It came from nowhere, this summertime obsession to build a giant mosaic lawn crab. Not something inlaid, you understand, but a three-dimensional...

Share story

It came from nowhere, this summertime obsession to build a giant mosaic lawn crab.

Not something inlaid, you understand, but a three-dimensional rendition of a Red Rock Crab, Cancer productus, quiet denizen of the muck, visible only by the top of its brick-colored shell.

I had the perfect place in my garden, under a Douglas fir. What I didn’t have were any artistic or practical skills.

Sure, I had tiled my bathroom and kitchen floors, finally getting over fears of weak mortar, whirling wet-saws and cracked grout. But this was different. This was art.

How could I put it together? That font of all human knowledge — the Internet — proved useless. I was on my own.

To do it right, I had to construct a plywood sub-structure. I had to build a shell.

After cutting out an oval base about 5 feet long, I sawed a bunch of one-by-ones at 45-degree angles to make a series of triangles. I then attached the triangles around the circumference of the base. I measured and cut out plywood pieces and screwed those into the one-by-ones. After a few weeks, I had the basic shape.

The big claws proved a little more difficult. After several fitful engineering dreams, I came up with a solution: a box structure that attached to the main body.

Rear legs presented the next problem, solved by cutting up sections of closet pole and screwing them together. I didn’t want legs splayed across the ground, figuring they’d get broken. Instead, I envisioned a crab with its legs tucked underneath it.

With the shell finished, a neighbor helped me move it from my lawn to its final place under the Douglas fir. “You need therapy,” he told me, rolling his eyes. “No,” I corrected him, “this is my therapy.”

After filling the cracks with wood paste and spreading a coat of mortar over the whole thing, I went in search of mosaic tiles. Ceramic would break in a frost, I was told. It would have to be tumbled glass, which I found at Bedrock Industries (1401 West Garfield St., Seattle; 206-283-7625 or

“I’m building a giant mosaic lawn crab,” I told the guy behind the counter. He raised his eyebrows slightly and responded: “Of course you are.”

I used white mortar to best highlight the color of the glass, adhering more than 100 pieces by hand, and polishing each one twice after applying grout. As summer turned to fall, I grew to love my giant mosaic lawn crab, the way sunlight sparkled off its red shell, its black-tipped claws and yellow-tiled underbelly.

Like all good projects, I lamented its completion, the last spray of aerosol sealant. How much did it cost? About $150, maybe less. How much time did I spend on it? Let’s just say the many hours passed in happy preoccupation, just me and my crustacean totem, under the shade of a tall tree.

And I discovered a fundamental truth about working with tiny bits of chipped tile: Patience trumps talent.

Alex Fryer is a Seattle Times staff reporter: 206-464-8124 or