Tile contractor turns mosaic artist
Peter Hazel has been a tile and granite contractor in northern Nevada and California for more than three decades. But when work slowed during the housing downturn in the late 2000s Hazel found himself with ample time on his hands.
Frustrated with bidding work when prices for subcontractors were depressed, Hazel decided to explore other avenues. Inspired by a trip to Barcelona and the mosaic work of architect Antoni Gaudi, Hazel decided to create a mosaic sculpture of a birdbath in 2010 at his shop in Verdi. He used colored plates scavenged from thrift stores to cover the piece.
“I have always wanted to do some type of sculpture work,” he says. “I was blown away by Gaudi’s mosaic work and I thought, ‘I can do this.’”
The birdbath was given away as a birthday present, but Hazel was encouraged by the positive feedback he received for the piece and decided to explore further. Hazel’s parents were accomplished artists in Half Moon Bay, Calif., and a lot of his tile jobs over the years incorporated artistic aspects, which further stoked his desire to create something from his imagination rather than always following a set of blueprints.
“I really got a charge out of it,” he says. “I was excited about creating something with my hands again. I had this crazy idea, it came to life, and it was really, really cool.”
A giant brook trout followed, which he showcased at Lanza’s Restaurant in Kings Beach.
He also created a huge pumpkin for the 2012 Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival — which his father, Richard Hazel, helped found in 1971. The 12-foot-wide, 11-foot-tall piece took four months to build and weighed more than 10,000 pounds. It was built on the bed of a tractor trailer so it could be hauled across the Sierra to the coast.
Hazel needed a large number of orange ceramic tiles to properly complete the project, so he purchased his first kiln and learned how to fire ceramics. By creating his own ceramic tiles, Hazel can create any shape or color he wants and has since invested in several more kilns.
Hazel began applying for public works projects, and eventually scored a deal with the City of Greeley, Colo., for another large trout. The project was on loan for a year before the city decided to purchase the piece. The check, which arrived earlier this year, has Hazel thinking of leaving the tile business for good.
“We are starting to sell things, but we are after the big money, which is public works,” Hazel says. “We have a lot of people interested. We have to keep these things affordable.
“What I’ve found in the public works is that they like big things and really unique things. What we bring is a lot of vibrant colors, and we can do some large, large pieces.”
Hazel recently shipped a sculpture of a basket of tomatoes and another fish sculpture to the City of Yountville in California.
Larger mosaic pieces take about four months to complete, he says.
Hazel originally relied on profits from his tile business to fund supplies, but the sculpture business has become self sufficient — though he’s not drawing much of a salary. Hazel hired Melanie Frakes, ceramics instructor at Sierra College in Truckee, as well as British-born artist Carol Martin to apply for lucrative — but competitive — public works contracts.
“A typical public works project goes from $50,000 to $500,000,” Hazel says. “The average is about $200,000. If we could get a couple of those we are off to the races. I am happy just making things, but my goal is to sell some big projects.”
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