Archive | public art Subscribe

Tampa, FL ~ Public Art Tour

Natalie Blake Studios three ceramic murals, "The Gift of Gathering Remembrances", is one of the many public art installations in Tampa. Take a selfie in front of the history of Tampa! Send us your photo of the Natalie Blake Studios' murals for your FREE Gift! Just email with your jpeg and your mailing address to receive your GIFT! We will post your photos on our website - so take a selfie in front of the history of Tampa! Tampa-River-Walk-Tour-of-art-#71_GIFT_OF_GATHERING_REMEMBRANCES-ceramici-mural-by-Natalie-Blake-Studios Natalie Blake Studios was selected from a national call for Public Art for the Trio at Encore!®, a multi-family neighborhood in downtown Tampa, Florida. The studio made three murals depicting the rich history of this area, from 1820 through the present. Each of the murals is made from 40 ceramic porcelain tiles that are mortared to a wall in the new housing complex. Natalie Blake Studios' murals are exposed to the elements, and do not fade with the bright Florida sunlight. They are perfect for all exterior applications from Florida to Wisconsin to Hawaii. All three Tampa murals are visible to the public, from the adjacent streets, and along the sidewalks for a close up inspection of the detailed pictorial history.   Take a Tour of Tampa's Public Art! You may take a virtual tour of the City of Tampa Public Art at this link: See Natalie Blake Studio's murals as well as over seventy other artworks in downtown Tampa. If you are in Florida and the Tampa area, take a walking tour of the artwork and see them in person. "The Gift of Gathering Remembrances" is number 71 on the map below: City-of-Tampa-map-showing-where-The-Gift-of-Rememberances-project-is-located Rent a bicycle or put on your hiking boots and explore downtown Tampa ~ and all that it has to offer! We can't wait to see you in Florida!  

Perry Harvey, Sr. Park

A History Through the Art

Perry Harvey, Sr. Park, Tampa, FL Located at 900 E. Scott Street, the park is a place where generations can come together to share the history of the Central Avenue, through art, music, and cultural attractions.





Clay Tile Murals by Natalie Blake Studios

The Encore!® trio of murals, was made by Natalie Blake Studios This Public Art Installation was commissioned by the City of Tampa and Bank of America in 2014 as part of the Perry Harvey, Sr. Park.




History of the Scrub and Central Avenue

City-of-Tampa-Perry-Harvey-Park-Natalie-Blake-Studios-H "The Scrub, once Tampa's oldest and largest African American neighborhood, traces its history to just after the Civil War, when newly freed slaves built homes in a scrub palmetto thicket outside of the Town of Tampa. The heart of the Scrub was the Central Avenue Business District."


~ Visit ~


If you are in Tampa, Florida be sure to visit the park, and wander through the neighborhood! If you see the three Natalie Blake murals, send us your photos so we can add them to this post! Thank you!

Perry Harvey, Sr. Park 900 East Scott Street Tampa, Florida Information for Perry Harvey, Sr. Park: Phone: (813) 274-8854 Email:


Our newest public art grant

We are thrilled to have been awarded a public art grant from the Municipality of Anchorage, Alaska, for artwork to be installed in the Service High School in Anchorage. Through this grant we will design, create and install 10 handmade, ceramic art murals on architectural columns in the high school cafeteria.  The art committee requested that the chosen artwork bring light and the natural environment into the room since the school is in session during the darkest days of the year.  Our botanical designs and rich, luminous glazes seemed a natural fit for this project.
Screen Shot 2014-10-30 at 4.01.16 PM

architectural rendering of the cafeteria columns

We will be creating 10 handmade tile murals depicting the flora of the region, with a focus on flowers.  Twenty-four, 16" x 16" tiles will be grouted to each column. Because the murals will wrap around the columns, the viewer will get a different perspective on the mural, depending on where he stands. Here is our rendering of the proposed idea: attachment 3    
attachment 4

Photoshopped rendition of tiles grouted to a column

  Our first mural depicts the flower, Fireweed, in the foreground. This image shows the carved tiles, not yet bisqued or glazed.   Fireweed sm file                                          
fireweed 11



The mural, in process


You can watch a great video of our tile-making process here.

handcarved, ceramic tile

sgraffito-carving in action

  Stay tuned for our next mural featuring the Chocolate Lily. chocolate lily

We did it!

Ceramic Tile Murals Tell the History of a Tampa Neighborhood

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

Mural I

handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic wall tile by Natalie Blake     handmade, sgraffito-carved, ceramic wall tile by Natalie Blake 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 Natalie says, "It is so awesome to make clay tiles.  As I move into making public art, I appreciate more and more that my ceramic tile murals can be part of the story-telling.  The tactile quality of my carved tiles means that the viewer can appreciate the work through several senses.  I love the permanence of tile too.  The mural not only relays the history, but becomes part of the history as well.  It's an art form that we shouldn't lose." In a playful moment, Natalie carved a replica of the Encore development into the third mural. Then, on the wall that lines the development she carved a little sun, the recurring element in each mural.   You'll find her signature in the lefthand corner of the second (middle) mural.   handmade, carved, ceramic tile by Natalie Blake Natalie Blake carving ceramic tile wall art IMG_0520 After months of carving, glazing and firing 120, 18" x 18"  tiles, we were ready to begin the installation. Nick Marchese, Natalie Blake Studios' installer, and Alan, his assistant, drove the tiles to Tampa to begin the job. The installation got off to a rocky start as Nick and Alan were delayed by rain and thunderstorms for the first two days. But after a few fitful starts the project got rolling.  They prepped the concrete walls by scoring them (slightly scraping the concrete surface so that the tiles would adhere better).
Trio at Encore development

Before: The concrete walls onto which the murals would be mortared.

After a week Natalie flew down to relieve Alan. By that time many tiles had been mortared to the concrete walls and the mood on the site was much better! Nick used the ultimate thin set for porcelain and glass tiles.  The mortar is so strong that it is used for tiling swimming pools. In fact, a crew of workmen who were installing a swimming pool on site, came by to watch Nick work and were impressed with his choice of mortar.  After admiring the mortar (as tilers will!) they hung around to admire the murals too.

Nick installing tiles

installing ceramic tile murals Natalie Blake Studios The work site quickly became a hub of colorful activity. Natalie and Nick (and all other workers on the development site) had to wear bright, fluorescent shirts and hardhats for safety. The murals themselves were glazed in rich colors and the concrete walls around the murals were stained in lush orange, blue and purple.
Natalie on the work site

Natalie on the work site

Nick not only installed the tiles, but also created a beautiful "frame" of stained concrete around each mural. First he applied a deep orange acid stain to the entire concrete wall.  Then he and Natalie went back and, with small sponges, dabbed on a soy-based stain in blues and purples. This "faux finish" look was then sealed with a soy-based product that created a beautiful sheen. He and Natalie were very happy with the results.
handmade, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake

Nick staining the concrete walls

handmade, ceramic tile wall art by Natalie Blake

Nick staining the concrete wall

There were other visitors to the work site: Three older Black women who lived in one of the apartment buildings in the complex dropped by one day and told Natalie that they'd grown up in the neighborhood. So Natalie invited them to look at one of the murals.  Natalie heard them laughing as they peeked under the protective tarp at the tiles.  They were traveling down "Memory Lane" as they saw Natalie's depictions of historical events from their lives. Then one of the women, her hand raised as if in a High Five, exclaimed to Natalie, "Memories!"  For Natalie this was the most special moment of the installation. Natalie and Nick also received kudos from representatives of the Bank of America (a major funder) and the Tampa Housing Authority. "It's greater than my expectations," said David from the Tampa Housing Authority. Melissa LeBaron, Tampa's Public Arts Coordinator, also dropped by and was so relieved to see that the last box of tiles had arrived safely from Vermont. (the backstory is that some of the tiles had cracked during the firing process--due to a bad batch of clay--and the studio staff were hard at work remaking those tiles in order to get them to Nick for the installation) Natalie and Nick really enjoyed their time in Tampa. For the most part the weather was beautiful, though quite hot! Because the sun beat full blast on their job site starting at about 1 pm everyday, they began work at 7.
dawn on the job

Driving at dawn to the job site

As Natalie says, "We were honored to be part of this amazing project to revitalize this important neighborhood. There's so much history here; the ancestors are watching and waiting to see how it will all turn out.  We made our own offering to the ancestors; with the leftover mortar and grout Nick made his "heavy hearts" and we put them in special locations. Now, it is up to the residents to breathe new life into this neighborhood.  We trust they will."
concrete sculpture by Nick Marchese

Nick's "Heavy Heart"

Watch this video clip of the unveiling of the murals:   Screen Shot 2014-08-26 at 4.06.50 PM The Gift of Gathered Remembrances, I, II, III
handmade, carved, ceramic wall art tile by Natalie Blake Studios

Gift of Gathered Remembrances, I

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

Gift of Gathered Remembrances, II

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

Gift of Gathered Remembrances, III

Musings on our Tampa public art grant…

  Natalie writes:   Coming to work and seeing Elliot mixing mortar to thin-set the backs of our 18" x 18", like we are really about to install these murals for the community to see in Tampa, Florida!
mortaring the backs of handmade, ceramic tile

We apply mortar to the backs of the undulating tiles to create a level surface for thin setting the tiles to the walls

  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 in their cultural identity because of their daily remembrance and reverence towards their ancestors. This project has been my humble attempt to gather some of this neighborhood's memories and to give them back in these 3 murals.   Capturing memories and retelling stories is a gift, for the teller, and for those who "listen".
handsculpted, carved, ceramic tile by Natalie Blake

Ray with piano, detail of larger mural

handsculpted, carved, ceramic tile by Natalie Blake

Ink Spots

Who would have thought that after years of making vessels, I would have embarked on a journey of making ceramic wall tile--and large, sgraffito-carved, tile murals, at that!   I don't consider myself a drawer, not even a carver, but somehow I have found myself doing a lot of that, albeit on my favorite medium: clay.  I'm thrilled to be creating beauty for people to hold onto. What's incredible about this particular journey of gathering the remembrances of a people together, is that I get to make beauty that is for not only a wider audience, but a specific community, one that has struggled, overcome, undaunted, blossomed and survived.
Now, on to loading another kiln with tiles……….we begin installing next week!
Natalie Blake loading a kiln with handmade, ceramic art tile

Natalie loading the Tampa tiles into the glaze kiln

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:
Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 10.57.24 AM
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.   tampasketch2    
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