One Tessera at a Time, an Art Project Builds Community

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Mosaic artist Natasha Moraga didn’t set out to radically alter the face of Lazaro Cardenas Park, back in 2009 when she traveled to Philadelphia to apprentice with famed muralist and artist Isaiah Zagar.

“I trained with him and I learned everything I could,” she said, “and I came back and I opened a restaurant. Then I decided that wasn’t my thing and I just decided then that I wanted to do what I really liked.”

The inspiration, where you’ll now find her first mosaic installation, was located just around the corner from the park.

“There used to be a big white house right at the corner of Pino Suarez and Basilio Badillo and it was there for over 30 years,” she said. “There were three little apartments in the back and I lived there, and every time I walked outside I would see the wall filled with graffiti but not the cool graffiti. I decided I was gonna ask for permits and see how it went. I honestly never thought they were gonna give it to me because it’s a big wall and I thought they’d look at me like, “Who the hell are you?!”

“But they said go for it and then it took me a month to start because I really had no idea how to start. But once I got going, it took five months to finish. We started in October 2011 and we finished February 2012.”

Since then Moraga has built mosaic pieces on a 500 square metre wall at the Marina, the famed “Puerto Vallarta” lettering at the north entrance of town, numerous smaller projects at local hotels, as well as the benches on Francisca Rodriguez between Olas Altas and the Los Muertos Pier.

The work being done on the columns and amphitheater seating at Lazaro Cardenas is just the first phase of the planned revision of that park. It will eventually entail the gazebo as well as the stone benches around the circumference and inside the entire block.

“Our goal is to finish the park and no matter what, I’m gonna finish that park!” she said. “It will include everything. All the planters, the gazebo, the houses that are on the corners that are the entrances to the parking lot.”

The project is entirely funded through private donations.

“We conduct workshops,” she said. “Three day workshops, hands-on, we teach you how to cut mirror, do everything, and you get to leave your legacy for Vallarta, doing a column or an area of the park. We also have an old fashioned donation box. And customized tiles. We have different options for customized tiles. We also have benches available.”

With no government financial support and private donations that cover just expenses for her and her crew, Moraga is grateful for every bit of support — financial and otherwise — that her work has received. For a woman who is proud to acknowledge she has just a sixth grade education, and who has withstood taunts from friends and former girlfriends who’ve told her there is no way she could survive creating mosaic art alone, Natasha Moraga is delighted now to spend her days doing exactly that.

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