Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Serpentine Historical Society Tiles

I don't often wander far from home in Fremantle, Western Australia but I believe I will have to shortly to see the installation of some tiles I helped create last week. Rob Ewing of the Serpentine Historical Society had asked me about transferring some historical photographic images from their collection, onto some tiles to go into an outdoor installation.  I had recently done something similar to recreate Joan Campbell's tile installation on Bather's Beach Fremantle, the text and images on which explained and celebrated the diverse history of the use of that area.  History is fascinating to me.  Living in a place that was colonised by white settlers and that has evolved over the decades into what I see today is very rewarding. Every old building, every street name - matters.  The knowledge that a hundred years before, other people walked along the same street, turned the same corner, used the same rooms in very different times and lives is something that captivates me.  What was the room that is my studio in the Old Customs House, in Phillimore Street, Fremantle used for, who spent their working days in it and doing what?  While I work there, I ponder this.
Turner family 1857
Serpentine Bridge School, Circa 1900
Serpentine Bridge School, 1936
So when Rob sent me the images of old adverts from local newspapers and photographs of first settlers in the Serpentine area I was enchanted, as was my husband Henry.  As a job, there is not a lot of creativity involved, it was more a technical challenge, it was tricky getting those big decals onto the tiles and aligned correctly. I arranged for the images to be generated into quality digital decals, then I applied them to floor tiles.  They were fiddly, some were even recalcitrant - but we got there.  After 64 of them I was pretty over the novelty of the task and I laid them out to dry slowly, that is one aspect I never rush as being hasty usually comes back to bite.

decal'd tiles, drying before firing.
On the first kilnload I woke early feeling absolutely fraught that something might have gone wrong (it didn't of course) and had to make myself wait till the kiln was cool enough to crack open to see the 25 tiles inside.  I couldn't see a thing as they were laid on multiple closely packed kilnshelves with to narrow a gap to see in.  So I closed the door and walked away.  It took three kilnloads to get them all done in my trusty KilnsWest kiln (the one that took four men to get into place in a previous post).  The tiles were beautiful.  Can boring old beige floor tiles be beautiful?  Well the fired result of the images on the glazed surface and the fluxed coating over the images had fired to a glossy uniform finish.  The colour of the prints was a warm chocolate or dark sepia shade. So, many former Serpentine dwellers are now immortalised on those tiles, the farmers, the draymen, the motley groups of school children, the kids on their bikes outside the shops, the local buses, the local businesses, the bakers, the events.  I got really fond of the people in those pictures.  Only yesterday we were at a wedding in very old church similar to one on one of my tiles.  In fact the most recent things I've made with clay were bowls and tokens for the wedding party. Now I love modern design and architecture but a place that has been inhabited or used by generation after generation takes on a special feeling and sense of place.  So I think what I am saying is that I feel privileged to have been a part of that job for Serpentine.
Now please pop over to the Mud Colony of clay bloggers to see what they've been up to, and I wonder if they know about Sandra Black's new blog?
Decals and completed tiles.

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