Mexican Artists Bring a Miracle to Life in Mosaic


Photo taken by Kosuke Fukuda

Abby Kraft, Staff

Artists Mary Carmen Olvera Trejo and Gael Mendez from Zacatlan, Mexico partnered with Witter Gallery and dedicated a new mosaic mural depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe and Mexican peasant Juan Diego to the Storm Lake St. Mary’s Catholic Church Sunday, May 21. The mosaic piece is 5.6’ wide by 4’ tall and is made up of intricate cut tiles to create a colorful scene depicting the Virgin of Guadalupe as she appeared to the peasant Juan Diego. 

Photo taken by Kosuke Fukuda

Last fall the same artists created a beautiful mosaic of the Storm Lake welcome sign and a portrait of Art Cullen, Editor of the Storm Lake Times Pilot made from small, colored tiles. According to board member Patricia Hampton, the Witter Gallery wanted to celebrate its 50th anniversary last year by putting up these two art pieces. The art pieces can be seen in the Witter Gallery located next to the library.  

“Dick Davis came here last year, and he saw Art Cullen… win an award for his newspaper,” said Olvera Trejo. This sparked the idea for the artists to capture the Pulitzer win in tile mosaic form. 

“Based on our background of our parish and the mix of English and Spanish… [the Virgin of] Guadalupe was really the perfect fit for us,” said St. Mary’s Catholic Church priest, Father Brent Lingle.

Photo taken by Kosuke Fukuda

The mosaic scene captures the legend of Juan Diego walking up hill Tepeyac when the Virgin appeared to him. She told him to tell the bishop to build a church on that very hill. Diego listened to her and told the bishop, who did not believe the peasant. Diego went back to the hill and the Virgin appeared to him again and told him to collect the flowers on the hill. According to the story, it was December so flowers should not be growing. When he arrived at the top of the hill, he found it covered in flowers. He collected them and brought them to the bishop. The bishop was then convinced of the miracle and started building a church on the hill.            

“Juan Diego…became a really important part of the life of the people, not only in that area of Mexico, but as they started to migrate into other parts. Now, Our Lady of Guadalupe is now considered the patroness of the Americas,” said Father Lingle.        

During the dedication Father Lingle spoke on the importance of the mosaic and read bible verses. The service and dedication were all in Spanish to celebrate the roots of the Mexican history incorporated with the Virgin. This was the second service of the day, as the church does one service in English and one in Spanish. The church pews were full of Spanish speakers. Following the dedication, pozole, a Mexican soup, was served. 

“The Church has always been a patron of the arts. In this particular way, it’s one of the first pieces that was made particularly for us and for the space,” said Father Lingle. 

Communities are represented by many different things and art can help portray those. Fifty-one percent of Storm Lake citizens speak a language other than English. Thus, the community is full of diverse cultures and the mosaic project offered a way to represent those is through art.  

“I think in some ways that reflects who we are as a community in Storm Lake. You know, we’re unique, we have a blend of cultures,” said Father Lingle.  

According to the 2020 Census, Storm Lake consists of many different cultures with White, Hispanic and Asian being the leading three races and ethnicities.  

Julie Steinfeld, President of Witter Gallery Board said about the mosaic, “It’s beautiful artwork… it’s changed that town economically [Zacatlan] and it would be amazing if we could have that here. It’s something new and different to Iowa.”  

“[The Zacatlan artists] are extremely well aware of the wide variety of cultures represented in Storm Lake and they are really excited about the idea of celebrating all the different cultures we have here,” said Patricia Hampton, Witter Gallery board member.  

As to what may lay ahead for future partnerships between the mosaic artists of Zacatlan and Storm Lake, the artists were hopeful. “There are some [future] projects in the desk,” said Olvera Trejo. “When we make a mural it is very exciting.”