March 1, 2008
Motor City Glaze
Eastern Michigan is home to one of the most active crafts movements in the country.
“We’d start doing these tile shows that were just tile, and we’d think, How could anyone make a living at this?” says Marcia Hovland, part of a loose-knit group of Michigan-based tile-makers, reminiscing about the good old days before the tile industry took off. “And now everyone is doing really well.”
Hovland is one of the artisans who came up through Detroit’s famed Pewabic Pottery—a tile factory, exhibition space, and educational facility. She studied there with David Ellison—a name that comes up again and again in conversation with these eastern- Michigan tile fiends—and realized that she could turn her painting and design background into a whole new bag of (ceramic) chips.
Karim Motawi runs Motawi Tileworks out of Ann Arbor with his sister, Nawal. The company makes historically influenced pottery in line with the types of things that were produced in the earliest days of Pewabic in the 1900s. “We’re literally plowing through the history books and the source books, the old catalogs,” he says. “We’re trying to re-create the lost craft.” As the official Frank Lloyd Wright licensee, it’s reproducing just fine.
Motawi Tileworks operates on a relatively tiny scale—it produces 18,000 square feet of tile a year, a drop in the bucket—and so do many of its local cohorts, which is why they’re so happy to know Joseph Taylor, president of the Tile Heritage Foundation, which works to raise the historic craft’s profile. “They are like tile cheerleaders,” Motawi says.