Terrazzo Maps Out Early American History

frazier history museum terrazzo

One of first things you notice when you reach the second floor of the Frazier History Museum is an intricate map of the American colonies, complete with waterways, towns, and topographic contour lines. But, it’s not in a display case or framed on the wall. You’ll find it beneath your feet, as an amazing terrazzo floor, leading you on an incredible journey through early America. Located in a historic building in downtown Louisville, Frazier History Museum is home to a collection of historical arms and artifacts. 

When Mr. Owsley Brown Frazier, the original owner of the building, decided he needed a place to display his historical arms and other artifacts, he presented Rosa Mosaic & Tile with a challenge. While he wanted the first floor to remain neutral, he asked that the design for the second floor create a historic vignette of colonial America. 

frazier history museum terrazzo map

“They wanted to show geographically where the colonies were located and highlight some of the waterways and towns that were important and the trek westward,” Anna Tatman of Rosa Mosaic & Tile said. 

Because of the blending that was done to create the shoreline of the Atlantic and the topographic aspects of the land, much of the design is done without divider strips. To make sure the shop drawings would be replicated on the floor, Rosa Mosaic worked hand and glove with artist Tom Pfannerstill. Tatman said a large part of Pfannerstill’s job was to ensure there was a good transition between different shades of blues that create the sense of shallow to deep water. Pfannerstill also worked with Rosa Mosaic to make clear distinctions between the Appalachian Mountains and the flat lands.

Fraizer history museum terrazzo waterway 

Because of terrazzo’s design flexibility, Tatman said it was the perfect material for the design of the Frazier Museum floor. 

“It gave us incredible design capabilities to help create history—in the floor—of the early American experience.”

 

Job Name: Frazier History Museum (Louisville, KY)

Client: The Frazier History Museum Board of Directors 

Terrazzo Contractor: Rosa Mosaic & Tile Company  (Louisville, KY)

Architect: K. Norman Berry Associates (Louisville, KY)

General Contractor: Bosse Mattingly Constructors (Louisville, KY)

Terrazzo Material Suppliers:

                Epoxy: Key Resin Company (Batavia, OH)

                Chips/aggregate: Terrazzo & Marble Supply Companies (Wheeling, IL)

                                             Key Resin Company (Batavia, OH)

Divider Strips Supplier: Manhattan American Terrazzo Strip Company (Staley, NC)

Photography: David Laudadio

Flooring Designs: You may be walking on a piece of art

Jennifer Harbster of the Library of Congress Science, Technology and Business division, believes that we rarely take the time to notice and enjoy the artistic details that go into the flooring design of a building.

Sadly, she is right.

But thankfully, she recognizes that if we just take a second to take quick look under our feet, we might notice that we are walking on a piece of art.

“Every day we walk on some sort of flooring, be it hardwood, linoleum, carpet, marble, or tiles, and if we look at what is under our feet, we might notice something very special,” she said in her post Terrazzo: Beauty Under our Feet.

Harbster specifically points out the beauty of terrazzo, our favorite sustainable and durable flooring option, in the John Adams Building in Washington, D.C.

Art

The work in the John Adams Building was done by the National Mosaic Company of Washington, D.C., which was founded by Italian immigrants in 1896. According to Harbster, by 1906, National Mosaic Company has installed terrazzo and other mosaic or tile decorations in many other buildings in D.C. like the Washington Monument, U.S. Capitol, the Smithsonian museums, the Sherman Monument and the Evening Star Building.

Unfortunately, National Mosaic Company closed in 1942 because of a shortage of materials. But thanks to the longevity, durability, and ease of upkeep of terrazzo, the artwork done by those terrazzo installers can still be seen today!

Past and Present: The History of Terrazzo

History of Terrazzo

Terrazzo has quite the interesting history, with roots all over the globe. We’re going to take a quick dip into the history books and look at how terrazzo made its way to America.

To look at the beginnings of terrazzo we have to go more back more than 500 years, to Italy. While marble was the material of choice at the time, Venetian construction workers began mixing scraps from upscale jobs with clay to create inexpensive flooring for their own homes and patios. Though it may sound crazy, they discovered that to bring out the shine of the marble scraps they could seal the flooring with goat’s milk. Now, installation techniques and materials have changed dramatically–don’t worry, we won’t be pouring goat’s milk for your next floor – and we have advanced to a variety of sealants from the popular epoxy to the more rustic monolithic terrazzo.

While credit is given to the Italians, as it is widely recognized that terrazzo was invented by the Venetians, some archaeologists have found evidence of terrazzo-like floors in ruins in Turkey that date back 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. We like to think that makes terrazzo the original sustainable flooring.

So, how did we go from goat’s milk in Italy, to terrazzo in the north central states? Terrazzo first came to America in the late 18th century. Many monuments and historic American buildings feature terrazzo flooring–including George Washington’s home, Mt. Vernon. It soon became a widely used product due to the amount of marble in America and the continuous advancements in terrazzo installation techniques that made it faster and more durable than many other flooring choices.

Production became much easier in the late 1920s with the invention of electric grinders and other power tools. The 1960s and 1970s brought thin-set, or epoxy, terrazzo to the scene. This modern terrazzo provided more variety in color, a different thickness, and a faster install. Since then, most indoor installs have been epoxy terrazzo.

Today, terrazzo can consist of durable materials such as marble, quartz, granite, recycled glass, porcelain, concrete, and metal aggregates. These materials are mixed with cement or epoxy and polished to produce a sustainable, smooth, and uniformly textured surface that will last for years to come. If you would like to know more about the ever-changing new ways we’re using terrazzo, you can head over to our Case Studies  for more in-depth details.

Six Decades Later, Terrazzo Still Inspires

Convent terrazzo
The sisters of St. Francis Convent in Mishawaka, IN, have been singing, congregating, and praying on the same terrazzo floors since the convent’s construction in 1950. Even with minimal maintenance, the terrazzo floors in the lobby, corridors, convent chapel, and main chapel are as awe-inspiring today as they were more than 60 years ago when they were first installed.

Designed in the tradition of the old cathedrals found in Assisi, Italy, the architecture and terrazzo flooring of St. Francis unite in a harmony of strength and beauty. The installation was a cement matrix in lieu of epoxy, and the vibrant colors—not often achieved with cement—are a testament to the many possibilities terrazzo has to offer. Within the main chapel, terrazzo continues to lead sisters along the pews and to the altar over a soft color palette accentuated with precise right angles.

Earn CEs through a terrazzo lunch-and-learn. Contact Samantha Hulings at Canright Communications at samantha@canrightcommunications.com.

To view more terrazzo samples, visit the NCTA’s Design Gallery, or view the Terrazzo Color Palette.

You can learn more about the NCTA here.