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A calling to the kiln

February 17th, 2014 9:28 am by Tony Casey

A calling to the kiln

Lecy Campbell, tile artist Tony Casey/Johnson City Press

A backsplash in Boston. A dog-themed fireplace in New York.
With the combination of immense artistic talent and the ability to display her work on the Internet, Johnson City resident Lecy Campbell has been able to grow her ceramic tile business significantly — and nationally — in the last two years.
Campbell, who has a background in fine arts from the University of Tennessee, knew early on she would always need art in her life. She initially moved to Chicago to work in the film industry. When she moved back to the area to be with her mother, Campbell began creating jewelry to keep her artistic juices flowing.
But the woman who jokes she has a “tile fetish” said the kiln was calling her. And two years ago, she answered that call by installing her very own kiln in her basement.
So began the process of developing and growing a small business based on doing what she loves: designing and creating tiles.
What separates Campbell’s tiles from the tiles you might find at a big box home improvement store, is the time, detail and passion that go into them, she said.
Campbell can make as many square feet in whatever plain color or design that is needed, but her best work is found in her intricate designs.
Her inspiration for those designs comes from everywhere and everything, she said. Take for example, a set of “schooner” tiles she created featuring sailboats and sea monsters. Those, she said, were inspired by her years of sailing on Lake Michigan and her love of the water.
Then there is a set of tiles featuring garlic, a variety of pastas and olives. No surprise, these tiles were inspired by images of vintage Italy.
And what about that dog-themed fireplace in New York? Campbell designed those tiles, which feature six different dog breeds, by request for the owner of a farmhouse in New York.
Her business is called Drumboden Tiles, named after a place in Ireland, and even through her recent expansion of her business, Campbell says it’s still just a one-woman operation.
The mold for each tile Campbell creates starts out as just a simple ball of clay.
“I love to be muddy, and love to be covered in clay,” she said.
Campbell designs and forms a mold from which future tiles will be born. Because her pieces are custom made, she keeps every single mold and plans on hanging onto them for as long as she’s around just in case a replacement of one of her tiles is ever needed.
It takes Campbell roughly a month to work a tile from start to finish, she said. The final product could really be just about any design you could imagine, with any font, color, figure, pattern or texture possible.
A student of history, too, Campbell takes pride in carrying out both an American and international art form. She said some of the finest tiles in history came from the Moorish people of Morocco, but her American inspirations include Ernest A. Batchelder, from California, and Henry Chapman Mercer, from Pennsylvania.
Campbell’s passion for art seems to, at least in part, come from her grandmother, who worked as an architect — at a time when it wasn’t a common position for women — for the Olmsted family, who designed Central Park in New York City and the Biltmore House in Asheville, N.C.
Aside from her grandmother, Campbell’s family tree also includes an artistic cousin who operates as a painter in Hilton Head, S.C.
Across the country, Campbell said she’s seen many custom tile makers, but noticed a lack of them in the East Tennessee region. She sees many reasons for people to consider customizing their own tiles, be it for their kitchen, fireplace, mantle or garden.
“The main thing is that you want to be in love with your home,” Campbell said.
Calling it, “essentially art on the wall,” Campbell said custom tile projects also often add resale value to a home.
For Campbell, the tiles represent one more way to keep her hands in the world of art. And as long as she’s being artistic, Campbell couldn’t be happier.
To check out Campbell’s work, go to www.drumbodentiles.com, or reach her directly at 773-882-1084 or at lecycampbell@hotmail.com.

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