, the United Church of Christ. Amy works part-time at Eastman Party Store. She enjoys gardening, golfing, swimming, traveling, and cooking.