We did it!

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Ceramic Tile Murals Tell the History of a Tampa Neighborhood     Natalie’s public art grant installation in Tampa, Florida is complete!  Natalie and Nick rolled back into the studio last Thursday after spending 18 days on site mortaring and grouting 3, 6′ x 15′ ceramic tile murals onto concrete walls that run the perimeter of a new mixed-use development in Tampa.   This installation was made possible through a generous public art grant awarded to the studio in 2013 by the City of Tampa, and Trio at Encore LP.  Through this grant, Natalie researched the history of this largely African-American neighborhood and then traced its 200-year history in a series of three large murals. Through interviews and consultations with several historians and community members, Natalie compiled a rich history of this incredible community. She then translated these collected stories, using a blend of abstraction and realism onto three, 6’ x15’ murals comprised of 18” square ceramic tiles.   The title of the piece, “The Gift of Gathered Remembrances,” is inspired by Secrets of the Talking Jaguar by Martin Prechtel.  In this book Prechtel recounts the story of a people who are deeply secure in their cultural identity because of their daily remembrance and reverence towards their ancestors. As… Read More »

Musings on our Tampa public art grant…

elliot mortaring

  Natalie writes:   Coming to work and seeing Elliot mixing mortar to thin-set the backs of our 18″ x 18″ tiles…wow, like we are really about to install these murals for the community to see in Tampa, Florida!   I am honored to have been chosen to create three large, 15′ x 6′ murals for the City of Tampa’s Trio at Encore development project.  It’s been an amazing year researching the history of the largely Black neighborhood of Central Avenue in Tampa, where the murals will hang, and then designing and carving the murals.  The murals depict historical scenes from this neighborhood, like in the mural details seen below– of Ray Charles at the piano, and musicians at the Blue Room night club. This neighborhood was  a “hoppin’” music district in the early 1900’s.  It is said that many people including B.B. King, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, James Brown, Ruth Brown, Asa Harris, and others played up and down Central – it was the place to be. I’ve titled this installation “The Gift of Gathered Remembrances”.  The title of the piece is inspired by Secrets of the Talking Jaguar by Martin Prechtel, who recounts a people who are deeply secure… Read More »

Finishing up the Tampa, FL public art murals

tented tampa mural

Natalie is finishing the third (and final) ceramic tile mural for the City of Tampa, Florida’s redevelopment district, called ENCORE!  The work was commissioned by the City of Tampa and Trio at Encore LP through a public art grant awarded last year. Natalie’s three murals, each comprised of 40, 18″ x 18″ tiles, will be installed on the walls that run the perimeter of ENCORE’s Trio apartment homes.   The murals are designed to showcase the history of this largely African American neighborhood from the late 19th century to the present, a time when this neighborhood was the principal business and entertainment district of Tampa’s African American community. Read more about Natalie’s thoughts on the designs here. Watch excerpts from Natalie’s work making one of the murals: The installation of the murals will take place over a two week period from March 25-April 9, when each tile will be carefully mortared onto the wall and the entire mural will be grouted. Here is a section of one of the murals, depicting: 1) the Scrub, the community of freed slaves that developed after Emancipation that is now the site of Encore! 2) verses from the National Negro Anthem; 3) the Industrial… Read More »

The Blue Ripple Mandala

Blue Ripple Mandala

Natalie has recently been musing on her public art grant from Chabot Collge (Hayward, CA).  This large grant was given to the studio in 2011 for a campus-wide art installation.  Here’s what Natalie recently had to say about the Blue Ripple Mandala: The Blue Ripple Mandala is one of our largest installations on the Chabot College campus.   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, an oversight from the architect in my opinion. 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… Read More »

Making the Rose Circle

The Rose Circle: Before

In 2012 we  installed “Homecoming”, a campus-wide art installation at Chabot College, Hayward, CA. The most wonderful part of the Chabot installation was the first two days of the semester, when, finishing up our installation, we got to hear direct feedback from the students and staff. The campus was packed. Students of all ethnicities walked back and forth past this busy intersection of sidewalks where we were installing the Rose Circle piece. They gave us encouragement, thumbs up, big smiles, and genuine thank you’s. We were feeling good about the work we were installing, and yet we didn’t realize how much it would mean to have all those people whose home this was, support what we were trying to achieve. The Rose Circle is comprised of 28, 25”w x 22”h cast, lightweight concrete tiles created from original in carved clay. The concrete tiles were thin-set mortared to the existing concrete ring which is 2’ h x 58’ circumference. The tiles were acid-stained in blue and russet tones. Watch video footage of the making of the Rose Circle installation. Art does not exist in a vacuum. It’s made for the eyes and hands of the viewer.  Our Rose Circle piece was made… Read More »

Working on a Public Art Project for Tampa, FL

Encore Site

  Natalie Blake Studios was honored to be selected to create public art  for the City of Tampa, Florida’s “ENCORE!” project, a 40+ acre mixed-use redevelopment district in Downtown Tampa.  Our studio will create and install our handmade wall art tile on three concrete walls, each 20′ long, that run around the perimeter of ENCORE’s Trio apartment homes.  Our tile murals will face the newly renovated Perry Harvey Sr. Park, which will serve as a gathering place and will feature a stage to be used for local musicians, outdoor cinema, and other entertainment purposes. The Trio is located on Central Avenue, which is historically significant to Tampa. Historically known as The Central Park area, this area is a rich blend of cultural influences, events and musical achievements that collectively hold much of the community’s and region’s African American history. From the late 19th century until the mid 1970s, Central Avenue was the principal business and entertainment district of Tampa’s African American community. During segregation, Central Avenue provided a necessary alternative community; a bustling area of town with schools, churches, thriving businesses, movie theaters, bars and nightclubs, some featuring major headliners of the black entertainment circuit. Celebrities, such as Ray Charles, James Brown,… Read More »

Grandmother Tree: From Inspiration to Installation

Custom designed ceramic artwork, Public Art Installation

Our blog has closely followed the creation of several works of ceramic artwork that we installed at Chabot College after receiving their public art grant. Before any designs were drawn or tiles carved, Natalie and Cynthia traveled to the campus to find potential installation sites and gather inspiration from its spaces and its students. Natalie and Cynthia also got to speak with students, who had influential requests: “Give us beauty” and “a feeling that we are in nature.” “Remind us that we are HOME.” “Delight us with color to brighten our day.” “Don’t give us anything cliché.” There were a lot of artistic possibilities at Chabot, but this location jumped out immediately – a towering orange wall in the midst of a wide open space in the newest building on campus, a faculty building. It begged for a custom designed tile mural of massive scale. Like this perfect spot, it was hard to pass over images of the amazingly stoic and ancient redwood trees characteristic of northern California. A big, grand tree seemed the perfect symbol for this faculty space, representing knowledge and wisdom of generations and the ages in sculptural art. Cynthia, our project designer, found a fitting design… Read More »

Tree of Life installed in women’s crisis center

handmade, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake Studios

This piece was recently installed at SafeNet Services, a women’s crisis center in Tulsa, OK.  The piece was commissioned by Art Collections, Inc. in Tulsa.   The piece measures 54″ w x 108″ h.  It is glazed in cashew, pumpkin, adobe, honey, moss, medium jade and bark.      

Natalie and Nick installing at Chabot College

handmade, concrete tile by Natalie Blake

Natalie and her fiance, Nick, are installing their artwork at Chabot College, Hayward, CA. This is the final installation of the public art grant the studio was awarded in 2010.   This is the Rose Circle installation: concrete tiles made by Natalie and her fiance, Nick (Hand of Man Builders).  The tiles are acid-stained, concrete positives of Natalie’s original carved clay tiles.   This piece, the Blue Ripple Mandala is being installed on a 20-foot wall.        

Installation images from Chabot College

handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic wall art tile

In 2011 Natalie Blake Studios was awarded a public art grant from Chabot College in Hayward, CA. We’ve posted several articles about our work on this grant. We now have installation shots from Natalie’s recent trip to install some of the work.   Finally installed, the Grandmother tree looks like it has been there for a century. The Grandmother tree’s long flowing lines draw the eye up from the waterfall of blue tiles at the center of Chabot’s faculty building.  The second floor balcony provides another vantage point for this central oasis. The Chavez Plaza where students gather outside the Student Center now has two new pieces installed: the Chavez Tree and the Mandala. The Chavez Tree was inspired by sliding thumb puzzles (those little plastic square puzzles from the 80’s where you slide the little squares to unscramble the image)  giving the eyes a game to play moving from color to color and section to section. When carving this one section at a time I was immersed in roots then trunks, branches then leaves. Each section had a different quality from the next. The roots are at eye level; the rest tower above in their architectural niche.    … Read More »