‘Wheel of Life’ mosaic installed on Amsterdam bridge

It's also nod to city's carpet mill heydey
Ken Murray (left), Stephen Miotto and Vincent Mazzacone work on the mosaic artwork on the pedestrian bridge.
Ken Murray (left), Stephen Miotto and Vincent Mazzacone work on the mosaic artwork on the pedestrian bridge.

AMSTERDAM — An Italian-made glass mosaic was installed on the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge in Amsterdam last week, one of the final artistic elements to adorn the bridge, which opened officially in September. 

The 12-foot-diameter mosaic is a replica of a larger mosaic by French artist Louis Rigal called the “Wheel of Life,” which is installed in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. 

The piece depicts the different stages of human existence, from birth to death, in six different scenes featuring a central male character. In the first scene, he is depicted soon after being born, and he is shown at different life stages, all the way through to his death in the sixth and final scene. The mosaic was installed in the hotel in 1939.

Amsterdam’s “Wheel of Life” adheres closely to Rigal’s original piece, according to Patrick Morelli, a sculptor who oversaw the commission and installation of the piece. Morelli worked with mosaic artist Stephen Miotto, who collaborated with a counterpart in Italy to build the mosaic using a special type of glass.

The glass is known as Smalti. It has been handmade by the Orsoni family in Venice for more than 100 years, using old world recipes and techniques. Miotto said the glass is made of a mixture of high-grade silica and metal oxides to create the vibrant colors. Each piece, he said, reflects light differently. 

Amsterdam’s “Wheel of Life,” which cost $254,000 to create, ship and install, uses nearly 41,000 individual pieces of glass. The bridge project itself cost $17.5 million. 

Morelli was in awe as the mosaic was being installed on the bridge Tuesday by Miotto and an assistant.

“Even though I know how this is done, I’ve seen it done, I’m still amazed at the craftsmanship,” Morelli said. 

The mosaic was shipped in nine pieces that were laid out on a tarp next to a concrete platform on the bridge before installation. Miotto and his assistant, Vincent Mazzacone, placed the pieces one at a time on the platform and traced their edges. They then applied a layer of latex-reinforced mortar before placing each piece precisely in its place and tamping it down. 

“There’s no hurrying anything; he’s just a consummate craftsman,” Moelli said of Miotto, as the work was going on. 


Morelli also credited U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara for championing the project and securing funds to add several artistic flourishes. Another $400,000 has been secured to install three sculptures on the bridge, which will be the final artistic components of the project. 

Rigal’s “Wheel of Life” was chosen for the Amsterdam bridge because of its connection to Amsterdam, which dates to the era when the city was considered a carpet manufacturing capital. 

In the years right before World War II, Mohawk Carpet Mills, based in Amsterdam, was commissioned to create a carpet replicating the “Wheel of Life” that would be placed over the mosaic in the Waldorf Astoria’s lobby. 

Local historian and Daily Gazette columnist Bob Cudmore wrote in 2014 that it took 16 weavers eight months to create the chenille carpet for the hotel. The wheel in the center of the carpet measured 18 feet in diameter, the same as Rigal’s original mosaic, while the entire carpet measured 49 feet by 47 feet. 

Cudmore’s column noted that chenille carpets, made from velvety yarn, were manufactured in intricate patterns and many different colors and were ideal for re-creating the scenes depicted in the “Wheel of Life” mosaic. The carpet made in Amsterdam weighed more than 850 pounds and had to be transported to the Waldorf Astoria on a telephone pole trailer by a local trucking company.

The carpet was removed from the hotel in the years following World War II, and it’s unclear what became of it. But Amsterdam will now have another tribute to its carpet mill history. 

The piece was selected for inclusion on the bridge by members of the MVGO arts committee, of which Tonko — an early and ardent supporter of the plan to build the bridge — and Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa are members, as is former Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane.

Categories: -News-, Schenectady County

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