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Splendor in Mosaic: Carole Choucair Oueijan’s The Emigrant Trail

On 30, Jan 2011 | 8 Comments | In Artists | By man-admin

Carole Choucair Oueijan has a very distinctive, lyrical mosaic voice.  She combines opus sectile and opus vermiculatum to weave stories of dancers and princesses, of dreamers and magical feasts.

"Cerulean Rendesvous" Carole Choucair-Oueijan

“Cerulean Rendesvous” Carole Choucair-Oueijan  53.5 x 45 in.  Smalti, 24 karag gold smalti, cristallino, marble, granite.

"Layaleena" 48 x 72 in. Smalti, 24 karat gold smalti, granite, marble, onyx, cristallino, mother of pearl, fresh water pearl, hematite, coral, agate slices, jade and quartz.

“Layaleena” 48 x 72 in. Smalti, 24 karat gold smalti, granite, marble, onyx, cristallino, mother of pearl, fresh water pearl, hematite, coral, agate slices, jade and quartz.

In 2009, Oueijan was commissioned by the City of Temecula, CA to create a 7 x 10 foot mosaic for their new 95,000 sq ft, $73 million dollar City Hall.  Her spectacular Emigrant Trail, designed to commemorate the City’s rich history as a gateway to The West, was unveiled to the public on December 9th of 2010.
To give you an idea of the scale of the project, here is a photo of Oueijan, her husband Milad and Temecula Assistant City Manager Bob Johnson.

From Oueijan’s Artist Statement:

This mosaic mural is about the history of Temecula and the significance of the Emigrant Trail in the City’s growth from 1847 to 1858.

The interior portion of this mosaic looks like a painting of the Emigrants – a scene of the pioneers coming to California, traveling by wagons, horses, mules, oxen and foot.  You can also see the hard working women who played an important role in that period, the Pechanga Great Oak tree, and the beautiful colors of the Temecula Mountains.  The unpolished gray granite you see in the background was taken from Temecula’s historic quarry.

The bas-relief frame uses 24 karat gold smalti as a nod to the importance of the Trail during the Gold Rush of 1849.

It is filled with people, places and things that were part of life in Temecula during that time period; a Luiseno Indian, a saddle used by a founding father, the still-standing stage stop, a broad ax and an apple butter paddle.  The City was looking for art that would last forever and be “visitor friendly.”  Mosaic using the Byzantine Indirect method was clearly the answer.

It’s enough to make any public official anywhere in the world jealous, isn’t it?

Oueijan also told MAN:

It is always exciting to make a public art project. This one started with the competition to get the project and the approval of all city members. In the design process, I learned a lot about the history in Temecula and particularly about that period of time. I did a lot of research about the American history of that period of time, worked with Temecula Museum’s staff, Researcher and Historian Dr. Ann Miller and spoke with many residents to get to this final result.  The City was looking for art that would last forever and be “visitor friendly.”  Mosaic using the Byzantine Indirect method was clearly the answer.

The artist was kind enough to provide MAN with a number of photos chronicling every step of her production from concept to installation.  Whether you are a mosaic artist yourself or are a public official considering the installation of a large-scale mosaic work these photos easily serve as a short primer for the way a project of this size should be done.

The final design.
 Presentation board for selection committee.
Sketching to scale.
Painting done to scale in reverse of the final design, the first step in the Byzantine indirect method.  The goal is create a mosaic that is perfectly smooth to the touch even though materials may be of varying thicknesses.
The painting was then cut into sections; it is now a puzzle with 26 pieces in the “painting” and 16 in the frame.
Because Oueijan  carefully planned for this sectioning when designing the mosaic, the work will appear seamless to the eye when installed.
Working in reverse, Oueijan uses this part of the puzzle as the pattern for her tesserae.  She will glue the mosaic pieces face side down creating a nice flat final surface.
This is that same section installed.  The mosaic has been “flipped”.   It is now perfectly flat with almost undetectable seam lines.

Here is the golden Butterfield Overland Mail stage coach from the frame, from start to installation.

The blue-green you see is the tinted glass backing for the 24 karat gold tesserae.
Here you can see that the back of the mosaic is indeed uneven.  However, when thin set mortar – a permanent adhesive – is used to apply the piece to the final backing, the thinset will fill the gaps of varying height behind the smooth surface.
Oueijan notes:  “I had to sculpt every piece in the frame to give it the exact shape, then cast and flip the completed mosaic sections immediately over my sculpted pieces (indirect technique) That was hard as I had some 1 mm pieces. It was fun to see my plan succeeding! “
A section of the interior of the mosaic completed in the studio and ready for transport.  Oueijan has applied her mosaic to a substrate called Wediboard this has been cut to fit the section and removed the painting of this piece.

The Byzantine indirect method can be a little dizzying in the explanation.  At the end of this post, you will see a link to a video by artist George Fishman that covers his use of the technique in another large mural.

Arrival at the construction site.
Laying out the pieces for installation.
Installation began from the lower left hand corner . . .
. . . and continued across the bottom.
  Here you can see how Oueijan created the 3-dimensional frame; layering pieces of Wediboard and further sculpting with thin set to get get the curve that she wanted.
The artist assists.
Oueijan grouting and sealing the mosaic.
The completed mosaic.
City Councilwoman Maryann Edwards at the dedication explaining the mural to visitors.

There are so many reasons this is a splendid mosaic –  Oueijan’s sensitivity to the client’s objectives for the work while still incorporating her signature style.  Her diligence in researching and working with the community to design something historically meaningful.  Her selection of a treasure trove of materials, including local stone.  Her use of a 3-dimensional frame that brings to mind those ornately carved gilded frames favored by the painters of the period represented.  Her meticulous planning and grasp of technical issues that facilitated a smooth installation of a user-friendly mosaic that will last the requested “100 years.”

We are mightily impressed.  And so are the people of Temecula.  Initial reaction to the work has been enormously positive – and it should be.

Oueijan dedicates this mural to her father:  “I dedicate this mural to my dad who passed away October 2009. He went with me to the first presentation. He told me ‘You will get this project! I can tell by looking at the city staffs’ eyes. They will call you soon.’  I was very excited when I received their call, and I’m glad he knew that it was mine before he left us. I hope that he can see it now.”

Of course he can.

Enjoy – Nancie


Oueijan’s website:
An article with commentary from Ouiejan and city officials here.
A video by mosaic artist George Fishman showing his use of the Byzantine Indirect method here.
Location of The Emigrant Trail:

Old Town Temecula Civic Center
City Hall
41000 Main Street
Temecula, CA

Share this article


  1. Nancie Mills Pipgras

    I'm so glad that everyone is enjoying this piece. It has been a privilege to cover Carole's mural. Not only is the mosaic superb, but it a text-book case in how to do public art right.

  2. Mosaicista Appassionata
  3. Dawn

    Congratulations, Carole! It is a stunning work. And thank you to Nancie for a wonderful article. I especially enjoyed the process photos. What an amazing project! You are an inspiring artist, Carole! Dawn M.

  4. Anonymous

    Carole…you are a big mosaicist. congratulation
    angela ciccarello from facebook

  5. Carole Choucair Oueijan

    Dear Nancie,
    Thank you so much for writing this article about my work, and adding all these photos to it! You are very generous to all mosaic artists and we're proud and honored to have MAN the voice of our creativities!
    You are so kind!
    Maureen, Andgelka and Julie, I appreciate your kind comments! Thank you

  6. Julie Richey

    Congratulations Carole! Wonderful just doesn't describe it. People will be able to enjoy your artistry, craftmanship and dedication to the fine are of mosaics for MORE than 100 years.

  7. Anonymous

    Congratulations Carol! Beautiful mosaic!

  8. Maureen

    Wow. Marvelous!

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