oakley street mosaic fox
A detail from the 200 square foot mosaic. Image courtesy Lisa Belloli.

The public steps up Oakley Street in the South Side Slopes are about to become some of the most colorful steps in the world. Thousands of mosaic tiles no bigger than a quarter have been installed on 77 risers that will cover 200 square feet of the public steps that begin at Josephine Street.

oakley street mosaic installation
A figure emerges over the Monongahela as the 77-risers are installed on the public steps. Photo by Cara Jette.

The mosaic depicts a young woman standing in the neighborhood over the Monongahela River, amidst hillside homes, wildlife and mill stacks that are blowing flowers instead of smoke.

Artist Laura Jean McLaughlin created the design after leading two workshops in the community. McLaughlin, whose mosaic murals can be seen at the Pittsburgh Zoo and at Whole Foods in East Liberty, was selected from the Pittsburgh Artist Registry by the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association—the group leading the project.

“We felt confident working with her would make us successful,” says Cara Jette, who is on the board of directors. The neighborhood nonprofit talked for years about creating some step art inspired by projects such as the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps Project in San Francisco.

In 2015 the group used a crowdfunding site and held community events to raise the $6,000 necessary to complete the Oakley Street Mosaic Steps Project.

McLaughlin ultimately based the design on input from the community and the final product represents the neighborhood’s past, present and future. Almost 100 people helped to adhere the special Italian tiles— designed to be frost and heat-resistant—to mesh screens which are being attached to the stair risers and should be completed by the end of next week.

“This has been a really exciting project and I have definitely loved working with the community,” says McLaughlin, who adds that the most rewarding part of the project was the way it brought people in the neighborhood together.

“People came up and thanked me, saying that they had lived in the neighborhood for 20 years but never sat down at a table together and gotten to know each other.”

You can see the Oakley Street Mosaic Steps Project during StepTrek this Saturday, October 1st at 11 a.m.

Maya Haptas

Maya Haptas has an M.A. in Historic Preservation Planning from Cornell University and is a freelance writer covering various topics from architecture and urban design to wellness and skateboarding. She is currently the assistant editor of Bigfoot Skateboarding Magazine.