Arts and Crafts, Handmade Tile - , Emily Margaret Ulm


The First Tiles I Ever Made

Here we are, one week into 2015. As I write this, the wind chill outside is negative 11 F, but the days are getting longer and that makes my heart sing. The beginning of a new year always inspires me to do a little life review. You know the deal; Where am I going? Where have I been? Looking back, I realized that I officially registered my business name with the state of Ohio nine years ago yesterday. I actually got my vendors license and started selling a few tiles all the way back in September of 2004; it just took me a while to commit to the business name. It is hard to believe I have been doing this for a decade. Wow, the time has flown. I was pretty insecure about the whole thing when I started. I didn't have a grand plan. I didn't know much about business. All I knew is I loved handmade tiles, and I wanted to make them. From humble beginnings Emu Tile gradually turned into a viable career for me thanks to all of you beautiful people who share my love of handmade tile. Thank you so much for allowing me to do what I love for all these years. It has been amazing to connect to each and everyone of you through tile.

Emu Handmade Tiles 2004

Me with my first kiln in 2004. This is NOT the first tile I ever made.

Though I been running this business for 10 years, my relationship with tiles started before that. When I was growing up, my dad became a pretty good amateur tile setter. It started as a way to save money on our kitchen remodel, then he got into a kick where he would tile practically anything. Many of our friends and family have tile floors that were installed by my dad. As a teenager in the 90s I got to help out on a lot of those projects, squeezing grout sponges and the like. I remember being impressed that the materials were simple and process was low tech, but the results were so sophisticated and durable.

Later, as a student at Akron U in the spring of 2001, I took an intro to Ceramics class with Donna Webb. She is a noted tile maker, but I didn't realize that about her at first. Early in the course, I remember telling her I was obsessed with tile. Then a few days later, she showed us a slide show of her work, which included many large scale handmade tile projects. I remember feeling embarrassed at having told her I was obsessed with tile, when she was obviously so much more obsessed. I related this to a fellow student, who reassured me by saying something to the effect of, "It's ok, you are still young. You have your whole life to become more obsessed." I have taken that to heart. I still may not be as obsessed as Donna, but I am getting there!

As an assignment in that first intro class, Donna asked us to come up with ideas for a large scale tile mural that would be installed outside of an Akron elementary school. She had us each make a small set of tiles depicting our vision for the project, then the ideas would be put to a vote. I decided to make a long, many legged dragon, with children riding on its back. That set of dragon tiles were the first tiles I ever made. My idea didn't get picked for the actual wall, but I did get to help make and install the mural which was a great experience. My dragon tiles ended up in a box in my parents basement and I pretty much forgot about them, until recently when my dad retired and decided to clean and tile the basement. He put in a beautiful quarry tile floor, and then for fun he installed my old dragon tiles on the wall over a doorway. He sent me the following picture, with the file name "Historic Emu Tile":

Early Emu Handmade Ceramic Tiles 1

In the close up below you can see there are animals running alongside the dragon, including a cat, dog and snake (though I suppose snakes don't really run.) There is also a bird perched on the dragon's tail. 

These tiles seem a primitive to me now, but I love remembering the enthusiasm that I felt making them. And I am touched that they have found a place of honor in my parents basement. My parents are the best. 

As enthusiastic as I felt making those tiles almost 14 years ago, I am ten times more enthusiastic about my work now. I have big plans for 2015 and I am looking forward to seeing how the year unfolds!