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A Mosaic of Friendly Confines

by Anya Uppal

From one sports arena to the next, Burr Ridge resident Rick Dahl has been making one-of-a-kind artwork since 1994.

Dahl makes photo mosaics of famous sports arenas, which are exhibited in homes and offices of professional athletes and coaches, and even the sports venues themselves.

The theme portrayed in his photo mosaics comes from his passion for sports. In high school, Dahl was named MVP of the Chicago Public League championship game at Soldier Field, and played on a team that won two Chicago high-school basketball championships. Dahl also played college football on a full scholarship at Eastern Illinois University. He later tried out for the Chicago Bears twice, but unfortunately got cut by head coach Jack Pardee.

Dahl sold his first piece to the United Center, and has been making one to two pieces a year for the past 20 years.

The idea of a mosaic photograph had caught his attention at a place in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City, where he saw a black-and-white mosaic of an old building. However, the idea of creating his own unique mosaics of sports arenas arose while he was receiving cancer treatment at Rush Presbyterian in 1994.

“I started....when I was doing cancer treatment,” Dahl said. “They were working on a new United Center, and you could see the old Chicago Stadium from my window. ... So every day for eight weeks, I’d go there and start shooting pictures, hoping to make a collage.”

Each photo mosaic has a different number of pictures, ranging from 75 pictures up to 500. There are no replicas of a mosaic, truly making them unique.

“I take a tripod...and I do a test shoot, and from the test shoot, I start creating a point where I’m in the center, and I can start shooting pictures going to the left, then going to the right,” Dahl said.

Although Dahl had an idea of what he wanted his product to be, he did not receive any information about how to create these mosaics. He was self-taught, which made the process frustrating, he said.

Creating a photo mosaic is not a short process. After he shoots the photos, Dahl goes to a photo lab that develops photos. From there, he receives his 4-by-6-inch prints of the images to finally start creating the mosaics.
At first, he laid everything across the bottom of the board straight. He then realized there is a vanishing point in architecture, where the sides of the stadium appear smaller as you move away from the center.
“It’s a mess when you lay them all out, because you don’t have a starting point, so you have to start in the middle and work your way out,” Dahl said.
As he is working, Dahl tries to give each mosaic a unique touch, adding to its individuality.
“I try to have all the pictures be different, because that is what gives it its uniqueness. Each picture on top of each other has different gradients of colors and shades, and makes it look nicer,” Dahl said.
Dahl takes about one week for the smaller pieces, and two to five weeks for the larger pieces.
When he finishes a mosaic, Dahl contacts people that he thinks might be interested in purchasing his work. So far, he has sold to major sports organizations, as well as players and coaches of sports teams.
“It’s fun when it’s done,” Dahl said, “because you know it’s [the] only one in the world.”

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