Solved! The Mystery of the Emerald Tile at the Land Pavilion
One of the great overlooked treasures in Epcot can be found at the entrance of the Land pavilion. Here you’ll find a pair of beautifully detailed mosaics on both sides of the walkway leading up to the entrance. The mural is a stylized cross section of the earth, composed of a dizzying array of earth tones and pastel colors that create a vivid landscape for Guests to enjoy as they enter the pavilion. The mural is comprised of approximately 150,000 tiles, all individually cut and shaped. There are over 130 different colors in the mural, and the pieces themselves are made of marble, granite, slate, Byzantine glass, Venetian glass, gold, mirror, ceramic, and pebbles.
The mural was designed by Walt Peregoy, who had previously worked as a background artist and color stylist for films such as Sleeping Beauty, The Sword in the Stone, and One Hundred and One Dalmatians. In addition to his work at the Land pavilion, he also worked on the original Journey Into Imagination pavilion.
The mosaic was crafted by Hanns-Joachim Scharff and his daughter-in-law Monika Scharff, who had also created the beautiful murals that line the breezeway of Cinderella Castle. And this is where the tale begins.
As the oft-repeated story goes, the murals on either side of the walkway are exact duplicates…save for one detail. On the right-side mural, near the entrance to the pavilion, is an emerald-colored tile that is not present on the opposite mural. The legend goes on to say that this is the birthstone of the artist, and it was her way of signing the piece. The presence of the tile is not in dispute, as a careful inspection of the wall will reveal it, and knowledgeable Cast Members will even point it out to you.
But the story of it being the birthstone of the artist was always more dubious. For starters, if you try to look up the question on the Internet, you’ll quickly find that there are many variations to this tale. One version has it that the artists are husband and wife. Another says that there is also a ruby tile on the left-side mural, that being the birthstone of Hanns. Another variation is that the emerald isn’t the birthstone of the artist, but rather that of his or her daughter (depending on which story you hear). You can see how this can be quite confusing!
Some of these tales are easy enough to refute. For one, it is well known that Hanns and Monika Scharff were the artisans who created the mural, and they are obviously not husband and wife, but rather father and daughter-in-law. Hanns’ biography is easy enough to look up, and a quick check will reveal that his birthday is in December, nowhere near close to the month of July, which is ruby’s birthstone month. That’s all well and good, but perhaps the original version of the story is true, that the emerald was in fact the birthstone of the artist. But for many years, that’s where the story seemed to end, and it certainly sounded plausible enough, and made for a wonderful tale.
However, as is so often the case with these Disney stories, the exact details got changed and twisted over the years, and I was starting to wonder if the original story had any truth to it. There was certainly, as far as I could tell, no official Disney publications that reiterated the story. This immediately brought to mind other legends like the Great Seal of the United States in the Hall of Presidents, the bride ring at the Haunted Mansion, and…you get the idea!
I decided to look a little deeper, and much to my surprise I found that, while Hanns passed away in 1992, Monika was living in California. After their work at Disney, the Scharffs started their own mosaic company, called Scharff & Scharff. Monika continued her work, creating beautiful murals for restaurants, homes, and other projects. I found the phone number for the company and decided to give them a call, hoping to speak to someone who might be able to shed some light on the story, or at the very least, to confirm Monika’s birthday. (I had found a few obscure references online that said it was in October, whose birthstone is the opal, not the emerald. But the reliability of these sources was suspect.)
Much to my surprise though, and immense delight, Monika herself answered the phone! I was taken aback for a moment, realizing I was speaking with an artistic legend who had worked on, not just the Land pavilion, but the murals in Cinderella Castle. After many moments of telling her how much I admired her work, I asked her about the Land pavilion mural, and if she had ever heard that story. She laughed and said she thinks she’s heard it a couple of times, but she told me that the stories weren’t true at all. There was never any intention to put anything deliberate like that into the murals, much less a birthstone. She suspects that what happened was that a tile might have been lost, and one of the craftsmen who were doing the actual assembly might have substituted a tile here and there, including the emerald one. And finally, I was able to confirm with her that her birthday was indeed in October, to which she laughed and agreed, yes, the emerald wouldn’t be her birthstone anyway.
Monika was a delight to talk to, and she also shared some stories about her work on the Cinderella Castle mural. One thing she remembered was that this was back when she was first learning the craft. She told me about how when you’re working on a mural, you’re basically working in reverse. The tiles are actually laid out onto a sheet, which in turn gets laid over the wall. So out of necessity you’re actually working on the mural from the backside. She said she was particularly concerned because she hadn’t ever done people before, and she was very very careful to make sure she got all of the eyes right!
And so, after more than 30 years, we can finally lay this story to rest, and definitively say that the emerald tile is not the birthstone of the artist. However, don’t let that distract you from trying to find the tile itself, after all, it is actually there, and it’s a nice detail to discover, even if the legend behind it isn’t true. And more importantly, do take the time to look at the murals on either side of the walkway, they truly are dazzling to behold and are incredible pieces of art. At one point in our conversation, Monika actually lamented the fact that she didn’t think anybody ever looked at the murals as they hurried into the pavilion, or through the castle. I reassured her that, for this person at least, her artwork is truly admired and appreciated, and I told her that there are so many Disney fans that cherish these wonderful pieces of art, and for whom they hold a special place in their hearts.