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Deborah Todd brings tiled floors alive

May 9, 2018

Jenny Ibsen
Todd in her studio, where she hand-paints tiles with intricate designs.
Deborah Todd crafts every one of her colorful ceramic tiles by hand, from start to finish, through a process she invented at the start of her career 37 years ago as the apprentice to a potter in Northampton, Massachusetts.

“I didn’t know what the hell I [was] doing. I didn’t have any barriers. I never looked at a tile magazine—I think that helped,” she said. “People told me I couldn’t do tiles like this, putting stain directly on—well, why not?”

Today her painted tiles can be found in the homes of George Lucas, Mariah Carey and Pat Benatar, among many others.

Working from a studio on the ground floor of the Fort, Todd relishes the freedom of her medium, using a clay of her own formula and imbuing the tiles with life and color. She deeply appreciates the element of chance in her work, reflected in the nuances in hue and texture that occur naturally through her handcrafted practice.

Over the years, she has a adopted an increasingly spontaneous style of design.

“I was taught Japanese brush painting by this wonderful monk in Boston and after all these years I’m finally remembering that,” said Todd. “[So now I’m] just trying to do more open work, just relying on the brush to tell me what to do.”

For Todd, the act of crafting tiles has grown into a state of zen-like contemplation.

“People don’t understand that the monotony is wonderful. It’s sort of very meditative,” she said.

 

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