Who makes the world’s most beautiful tiles? This is the sort of question Tile Addict wrestles with daily, but in full knowledge that it has no answer. The tile world is just too varied, and the responses too subjective, to ever arrive at a consensus … even when I’m talking to myself.
However, I am clear that Natalie Blake is one name that should be in the frame. Blake began her professional career in 1994, creating stunning carved vessels and hand-sculpted lids in southern Vermont, USA. Her work quickly gained exposure through art shows like the Smithsonian Craft Show and the American Craft Exposition. In 2002, Ornament Magazine described her work as an “extraordinary collection of pottery consisting of brilliant blue green glaze and fine detailed carving, which are her trademark. Each piece has an ancient as well as contemporary feel.”
Blake subsequently drew on her knowledge of clay to develop a unique line of sculptural wall art tile. Having established a small team of highly skilled artisans, Natalie Blake Studios now fulfill custom orders and work closely with homeowners and designers to create impressive and inviting tile art.
Based in the small New England arts town of Brattleboro, Vermont, Blake’s studio is part of Fire Arts Vermont, a collaboration between Natalie Blake and Randi Solin of Solinglass. Fire Arts Vermont houses expanded studios for both artists, classroom space, and a retail gallery. Live demonstrations of the artists’ process in both glass and clay, as well as regular classes, offer collectors, tourists, and the local community unique opportunities to become actively involved in the creation of glass and ceramic works.
I urge all Tile Addict readers to visit Natalie Blakes’ website. It features both “standard’ ranges, public art commissions and one-off domestic pieces; plus a great section on glazes. It is truly inspiring. Below are a few of Tile Addict’s curated highlights.
In 2009, Natalie Blake Studio’s installed this 42 by 42in red multi-tile panel at Stonebridge Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida. It features hand-made, sgraffito-carved ceramic tiles, which were supplied with custom backings for easy hanging.
Abstract in Blue, 24in wide by 36in high, it also comprises hand-made, sgraffito-carved ceramic tile, with custom backings for easy hanging. Both of these designs – indeed much of the Studio’s portfolio – can be customised using 12in, 14in, 16in, 18in or 20in tile formats, and any one of over 30 glaze colours.
This installation was a commission for the Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Roof Top Garden, in Wilmington, Deleware. It comprises botanical wall art created using 14.5in by 14.5in hand-made sgraffito carved porcelain tiles and 14.5in by 14.5in slumped glass tiles, which were used to create elegant exterior garden roof top dividers. It was installed in 2014.
A popular theme among artists and artisans, this Tree of Life was a commission for the Newhope Joint and Spine Medical, in Westminster, California. The Tree of Life is formed from 12in by 12in hand-made sgraffito carved porcelain tiles. It was installed in 2015. This is another design that can be customised in different size tiles and a wide choice of glazes.
The Mandala for the Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Illinois was created from 54 hand-made sgraffito carved porcelain tiles. Measuring 10 feet in diameter, it was installed in 2015.
One of a number of similarly inspired designs, Bridge Series #4 features 12in sgraffito carved porcelain tiles. The Bridge Series #4 grouping measures approximately 36in wide by 24in high. Each tile is hand-made so no two items are alike and, because they are hand-carved, each piece is unique. These tiles are backed with the NBS backing system and are ready to hang as wall art.
Finally, the Blue Ripple Mandala measures 192in in diameter and comprises 20in by 20in porcelain tiles, with smaller pieces to make ripples and corners. It was fixed using thin-bed adhesive and approved mounting bracket to a concrete substrate wall.
“The Blue Ripple Mandala is one of our largest installations on the Chabot College campus,” explains Blake. “This piece started out as a gift to the college, and turned into one of our favorite pieces. We didn’t want to cheat the fabulously ugly wall out of the best possible solution. This wall faced the exit of the new $5 million dollar administration building. Why do we feel concrete walls with all the goop stains and form lines are acceptable? They are a huge NO facing us, as far as I’m concerned. I wanted to make a huge YES with that Blue Ripple Mandala. I had created this idea for a piece as a proposal for another art grant in Albequerque. Cynthia Parker-Houghton (Natalie Blake Studios Designer) figured out the correct scale for this piece and carved it out beautifully. We envisioned blue for this piece from the beginning, as a cooling agent for the campus. The blistering heat can be a menace to daily campus life, especially shrouded in cement walls and walks. While the concept of the piece was a blue mandala with ripple waves, what I now see after it is in place is an abstract flower that is really a reflection as seen in ripples of water.”
Fire Arts Vermont fireartsvt.com
A new post by Joe Simpson, Diary of a Tile Addict, June 2017