Eastern Earthenware from clé Artisanal Tiles

Artisan tile maker Deborah Osburn has met her Asian match.

The newest contributor to clé is creating tiles of Osburn’s design and shipping them to the states.

“She reminds me a little of myself – she’s got a lot of curiosity,” Osburn says. “Her family has made tiles for generations – and she’s interested in all of it.”

That’s worked out well, despite a language barrier, for clé’s newest line of tile made in the Raku manner. She calls them Eastern Earthenware.

“I said at some point that I was trying to find tile out of Morocco, like the crude terracotta that Asians make for roof tiles and clay pots and urns,” she says. “It’s not a refined art – it’s utilitarian, and an uncomplicated glaze.”

After Osburn spoke with her Asian counterpart, she began doing research and the two went back and forth for three years.

“I was conveying a crude tile with nuances, trying to communicate a Raku firing, where you just bring the wares out and cool it quickly so the oxidation’s not doing things to the glaze,” she says. “So now she’s doing a quick firing and cools it quickly for magnificent variations.”

Eastern Earthenware is a collection of tiles in yellows, reds, pinks, browns, blacks and blues, each shipment varying in hues of other colors in them. “There’s a variety of color in a Raku sensibility – and she has that and she’s developing more colors like lavenders and purples and more,” she says. “It’s still in its infancy.”

Osburn is using a tone she calls “Sacred River” for a bath in her own home. “It’s a gorgeous shade of teal but with a gray tone and browns and even a little hint of black,” she says. “I had to take them into consideration – for minimal, modern applications and for intimations of nature and texture.”

They’re tricky to develop – but her Asian artisan is on it. “Once she got what it was that I’m about, she got it,” she says.

And what she’s about is a rare kind of complicated simplicity – one that shines through in all of clé’s offerings.

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