About the Artist:
Imaginings from Nature, the new exhibition at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, is a compilation of whimsical and wild narratives by local ceramic artist Katia McGuirk. Walk into the earthy, storybook dreamscapes of McGuirk’s forest-like animal figurines. Sparrows, owls, squirrels, and rabbits scamper across PMG’s walls; clay flowers climb up from the floor; trees lure viewers, offering carefully-crafted leaves and apples. View all of these critters and sip on the forbidden fruit of some grapes (in a cool glass of wine!) at the free opening reception on Friday, July 12 from 6:00 – 9:00PM.
In the spirit of bricolage mosaic-making, McGuirk, a Doylestown resident, employs a diverse range of found objects and handmade materials to assemble these panel mosaics and large, site-specific installations –the exhibition will feature more than 50 hand-made original works. McGuirk’s intuitive exploration of objects utilizes clay, tile, glass, stone, and metal, producing playful and nature-inspired assemblages that embody the energetic spirit of past, present, and future tile makers.
Henry Chapman Mercer, influential founder of the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown at the turn of the twentieth century, recognized how stories could be told through the local deposits of red clay. Mercer was a great inspiration to McGuirk; his own tile stories depicted fantastic stories of cannibalism, the legend of Blue Beard, and the discovery of the New World, to name a few.
Imaginings from Nature includes texts by national and international tile experts Vance Koehler and Joseph Taylor. Koehler, an Independent Curator, Tile Scholar, and expert on Mercer, explains,
Nature and the narrative formed an essential part of [Mercer’s] clay work. This practice has become a contemporary expression of ceramists, creating symbolic or secretive ways to explore nature. The work is often more complex than it appears on the surface, perhaps revealing a dark edge beneath a whimsical facade. McGuirk and other contemporary ceramists in Bucks County have followed a rich tradition that evolved from the useful, everyday wares of the early pioneers –cups, bowls, plates – to the highly fanciful and fantastic of today.
Taylor, President and Co-founder of the Tile Heritage Foundation, explains that “clay tiles have evolved to a medium through which we can observe and interpret the story of civilization.”
Through her playful presentation at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, Katia McGuirk embodies the connectivity and collective spirit of tile enthusiasts from the past, present, and future. Her expertise continually “connects the dots” between the tile industry’s narrative transformations from artistic vision to tangible object.
About Katia McGuirk
Katia McGuirk is a life-long tile enthusiast, artist and educator. McGuirk began her love affair with ceramics by attending the Rhode Island School of Design. By 1981, she founded a new company, Fountain St. Tileworks, launching her career as an art tile maker in Newport, Rhode Island.
In the late 1980s, McGuirk moved to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, to work at the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works as a Production Ceramicist and later, as the Production Manager. There she honed her talents, utilizing the traditional tile production methods of founder Henry Chapman Mercer. After a few years, McGuirk established a successful ceramics business of her own, Katia McGuirk Tile Company, and was welcomed as an Artist-in-Residence in Pennsylvania and New Jersey Schools.
Today, McGuirk has created more than twenty-five public and community-built murals. She currently serves as a Teaching Artist and the Artist-in-Residence at the Village of Arts and Humanities. Her tiles can be found in boutique showrooms and homes across the country. An experienced educator, designer, practitioner, and philosopher of the arts, McGuirk utilizes a mid-century factory in Doylestown located near the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works. The factory features her manufacturing shop, a lively educational facility and a quaint gallery showcasing the work of contemporary tile artists -- a distinguished “tile hub” of Bucks County.
Katia McGuirk embodies the connectivity and collective spirit of tile enthusiasts from the past, present, and future. Her expertise continually “connects the dots” between the tile industry’s narrative transformations from artistic vision to tangible object.
As a leading visionary of community driven art Katia McGuirk has been sharing her gift of collaboration and improvisation with locally and internationally based initiatives for over 30 years to work toward the achievement of positive social change.
OWNER/DESIGNER/ARTIST, Katia Tiles; Doylestown, PA — 1981 - Present
An independently operating original handmade tile and mosaic production company.
Leads individual and group ceramic class instruction at local production facility, The Mill
Hosts workshops that explore a variety of different ceramic/mosaic processes and techniques
Offers open studio Clay Dates
Designs, Manufactures and Installs ceramic tiles
Exhibits and sells in showrooms and galleries nationwide
Reboot Stories,Wish for the Future January 2013
Facilitated workshops in NYC Charter Schools
University of the Arts; Philadelphia, PA - Spring 2013
Teaches a course in mosaic and tile making at the Professional Institute for Educators
Village of Arts and Humanities; Philadelphia, PA - Fall 2011 - Present
Director and teaching artist of the Village Clay Workshop. Developed a sustainable art program for at risk and underserved youths.
Artists in Residence (A.I.R.); Bucks County, PA - 1995 - Present
A non-profit organization dedicated to fulfilling its mission of exposing children to the arts by bringing professional visual, performing and literary artists to regional schools.
Develop and teach various ceramic workshops to children (3 - 18 years) in local area schools
Design and facilitate the creation of over 25 mosaic projects and murals
Work with school administrators,teachers, and parent organizations to create lasting installations
Provide mentorship to local high school students through the Central Bucks School District Work Experience Program
TEACHING ARTIST, Arts for the Manor; Bucks County, PA — 2002 - Present
A non-profit organization that provides therapeutic art programming for residents at a county run long-term care facility.
Delivers dynamic art programming to people suffering with dementia and higher functioning divisions; reaching over 15% of resident population
Offers cross-generational workshops to help build meaningful bridges between grandparents, parents and children
Provides staff with alternative ways to interact with residents thus opening new doors and expanding the environment
Building a permanent resident driven mural that tells a story, beautifies an outdoor space, and serves as an interactive therapeutic tool
Awarded a grant for services provided to dementia population
PROGRAM DEVELOPER, Seeds for Tomorrow; Doylestown, PA — 2010 - Present
A Buddhist based 501c dedicated to shape a brighter future for children whose lives are impacted by the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
COMMUNITY BUILT ARTIST, Travis Manion Foundation; Doylestown, PA — 2009 - Present
The Foundation’s mission is to assist our nation’s veterans and the families of Fallen Heroes. To serve the community and country by fostering strength of mind and body to create a generation of future leaders.
Freedom Square is a community built mosaic project that transformed an outdoor space in Doylestown; to honor service to the nation and reflect upon sacrifices for our unity and freedom
Facilitated workshops with many community organizations and national groups including T.A.P.S. (Tragedy Assistance Programs for Survivors), C.B. Cares, Girls Scouts of America, and local parents of the fallen
Installed ceramic tile to create Freedom Square mosaics
BOARD MEMBER, Tile Heritage Foundation; U.S.A — 2010 - Present
A non-profit charitable organization, dedicated to promoting an awareness, appreciation, historical perspective of tile and tile installations. The Foundation is involved with the preservation of ceramic surfaces while also enhancing the visibility of contemporary tile works.
Spearheaded Clay in the Community and Classroom ,an outreach that provides tile industry training tools as well as classroom educational resources for keeping the craft alive
Worked on all aspects of collaborative national juried art show with Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens in March 2010
Fragments ,Shards and Pieces , City Hall ,Philadelphia , Pa.Spring 2015
For Every Season Tile,Tile,Tile Bucks County Historical Society;Fonthill Museum Doylestown, Pa -Fall 2014
Mosaic Arts International 2014 Houston,Tx. International art exhibition group show
Imaginings from Nature, Philadelphia Magic Gardens; Philadelphia, PA- Summer 2013
A solo exhibit
The Woods are Calling, Bucks County Historical Society; Fonthill Museum, Doylestown, PA- Spring 2013
Tell Tale Tiles and Fractured Fantasies, Philadelphia Magic Gardens; Philadelphia PA- Spring 2010
Galaxy Art Show, Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA); Bucks County, PA- 2000 - Present
A non-profit that provides support, counseling and works to empower victims of sexual assault and other serious crimes. Endeavoring to eliminate and prevention programs.
- yearly participant in art show whose proceeds benefit NOVA
Affiliations AND Associations
COMMUNITY BUILT ASSOCIATION, Member
A not-for-profit association of professionals who are involved in all aspects of the community build field. The organization was formed to provide a network for such professionals and to offer information, education and training to the general public.
MOSIAC SOCIETY OF PHILADELPHIA, Member
An organization that enthusiastically promotes awareness, appreciation and practice of mosaic art in the Philadelphia area through education and community outreach.
PHILADELPHIA MAGIC GARDENS, Member
An organization that preserves the artwork of Isaiah Zagar and educates the public about mosaic and folk art. By making art accessible, PMG seeks to foster civic engagement, community beautification, and artistic collaboration.
SOCIETY OF AMERICAN MOSAIC ARTISTS, Member
A non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring and promoting excellence in mosaic arts.
HANDMADE TILE ASSOCIATION, Member
A diverse group of independent members and volunteers, including handmade tile and mosaic artists, tile historians, tile setters, tile showrooms and galleries, tile organizations, material suppliers, educators, design services, and tile related fields all across the United States.
MORAVIAN POTTERY AND TILE WORKS, Member, former Production Manager
A national Historic Landmark, maintained as a “working history” museum by Pennsylvania’s County of Bucks, Department of Parks and Recreation.
NEW HOPE ARTS, Member
New Hope Arts is dedicated to furthering the heritage of New Hope as a center for art and artists. New Hope Arts supports artists by fostering opportunities and providing space to create, collaborate and present their work.
I'm a Bucks County studio artist/maker with a solid practice for over three decades, balancing the imaginal and practical sides of my relationship to clay with a functional and decorative application. I am greatly influenced by the early 20th century Renaissance man Henry Mercer (tile maker, collector , builder , and leader of the Arts and Crafts movement). I continue to be intrigued by the man and his reinforced concrete buildings, especially his home that is encrusted with tile depicting stories of cannibalism, the legend of Blue Beard, the discovery of the New World, and the fiction of Charles Dickens' “Pickwick Papers” to name a few.
Breaking the Mold: Katia McGuirk Inspires Communities Through Art
by Erinn Fortson
When I reach Katia McGuirk through phone, early on a Thursday evening, she is driving back from Newport, Rhode Island. She attended the town’s folk festival, and was still marveling about this year’s impressive lineup and overall aesthetic atmosphere.
“I’ve been going maybe for like 20 years. It has changed so much and I love that it’s just this indie thing [and] blend now, and that there’s so many young vibrant people [there]. All the hipsters,” laughs McGuirk. “It’s not just old heads.”
It’s surprising that McGuirk was able to get away from her busy schedule. She’s like most artists: always creating new things. From running her own tile business, to her work with the residents of Neshaminy Manor, McGuirk is typically involved in several different projects at once.
Being one of 15 children, raised on a farm in Maryland, McGuirk says her rural upbringing is what helped her master the art of multitasking. McGuirk was able to detect similarities between the two trades and she credits her background as being the reason she can juggle so much at one time.
“A farmer’s work is never done,” says McGuirk. “If people think farmers plant in the spring and harvest in the fall, negative. It’s a continuum. You’re doing something all the time. Your work is never done. And that is just drilled in your head. There’s not a beginning, middle, and end.
“Go figure, I choose clay,” continues McGuirk. “And it’s the same [as farming]. Clay, just like the weather, just like the seed, just like the season, shapes what you’re going to do. And there’s so many hand processes. Everything you make [with clay consists], minimum, of six to seven processes by the time you turn it out. So, I just think it’s like farming. I was perfectly prepped.”
Originally, McGuirk entertained the idea of becoming an architect or interior designer during her studies at Rhode Island School of Design. After taking a painting class, however, she quickly learned that she liked the idea and craft of making things. That eventually led McGuirk to clay.
From her work with clay came the draw to tile making. After discovering Doylestown artist and designer, Henry Chapman Mercer, McGuirk became inspired to produce her own unique tile, in a similar style. Like Mercer, McGuirk hand makes her products, going through a multitude of steps before a creation is finished. Katia McGuirk Tile Company(KatiaTiles) is the space where these processes take place.
“I was already making tiles when I found out about Henry Mercer,” explains McGuirk. “[Discovering his work] was cool because he was bringing the dignity in labor, back in the Industrial Age. He was one of the granddaddies of the Arts and Crafts Movement, which was keeping the “hand” in the handmade look.”
Over the last decade, the tile industry has undergone major changes. With the decline of the economy, the rise in technology, and market competition from countries like China and Mexico, McGuirk soon found herself interested in creating her work through a different platform.
Being able to share art within communities is something she is passionate about, which is what more or less led McGuirk to teaching. Working with young persons is an especially rewarding job for McGuirk. For the last four years, McGuirk has become more involved with Philadelphia youth through her work at the Village of Arts and Humanities. She is involved in a few of the organization’s programs such as Villages(Village) Industries and SPACE(not Spaces,but Learning through the Arts)
“One of my mentors, Lily Yeh, who is a pioneer and well-known artist now, goes around the world and heals communities and empowers people through the arts. She’s the one who planted the seed 26 years ago for [the Village of Arts and Humanities],” explains McGuirk. “[The Village] has about 15 art parks and we offer art programs for the underserved and at-risk(I do prefer Inner city youth instead of…underse…risk). I think we’re the only free art programming in 250 square blocks of where we are.”
The Village has been around for 26 years and has proven to make a difference. The types of programs available range from fashion to spoken work to music production. A few years ago, McGuirk was asked four to reinvigorate the clay studio at the village. Teaching art is as important to McGuirk as creating it. Over the years, it has been a rewarding journey for her.
“I had one counselor (Instead Can we say ,”A guidance Counselor…) at Central Bucks West High School who used to send me kids either through a program or not through a program (can we cut the through a program….program)[because she thought I could make a difference in their lives]. And when I get [the students’] testimonials like 20 years later, when they call me and they’re like, you changed my life, you showed me how to use power tools, it makes me happy. I do love that.”(LIKE maybe too many likes… can I paraphrase to “It feels great to hear from former students,years later, express their gratitude for making a difference in their lives”)
Like her hero, Henry Mercer,(Mercers legacy lives on , he has been dead for years) McGuirk resides in Doylestown with her family. As she has done in Philadelphia and several other places, McGuirk continues to empower her own community through similar powerful projects.
Freedom Square is a pocket park in the Bucks County neighborhood that was created to remember and honor (not just local but all who serve) local fallen heroes, Colby Umbrell and Travis Manion. Both men were killed while serving in Iraq.
“I ended up working with these(these) two mothers who were working through the grief of losing their sons,” says McGuirk. “We were trying to create a space, a little pocket park, where there would be a wall of remembrance and a call to enter the arena and lead from the front.”
Freedom Square is continuously being built upon, with McGuirk helping to complete phase three (four)of the park by September 11th of this year.
Her projects don’t end here. McGuirk’s drive is unwavering. She always has a lot on her plate, but that never stops her from taking on the next challenge. Reaching people through art is a 24/7 job and McGuirk is up for the task.
“I’ve just always been one of those open people and opportunity has always come my way,” says McGuirk. “I always follow my heart.”
Birthplace: Baltimore , Md.