Tile fundraiser kicks off at Gallery North
By Ellen Barcel
A community art event, Make Your Mark, has come to Gallery North. The gallery invites the community — adults, children, families, both professional artists and even those with no artistic background — to come and paint their own six-inch ceramic tile. The tiles may be taken home or used at the gallery in the planned tile wall of the new Community Art Center.
Ceramic tiles have a long history. Once ceramics are fired, they do not deteriorate like wood or cloth. The result is that the art world has tiles created and fired not only hundreds but thousands of years ago. The decorative tile work on the Dome of the Rock (begun in the seventh century) in Jerusalem dates back to the 16th century while Egyptian tile goes back to 4000 B.C. These examples attest to the beauty and longevity of this art form.
Tiles continued to be important in the art world. The Tile Club consisted of over two dozen American artists in the late 19th century, including Winslow Homer, William Merritt Chase, Stanford White, John J. Twachtman and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who met periodically to paint ceramic tiles. Even today, decorative ceramic tiles are popular tourist souvenirs.
Judith Levy, executive director of the gallery noted that people shouldn’t be afraid to tackle painting a tile. “I’ve had people say ‘I have an idea, but…’ they aren’t artists. Well, we have helpers, students from the art department at Stony Brook University.” In addition, designs can be traced onto the tiles or stencils can be used. It’s up to the individual.
“We want to create stakeholders in the gallery, new ways of exciting people,” added Levy. Since some of the tiles will be a permanent part of the wall next to the new building, people can come back with their families, year after year to see their tile — basically being a part of the artistic heritage of Gallery North.
On June 4, the first in the series of workshops was held at the gallery. Handmade tile production was demonstrated by sculptor and Long Island artisan Tina Folks. Folks, a ceramic artist for over 25 years, is a graduate of the Parsons School of Design. “I knew my medium would be clay from summer camp,” when she was a child. “I fell in love with the medium.”
Folks showed how a rolled out slab of moist red clay is cut into squares, dried and coated with bisque before its first firing. This preparation, getting them ready for the community artists to paint, will be done by Folks. “I have about 200 tiles now in my studio to decorate,” she noted.
“What I love about this [a community art project] is the collaboration. It takes me out of the solitude of my studio. It’s a nice exchange working with other people. It helps me grow as an artist,” said Folks.
Make Your Mark starts with those attending the workshops drawing their designs on a six-inch square of paper. In the weeks to come, they and others who join them will transfer their designs to the tiles to then be fired a second time by Folks. Future workshop dates include June 18, June 26 and July 7. Times will vary to accommodate painters’ schedules. For example, the July 7 workshop will be held in the evening from 6 to 8 p.m. When all the tiles are completed and fired, those intended for the gallery will be installed in the garden wall.
Levy added that the patio next to the art center will be expanded. There will be seating and plantings. The planned wall, referred to as a knee wall, will be about 2½ to 3 feet tall. The community’s tiles will be affixed to the inside of the wall, where those on the patio, as well as those inside the art center, can enjoy them.
The event is a fundraiser for the gallery, to help develop the gallery’s new ceramics program as well as other arts programs. The cost to decorate a tile and have it fired, to be taken home by the artist is $50. To decorate a tile and contribute it to the gallery’s garden wall is $100. Naturally, people are encouraged to do both. The goal is for 300 to 600 tiles to be completed for the wall.
Another option is to sponsor a local, professional artist who would do four tiles (12-inch square) for the garden wall. The contribution for sponsorship is $750. Sponsorship can be shared by more than one individual.
So, to “make your mark” and work on one or more tiles, contact Gallery North. A nonprofit, the gallery is located at 90 North Country Road in Setauket. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For further information, call 631-751-2676 or go to www.gallerynorth.org.