Finishing up the Tampa, FL public art murals

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.  

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 10.33.05 AM
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:
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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 Revolution, including the cigar boom of Ybor city; 4) commemoration of the first African American vote; 5) African-American-owned churches and businesses.
handmade, ceramic art tile by Natalie Blake
This detail shows: 1) the Emancipation Proclamation; 2) initial trade between Tampa and Cuba  3) a freed slave 4) The Counselor and Interpreter, Abraham, who served as a liaison between the US President and the Seminole Indians; 5) the first Tampa Bay Hotel.
handmade, ceramic art tile by Natalie Blake
This detail shows the Buckingham Theatre Saloon, one of the first African-American-owned businesses in the late 1800′s.
Natalie Blake public art grant

The 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 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.

handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake

Installing the Blue Ripple Mandala:


wall art tile, public art, chabot college art, Natalie Blake


Making the Rose Circle

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 not only for the viewer but for the tactile  admirer.  The deep relief carving on the tiles draws you in and you can’t help but run your hands over it. One can sit on the concrete ledge that is still exposed “rose garden water” at their feet. Here it is before….and then after….


The Rose Circle: Before

The Rose Circle: Before

cast, lightweight concrete tiles by Natalie Blake Studios

The Rose Circle


Here are a few closeups of the carved concrete:


concrete detail small file 2



concrete detail small file

Working on a Public Art Project for Tampa, FL


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.

Encore Site

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, B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Nate and Cannonball Adderly, all played on Central and Ray Charles made his first recording on Central Avenue.

Natalie has been learning about the history of the area and using this history to inform her mural designs.

In Natalie’s own words, “I feel incredibly honored to be a part of this project. When I met with the art committee members in Tampa recently, I was struck with their willingness to work with a a white girl from Vermont on the creation of art to capture and commemorate the mostly-black  history of Central Ave.  While in Tampa, I met with Melissa LeBaron, Tampa’s Arts Program Division Coordinator, and Fred Hearns, a local historian, who helped to educate me about the history of Central Avenue from 1820-1967.

I’m designing three murals, each to capture an historical period. The first mural will focus on the period from 1820-1920; the second mural focusses on the period 1920-1967; the third from 1967-the present and future.

This first sketch highlights the early history of the area, when Tampa was small. Then the railroad came to town and the population started to grow.  The sun will be a feature of each mural. In the first mural the sun is rising; in the second mural, during Tampa’s “heyday”, the sun is high. In the third mural (sketch not shown) the sun’s rays will become steps, leading into the future.  We all believe that Tampa has a bright future and I’m thrilled that my art will be part of that future.”

Sketch for Tampa public art mural

Sketch for Tampa public art mural


Here is a section of the first mural carved,  but not yet bisque fired or glazed:


handmade, sculptural wall art tile as public art by Natalie Blake


This second mural sketch shows the sun’s rays, like spotlights from the Apollo Theatre, shining on the vibrant, cultural elements of the area.





Natalie, with Fred Hearns and Melissa Baron

Natalie, with Fred Hearns and Melissa LeBaron




Grandmother Tree: From Inspiration to 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.

Custom Designed Tile Mural, Public Art

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 in an interesting way:

“When we were designing our proposal for this public art award we took one of our favorite trees and digitally stretched it onto this column. Shifting scale really changed the feeling of it; we loved the way it transformed the space and the column. The campus voted on their favorite ideas and then the arts committee gave us the go ahead. We were so psyched to take that digital concept and make it into a reality of ceramic artwork.

It was more than three times bigger than the trees we had been making so to accommodate it in our work space we sgraffito carved it in sections starting with the roots. Carving it was like a meditation on each aspect of the trees structure and the vital flow of energy which it embodies.” Cynthia Parker-Houghton

The finished sculptural art mural had 84 tiles, and at a total height of 252 inches, presented a totally new challenge of installation. So, we rented a mechanical lift, and the rest is history – or at least, a timelapse.

Timelapse: Ceramic Artwork Installation

See more images of our Grandmother Tree installation at Chabot College and all of our work on Pinterest.

Custom designed ceramic artwork, Public Art Installation

Tree of Life installed in women’s crisis center

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.


handmade, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake Studios

Tree of Life, handmade, ceramic wall art tile

handmade, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake Studios

handmade, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake Studios



Natalie and Nick installing at Chabot College

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.

handmade, concrete tile by Natalie Blake

handmade, concrete tile by Natalie Blake


This piece, the Blue Ripple Mandala is being installed on a 20-foot wall.

handmade, ceramic wall tile by Natalie Blake Studios

Blue Ripple Mandala, ceramic tile



handmade, ceramic wall tile by Natalie Blake Studios

Blue Ripple Mandala



handmade, ceramic wall tile by Natalie Blake Studio

Blue Ripple Mandala, Chabot College

Installation images from Chabot College

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.

handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic wall art tile

Grandmother Tree, installed at Chabot College

handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic wall art tile

Grandmother Tree, installed at Chabot College

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.

handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic wall art tile

Chavez Tree Installed at Chabot College



handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake Studios

Installing Natalie Blake Studio tiles at Chabot College

The Mandala resonates on a human scale. The life force expands outwards flickering into different colors. It ties into the quatrefoil architectural motif found around the campus. (Quatrefoil:  an ornamental design of four lobes or leaves as used in architectural tracery, resembling a flower or four-leaf clover).

handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic wall art tile

Mandala being installed at Chabot College


handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake Studios

Mandala installed at Chabot College


Working on Banyon Tree for Chabot College

Natalie and Cynthia are carving the Bayon Tree panels for the Chabot College public art grant they received.  Don’t know what a Banyon Tree looks like? Here’s an image:


Older banyan trees are characterized by their roots that grow into thick woody trunks which, with age, can become indistinguishable from the main trunk. Old trees can spread out laterally using these prop roots to cover a wide area.


“We chose to make a 4-panel mural of the Banyon Tree for the Chabot College cafeteria because this tree has lots of personality!” says Natalie.  “The tree is grounded, rooted in place and is an icon of stability and grandeur.  I thought that would be fitting for a college setting.”   The Banyon Tree image has been with Natalie for years–since her mother gave her an Ansel Adams photograph of banyon tree roots that she tacked up in her studio.


Here’s a picture of the first panel of tiles, painted with iron oxide, waiting to be carved:

Banyon Tree tiles Chabot College

According to Cynthia, “These 4 panels of tiles making up the Banyon Tree mural will give the impression of a set of windows through which you can see this amazing tree.  At the same time, the tree mural is a solid presence in the room.  Because a tree of this size would have grown over a long period of time, it helps to put things in perspective for the viewer.”


handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic wall tiles by Natalie Blake Studios

Natalie Blake Carving the Banyon Tree for Chabot College

handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic wall tiles by Natalie Blake Studios

Carving the Banyon Tree for Chabot College

Chabot College Grant Update

Natalie Blake Studios was awarded a grant to provide art for Chabot College in Hayward, CA.  See our June1, 2011 blog post for details.

Here’s an update on the project….

Cynthia has completed the mural for the Chavez Court. It’s a grand, 64-tile mural of a tree. These are 12″ square tiles–all handmade!  The glazes are: honey, turquoise, blue and cashew.


Natalie Blake Studios ceramic wall art tile

Chavez Court mural, Chabot College

Here’s a photo of Natalie and Cynthia, taken this spring in Hayward, CA when they visited the Chabot College campus to scope out the project.

Natalie and Cynthia in CA

Natalie Blake Studios Awarded Public Art Grant

Chabot College to display  Natalie Blake Studios Artwork

Natalie Blake Studios was recently awarded a public art grant from Chabot College in Hayward, CA.   Using this grant funding, Natalie Blake Studios will produce and install ceramic wall tiles and other artwork for 5 locations on the Chabot College campus.  The studio’s proposal was chosen from a pool of 622 applicants.  The selection process involved over 500 students and campus staff.

We will post updates on this project in upcoming months. Stay tuned for more on this exciting project!

According to the statement of values for the college’s public art project:


Cynthia Parker-Houghton, who is working on this project with Natalie, recently finished carving the first tile mural for the project.  This mural will adorn the Chavez Plaza at the college.  This image shows the mural, unglazed:


handmade, ceramic tiles by Natalie Blake Studios

handmade, ceramic tiles by Natalie Blake Studios


Here’s what Cynthia says about this piece: “Making the tree in four sections: roots, trunk, branches and leaves was a meditation on the different qualities of the different parts of the tree. The lines of the roots reach downwards grounding the tree but the same lines indicate a flow of water and nutrients upwards into the trunk and leaves. Even the flow of air surrounding the tree seems energized by the carve marks responding to the shapes I am carving around. If you look closer you can see that all the shapes are repeated within the roots, the bark, the branches, the leaves and the air. It’s  like a fractal in this way.”

Here’s Cynthia working on the mural.  the yellow door in the background leads to the New England School for Circus Arts, just across the hall from Natalie Blake Studios.

Here’s what Cynthia had to say about this mural:

“I’m smoothing out the trunk tiles here for a 64-tile tree. The tiles on the table behind me have been slipped with iorn oxide and are ready to carve.

This is the biggest tree we have made yet–it’s huge.  I often have to climb a ladder to see what I have carved and make sure it’s all working together but this time I also had to take pictures of the separate sections and put them together on our computer screen so I could see the whole piece.  Once I saw the whole piece together it was clear I needed to carve a new set of roots because the original ones were just too small.




We chose glaze colors  to reflect the vitality of the tree, to bring that energy to the public plaza where it will be installed.  Stay tuned for an image of the glazed piece.





Mural for Library


That’s how our client responded when she saw this image.  We agree.

This piece will be installed in the new Fountaindale Public Library in Bolingbrook, IL.  It was commissioned by Corporate Artworks, Ltd.

The 45- tile piece measures 111″ wide by 61″ high

Click on the image to enlarge it.

handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic wall tiles by Natalie Blake Studios

Fountaindale installation

Fletcher Allen Hospital Installation

We recently completed this Tree of Life piece for the Radiology Oncology facility at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, VT.

The request for proposals (RFP) stated that patients in the radiology department who are undergoing radiation treatments to eliminate cancer tumors or to alleviate pain caused by the tumors will be virtually underground all day. The light-well in the waiting area is their only connection with nature.  The RFP goes on to state that the design concept for the project is the idea of being under a canopy of trees. In the corridors outside the vaults, the skylights are large enough so that one can look up and see the branches of trees in the planters that run along the skylight on the roof.

Our piece was chosen from a pool of applicants for this installation because it addressed the thematic considerations of the request for proposals.  Specifically, the selection committee was looking for art that:

  • contributes to a sense of place (why this piece would not be found in another city or outside of Vermont)
  • addresses in some form the culture, landscape/natural environment, vitality, heritage or traditions of the region.
  • creatively explores ideas related to this space; particularly with respect to the health center’s link to community and its focus as a place of healing and wellness.

Click here to see the work as it was being made.





handmade, ceramic, wall tiles by Natalie Blake

Tree of Life, ceramic wall tile mural












Natalie’s tiles embedded in the sidewalk of Brattleboro

Fulcrum Arts, which combines the studios of Natalie Blake and Randi Solin, joined with Hand of Man Artisan Builders, owned by Nick Marchese, to create the first-ever sidewalk art installation in downtown Brattleboro, VT. Located on Elliot  St, the 7 x 10 ft plot was dug out by the town and refilled with fresh cement for us to press our sherds of hand carved  tile and hand blown glass into.
We are taking mosaic-making to a new level!  The challenge was how to embed our undulating sculptural wall tile and round, broken bits of glass into the fresh cement with a time limit, as the cement set up.  Nick was a bit frantic working after us to clean and trowel the cement around our sherds.  He worked for two complete days in the wet work and then later in the polishing work, bringing the glass back out of the cement and polishing it, with Randi’s help, to a high sheen.
The Brattleboro Town Arts Committee is given the credit of starting an arts meet downtown program that will put out a Request for Proposals for Public art projects such as this one to created permanent installations in the downtown district.   Fulcrum Arts and Hand OF Man Builders were proud to be the first ones to be asked to create such an installation.

Installing tile and glass into a sidewalk in Brattleboro

Installing tile and glass into a sidewalk in Brattleboro

Installing tile and glass into a sidewalk in Brattleboro

Installing tile and glass into a sidewalk in Brattleboro

Installing tile and glass into a sidewalk in Brattleboro

Installing tile and glass into a sidewalk in Brattleboro

Click the link below to see more photos of their progress:

Fletcher Allen project-update

We wrote in a recent blog entry (6/14/10) that Natalie and Cynthia are working on a public art piece for the Radiation Oncology Department of the Fletcher Allen Hospital in Burlington, VT.  The tile piece will consist of 2, 7-tile murals depicting tree canapies.  Natalie is busy carving her section of the mural in her studio in West Dummerston, VT. Cynthia is carving her piece here in the Brattleboro studio.  Here’s a picture of one of Natalie’s tiles:

Stay tuned for more updates on this project.

ceramic wall tile

ceramic wall tile

Fletcher Allen Hospital tile mural in process

Natalie Blake studios creating commercial wall tile mural

This spring Natalie Blake Studios responded to a request for proposals from Burlington City Arts in Burlington, VT, for artwork for the main interior feature wall in the new Radiation Oncology Department of the Fletcher Allen hospital.

In April we were notified that our proposal was selected. We will be installing 2, 7-tile murals depicting tree canopies.

Here is a picture of the forms over which the clay tiles were laid before carving.  These forms  provide the undulation of the tiles.  You can imagine a tree with its branches flowing from left to right:

creating ceramic tiles

creating ceramic tiles

Here is a section of one of the carved murals, before it has been bisque fired:

ceramic wall art

Carved Tree of Life wall tile piece

And here is a closeup of one of the carved ceramic wall tiles:

ceramic wall tile

closeup of carved, ceramic wall tile