Braddock Tiles will be a community based artisanal micro-factory located in a formerly abandoned church in North Braddock Pennsylvania whose first venture will be to hand produce the 20,000 beautifully colored ceramic tiles needed to give its landmark structure a new roof.
A project initiated by the artist Swoon, the Braddock Tile factory will be a part of a larger context of neighborhood-based art making taking place in this once blighted section of North Braddock.
The building, upon restoration to full capacity, will become the seat of an arts focused learning and resource center, and, a museum of the possible in the shell of something once left behind.
The tile factory aims to produce beautiful architectural tiles, to provide small scale employment and craft training to residents in the Braddock and North Braddock area (an area that has lost 80 percent of it’s population due to the collapse of it’s large scale industry), and to facilitate in the creative restoration of a space that will become a source of pride, wonderment, and cultural nourishment for the neighbors that help re-create it.
Swoon will be working in partnership with resident artist collective Transformazium, resident ceramicist KT Tierney, and a team of 12 locally hired and trained ceramic tile makers in this effort to restore craft and beauty to the daily life of one small corner of North Braddock.
Q. Why build a whole factory? Why not just buy the tiles?
Swoon: We looked into some options for colorful custom ceramic tiles, and the cheapest place we found was in China. The idea of shipping tiles all the way from China seemed unsustainable in a way that reaffirmed our inspiration to make them ourselves. And for me, here is the real answer: When I was a little girl my step dad was a house painter, and we when would drive around town and point at buildings he had painted, I thought it was some kind of miracle, and that he was the coolest. I’d like people in Braddock to be able to point up to the new roof of the church and say to their kids, “I made that”, and for their kids to ohh and ahh with wonder.
Q. Why Braddock?
Swoon: Braddock and North Braddock are towns that used to be supported by a booming steel industry. When the industry moved, the jobs dried up, and the towns lost 80-90 percent of their population.
I am not from Braddock, and I only live for part of the year there, but I am deeply, and long-term committed to making something great grow and thrive there.
Collaborator and friend Leslie Stem became interested in the town as a place to farm and live in a relatively small community. I went along to see what it was all about, and soon we were asked if we would want to put our creative efforts toward saving an otherwise to-be-demolished 1900’s Lutheran church. We thought long and hard, and talked to many of our closest friends and collaborators, and decided that Braddock was a place that we could set down roots.
It soon became apparent that our work in this one particular steel town in rust belt America was connected to efforts all over the country to make sense of the loss that these places have suffered.
My hope is to do real and good work in Braddock – and for every step of the process to create new realms of possibility.