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Ceramics – grounded in history

Ceramics is the oldest form of technology we have. After cooking meat, baking clay was the first thing that humans did to chemically alter our environment on purpose. You can’t make rice without cooking it in some kind of vessel, so clay pots go hand in hand with agriculture – our whole evolution is connected to it. There’s only a short period of history in which people haven’t been connected with pottery. There’s something incredibly grounding about an experience that connects you with the past like that. 
Tallie Maughan 

Sheila A. Menzies and Joseph A. Taylor of Tile Heritage Foundation noted in the first issue of TileLetter ARTISAN last year that the “earliest known example of decorative tiles is Egyptian from the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara (2668-2649 BCE).” But – perhaps not surprisingly – the mention of ceramics keeps showing up in my life!

In When the Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm, author, composer, frame drummer, filmmaker, writer, historian, educator and mythologist Layne Redmond traces the history of frame drumming back through the ages and changing cultural influences. In her exploration, she talks about the climate shifts and the beginnings of an agrarian, grain-based culture that began in the Mesolithic era – 10,000 – 8,000 B.C.E. in what is now Turkey. It was during this time that ceramics appeared, as women crafted vessels to hold and store grain. “…it wasn’t until the grain revolution that women put this ancient craft to practical use, creating cooking and storage vessels of fired clay,” Redmond wrote.

Archeologists place the very first ceramics as far back as 28,000 B.C.E., in China during the late Paleolithic period, and that practice spread through Japan and the Russian Far East. Though these ceramic pots, vessels and figurines are not tiles per se, learning how early ceramics appeared on our planet made me catch my breath, and appreciate anew what an amazing heritage those involved in the tile industry share – crafting useful and decorative items out of earth and water and pigment combined with heat. We have so much new technology that informs ceramic tile of today in terms of glazing and tile body composition and manufacturing equipment as well as setting materials and accessories. And yet at the heart, we are still grounded in the reality of these products as earth, water and fire – and artists and craftspeople who take these materials and make them into things of beauty and usefulness.

Check out some of these beautiful objects in our National Tile Day Projects Gallery, which demonstrate the breathtaking artistry that can result at the hands of artists and craftspeople.

A big difference – literally – between ceramics of today and of eons past is that today’s ceramics are HUGE. Gauged porcelain tile panels are becoming more commonplace. Bart Bettiga’s interview with Casavant Tile’s Eric Tetrault, explores Tetrault’s experience with these panels (he’s installed over 1,000 of them to date), and in the Technical story, we see how super-format tile can be a thing of beauty in itself. 

You’ve turned to his expertise for a range of topics – specifically discoloration in stone showers – now learn about how Pavlo Starykov of Star Tile & Stone LLC got his start in our industry and how his passion lights his way in his career. And in our Training and Education story, see how iQ Power Tools is supporting the Oregon-Columbia Tile Trades Training Trust in Portland, Ore., after a visit with Hawthorne Tile’s Dirk Sullivan during a stop on its War on Dust tour over the summer. 

LATICRETE’s Sean Boyle shares his wisdom and expertise in our Business story with his tile and stone consumption and construction outlook for 2022 (spoiler: it’s encouraging!!!). 

You can’t miss Bostik’s cover story and its discussion of its PanelTack™ chemical bonding system for façades at San Francisco’s Chase Center, home of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. This system, long employed in Europe, brings new options for large panel installs to U.S. shores. 

Thank you reader, for your participation in the tile industry in whatever role you hold – manufacturer, distributor, installer, contractor, artisan, sales person, technical rep – you name it. The legacy of ceramic that began so long ago has grown into a strong community that seeks to grow and improve this industry and the benefits it can offer to residential and commercial settings everywhere. 

God bless,
[email protected] 

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Editorial Director and Senior Writer for TileLetter and TileLetter ARTISAN

Lesley Goddin has been writing and journaling since her first diary at age 11. Her journey has taken her through a career in publishing and publicity, landing her the editor position of TileLetter and its special publications in 2006. Her goal is to educate, inspire, recognize and encourage those in the tile industry -- especially the tile and stone contractor.

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