Right away, the name should have said, “trouble.”
“Tiger Spot,” it ws called. Everybody knows tigers don’t have spots. Tigers have stripes.
But “Tiger Spot” it became when artist Paul Jackson was hired by the University of Missouri-Columbia to create a large mosaic of a Bengal Tiger in the sidewalk in front of the steps to the Ellis Library. Jackson’s creation made of 300,000 small Italian tiles covering about 700 square feet, was an impressive piece of work when it was unveiled in the fall of 2001 after two years of building. It was a rare True Son of Ole Mizzou or True Daughter of Ole Mizzou who didn’t find the mosaic dramatically impressive.
But water was a concern from the start. The University spent more than $10,000 in the next year to install a drainage system under that part of Lowry Mall to draw water away from the area.
But the spot was fragile and exposed to traffic and weather — and the next thing you knew, the tiger started missing pieces and then chunks. A year after it was unveiled, the Tiger needed noticeable repairs in ten places. An independent company specializing in mosaics was called to study the problems. The report came back critical of Jackson’s techniques. As early as late 2002, there was talk of relocating the mosaic to another location. But there were concerns about such a move because Jackson still claimed the copyright on the work. A different artist made repairs five years ago but the Tiger continued to deteriorate and finally its condition was so bad that the University covered it up with a big white tarp with the university logo on it.
Jackson, remembered by some of us as the designer of the Missouri quarter who protested what the U. S. Mint did with his design (and rightfully so in the opinion of many), has resisted University efforts to remove the Tiger.
The University has announced it was reached an agreement with Jackson to pay him $125,000 to make his lawsuit go away and to buy out all of his rights to the mosaic. The University now has the power to remove the Tiger. A University news release says, “The future of the site will be assessed by the MU Arts and Artifacts Committee, which will include representatives from MU Libraries and Missouri Students Association.”
Not all public art lasts. Some is never intended to be permanent.
But the Tiger was intended to be part of the Lowry Mall for years to come when it was unveiled in 2001. It was a striking creation when Paul Jackson made it, a marvelously appropriate part of the center campus, an impressive and appropriate part of the mall linking so-called “white campus” with the original “red campus” that is now Frances Quadrangle.
We hope removal doesn’t involve sledgehammers. It would be nice to think that there is an interior wall somewhere at the University where a restored great Tiger mosaic might yet find a protected, safe place to call home.