A student walks in front of the mosaic mural on the Garrison Theater at Scripps College. The Millard Sheets mural depicts scenes from three Shakespeare plays: “Anthony and Cleopatra,” “Romeo and Juliet”  and “King Lear.”

A student walks in front of the mosaic mural on the Garrison Theater at Scripps College. The Millard Sheets mural depicts scenes from three Shakespeare plays: “Anthony and Cleopatra,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “King Lear.”

by Joseph Chavez
photography by Kim Toth

When one enters the small studio, the subtle sound of the clacking of tile and classical music swirls in the air. A multitude of shelves are over filled with jars containing colorful small tile pieces that sparkle in their glass containers. And front and center is an artist busy at work placing tiles together, as if finishing a complex jigsaw puzzle. This is Brian Worley, artist, contractor, director of facilities emeritus at both the Claremont McKenna College and the University of La Verne, who is creating celebrated mosaic art. 

Brian Worley, mosaic artist and former director of facilities at the University of La Verne,  stands in front of his citrus grove mural located outside of the University’s  dining hall, The Spot.

Brian Worley, mosaic artist and former director of facilities at the University of La Verne, stands in front of his citrus grove mural located outside of the University’s dining hall, The Spot.

Worley learned his craft from the world-renowned mosaic master artist Millard Sheets. In the 1980s, Worley for 15 years, was a lead artist in the Sheets Studios, and worked side-by-side with the master. Sheets, along with Worley and several assistants, painstakingly constructed many large murals that adorn historic buildings in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas. Later, Worley worked on mosaic art projects for many cities as well as university themed ones for ULV and CMC. A recent large stainless steel acid-etched art installation—made and then painted by Worley—can be found on the north side outside wall of The Spot dining hall at ULV. Signage became art when Worley made ULV signs during his long tenure as director of facilities. The ULV seal is artistically constructed in mosaic glass twice on the west step banisters of Miller Hall. On the north entrance steps to Founders Hall, two prominent outside mosaic art installations welcome visitors.  Worley has a natural talent at making mosaics and described the process he has to go through when making one as “choosing the right tile—and also having a meaning for the mosaic—is very important to me.”

In so many ways, Worley is the person responsible for the long-range master plans that instructed how the University of La Verne built to its future. He started his work at the University of La Verne in 1985 and became the head director of special projects and director of facilities management, which placed him in charge of many building projects. “I oversaw the architectural projects in the University. I did the renovation of Miller Hall, the Oaks, the Wilson Library expansion, and the conversion of a Tastee-Freez into a music practice facility,” he says.

One of his notable maintenance and renovation projects was The Super Tents, which are now renamed as the Sports Science and Athletics Pavilion. “We had to change out the inside and maintain its fabric. At one point there was a massive rip that had to be repaired,” says Worley. Despite the fact the Tents had a fabric life expectancy of 40 years, they are now at their 50-year anniversary. “The fabric used was the first stressed fabric structure in the United States, and now the fabric should be replaced.” The original Teflon-coated fabric was draped over the supporting tent poles utilizing a large crane. “What’s scary is with all the buildout around the Tents, it’s going to be interesting to see how they may replace that fabric,” says Worley. The University plans to replace the Teflon tent fabric in 2024 and then continue to utilize the multi-purpose structures.

Worley also guided the retrofitting and remodeling of Miller Hall into an attractive Arts and Sciences building. He was a lead person in saving the hall, which was the oldest existing building on the ULV campus, and, until its re-opening in 1991, was downgraded to abandoned building status, slated for demolition. “My fingerprints can be found all over that campus,” he says.

Worley left La Verne in 2007 and became director of facilities and campus services for Claremont McKenna College, where he was also director of operations. Worley says working at CMC was different from ULV. “It was more high octane; it was around the same size but a very different environment. It was a bigger budget with much bigger expectations,” says Worley. Worley is proud of his work at McKenna but his proudest moments came at the graduation ceremonies held at the University of La Verne. “A lot of the graduates were first generation, which gave me a sense of satisfaction in making an environment where these students can succeed,” says Worley. 

Now retired from CMC, Worley has taken on the task of saving Millard Sheets’ and his large art installations. Some of the buildings are being razed or changed so that the art is in danger of being lost. Presently, he is actively working to restore the Sheets’ murals throughout the area. He is methodically traveling to each one and restoring them by cleaning and replacing tile, as needed, on a case-by-case basis.  He continues to preserve art he worked on in the past and repurposes it into something new for future generations to enjoy.

One such repurposed original mural was re-installed at the Hilbert Museum in Orange. “It was a $380,000 project where we removed the 16 X 41 feet mosaic. We used diamond bladed wet chainsaws where we sawed it out.” He says removing the mural from the Santa Monica Home Savings building was an arduous process. Worley, himself, is an active contractor, and he works directly with construction teams to move the delicate art. “We started at the beginning of November; it was a two-month process.” Worley explains how there is much prep work that goes into installing these mosaics, especially after the delicate cutting process, “I have to prep five months in advance because when we cut out the mural, we couldn’t control the thickness of the mural. I had to rebuild a back mortar for the mosaic to fix the thickness which is needed to make it look even,” says Worley. He explains that these massive mosaics can be re-installed in high places such as the front of buildings. “We use what we call a reverse process. We place each tile onto a brown parchment paper section then re-attach it to the back mortar which is already placed on the building wall,” says Worley.

While the removal of these art pieces from their original buildings is disheartening, it brings joy to him that they are being preserved for future generations to see. Worley, as the original artist with Sheets, know this. “The owner of that building [Santa Monica Home Savings] donated the mosaic to the Hilbert Museum, where the museum will re-install the mosaic as its face to the public,” he says. The museum is also receiving other exciting new renovations including a new building donated by Chapman College. “There is a $6 million project to renovate the museum and tie in the new building,” says Worley. The mosaic will be installed in a prominent place. “The bridge between the new building will be the mosaic which will be 20 feet up in the air between the buildings facing the train platform for the Orange train depot,” he says. 

Worley says working on these re-installation projects helps him feel as if everything is going in a full circle. “All of this is interesting to me. It brings my life back full circle because I’m working on mosaics I helped make back around 50 years ago.” 

Worley has achieved many accomplishments in both art and construction. He is proud of all his art pieces, but he is most proud of a private piece of art he made for a house in Upland, California. “I did a fireplace mantle for a house in Upland. We did this design I’m really glad they selected, and they called me after the job telling me how much they love seeing the piece every day in their house,” he says. He also notes a more sentimental piece made for a client’s mother, which was a micro mosaic made of glass tile, “I gave it to this woman, and her mother ended up falling in love with it. The mother was dying and told her daughter that she wanted to be buried with it. It is strange but gratifying that you can touch someone so deeply with art.” 

Worley is a man who has combined two different worlds—art and construction—and brought them together to bring something positive to the world. “Art should be like air; it should be all around us wherever we are,” he says.

A detailed image of a mosaic depicts Cleopatra on a Millard Sheets mural of Shakespearean scenes outside of the Garrison Theater at Scripps College in Claremont.

A detailed image of a mosaic depicts Cleopatra on a Millard Sheets mural of Shakespearean scenes outside of the Garrison Theater at Scripps College in Claremont.

A Millard Sheets mosaic can be found on the west-facing exterior wall of the former Pomona First Federal Savings and Loan building. Now a U.S. Bank, the building is located at the corner of Indian Hill and Foothill boulevards in Claremont.

A Millard Sheets mosaic can be found on the west-facing exterior wall of the former Pomona First Federal Savings and Loan building. Now a U.S. Bank, the building is located at the corner of Indian Hill and Foothill boulevards in Claremont.

Native Californians are depicted in the Millard Sheets mosaic mural on the south-facing wall of the former Pomona First Federal Savings and Loan. Now a U.S. Bank, the building is located at the corner of Indian Hill and Foothill boulevards in Claremont.

Native Californians are depicted in the Millard Sheets mosaic mural on the south-facing wall of the former Pomona First Federal Savings and Loan. Now a U.S. Bank, the building is located at the corner of Indian Hill and Foothill boulevards in Claremont.

Joseph Chavez
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Joseph Chavez is a senior communications major at the University of La Verne.

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Kim Toth is a junior photography major at the University of La Verne and photography editor of the Winter 2024 La Verne Magazine.