Eco-Earth Globe

Eco-Earth globe 2021

Photo by Ron Cooper

​Eco-Earth Globe 

The Eco-Earth Globe is a massive tile mosaic sculpture that sits at the south end of Salem’s Riverfront Park.  This colorful work of public art represents the geography, peoples and animals of Earth.  It has been adorned with more than 86,000 tiles making up continents, islands, and oceans, and an additional 200 handmade glazed ceramic icons that depict wildlife, cultures, religions, and mythical creatures from around the world.  All of the decorative tile icons were created by professional artists and more than 125 local high school students under the supervision of Eco-Earth Art Director Mary Heintzman.  This iconic piece of public art took five years and an estimated 30,000 volunteer hours to complete.

Story Behind the Globe

2003 image of the Eco-Earth Globe

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Creation of the Eco-Earth Globe transformed an industrial era eyesore into a vibrant work of community art.  The globe was converted from a 26-foot diameter steel acid storage ball that previously belonged to the Boise Cascade Pulp and Paper Company. It was originally built in Portland’s Albina Shipyards and floated up the Willamette River to Salem.  The steel ball that became the globe of colorful icons and tiles is 84.5 feet in circumference and once held acid and gases used to break down wood chips into pulp for the paper mill. The globe still stands on its original spot at the former plywood processing plant which closed in 1982.  

The acid ball makeover was conceived by former Mayor Roger Gertenrich and funded by the Salem community.  Volunteer efforts began in 1999 and included students, artists, professional tile setters/cutters, and interested community members.  Geographer Jule Youngren created a complex grid system that became the template for the Earth’s continents, features, and for accurate placement of the tile.  Mary Heintzman coordinated the multi-year effort with artists and students to sculpt, fire, and paint the artistic tile icons. 

The Eco-Earth Globe was unveiled to the community on June 28, 2003 (a date that coincided with the annual World Beat Festival at the park) as a symbol for global awareness, world peace, and cultural diversity.  A proclamation to formally recognize the unveiling date as Eco-Earth Day in Oregon was signed by Governor Ted Kulongoski. This proclamation recognized the efforts of former Salem Mayor Roger Gertenrich and all of the community volunteers who spent four years creating this artwork.

Eco-Earth Globe Restoration

After years of exposure to the elements, the Eco-Earth Globe began to lose tiles and show signs of disrepair.  In 2017, the Salem Public Art Commission reached out to Cascadia Art Conservation Center to examine the artwork and conditions causing disrepair.  This initial report noted signs of water infiltration and potential corrections moving forward.  Additional analysis of the overall sculpture and materials was suggested.  With many details yet unknown, a high-level cost estimate was assumed.

In November of 2020, the Commission contracted with Architectural Resources Group to complete a comprehensive condition assessment with cost estimates.  This assessment provided a close examination of the 60 separate panels that make up the globe, a list of recommended repairs, and a detailed cost estimate.  In all, complete restoration of the Eco-Earth Globe is anticipated to cost $400,000. The 2020 assessment outlines a path forward for restoring this prominent piece of public art.

The Salem Parks Foundation has graciously stepped up to coordinate a community fundraising effort with a goal to raise $300,000 (of the $400,000 estimated total) for these repairs.

Salem Parks Foundation Logo

Interested in learning more about Salem’s Eco-Earth Globe?  Check out this incredible video by Markee Productions (2004), Creating a New World – The Story of Eco-Earth Globe


Carousel Pony

Artistic tile icons on Eco-Earth Globe

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Contact us

Heather DimkeManagement Analyst IIPublic Works Department
555 Liberty ST SE,
Room 325
Salem, OR 97301

Eco-Earth was created in 2003, following almost five years of community volunteer support from a local geographer and amateur and professional artists. Local high school students helped to mold and paint the artistic ceramic tiles that depict wildlife and cultures from around the globe. Hundreds of individuals, families, and businesses donated funds to sponsor countries, territories, states, oceans, and seas.

The large-scale sculpture sits proudly at the south end of Riverfront Park near the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bicycle and Pedestrian Bridge. Over time, the condition of the work has deteriorated, and now restoration is required to preserve it.

​Project scope and updates

Through its Salem Public Art Commission, the City of Salem engaged a conservator to help craft a strategy for the restoration and conservation of Eco-Earth.

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About the sculpture

Eco-Earth is built on an old, metal acid ball that was installed here in the 1960s by Boise Cascade. The round, stainless-steel tank is 84.5 feet in circumference. It once held liquid and chemical gases used in the paper making process by Boise Cascade until 1982, when the mill was closed.

The City acquired the property and the tank in the late 1980s. As Riverfront Park was developed, the community set out to convert the acid ball into a colorful mosaic. Now 86,000 ceramic tiles represent the continents and oceans, and 200 clay icons depict wildlife and culture around the globe. The finished piece, guarded by a black iron fence, was unveiled on June 28, 2003.

Get involved

For more information about ways to participate or donate to this project, please contact us.

Located in Riverfront Park, the Eco-Earth Globe features the earth, its continents, and regional wildlife and cultural references from around the globe through the use of decorative ceramic tile. Eco-Earth is part of the Salem Public Art Collection. The colorful mosaic highlights cultural diversity through geographry.