10,000 Square Feet of Tile A Year? Only At Motawi

Guest Article by Alexandra Fisher

What started out as a studio in a two-car garage has now turned into one of the country’s largest Art Tile manufacturing companies and we have Nawal Motawi to thank for it. I had the pleasure of talking with her about the business, where she’s been and what the future holds and let me tell you, I’m not sure when this woman sleeps.

After attending the University of Michigan School of Art where she studied ceramics and figurative sculpture she went straight to work as an assistant at Pewabic Pottery. But she always had that entrepreneurial drive so she hit the streets, the Ann Arbor Farmers Market to be exact, to sell some of her own work on the side. She soon realized that her design potential wasn’t going to get tapped if she stayed with Pewabic and her love was really in installation work so, in 1992, after some help from her parents to get the garage studio together, she had her kilns’ first firing.

The rest is pretty much history. She eventually outgrew her humble beginnings and, after acquiring a hydrolic press to help with part of her tiling process, and spending a couple of years in a ramshackle building for rent, was able to spread out into her very own building in 2001 — and that’s where she’s stayed.

As far as her work is concerned, it’s tough to find anything comparable. Her earlier design inspiration was, for the most part, based on medieval motifs from the United Kingdom as well as some Celtic designs she had always been drawn to. But she was soon exposed to the history of American Art Tile after a trip to the Tile Heritage Foundation Symposium a few years later. “That’s when I became interested in Arts & Crafts tiles”, she told me. “I really saw the roots of what I was working in.” She was particularly drawn to the polychromatic style of tile making and first introduced it through Motawi in a tile collection based on the “Pines” motif by Grueby. Motawi’s version is pictured below. “This particular collection really opened up the gift tile market for us.” And along with installations of fireplaces, kitchen back splashes and floors like the one pictures above, Nawal is keeping her staff of 30 quite busy.

As for any up and coming tile makers we should keep our eyes on? Nawal’s not sharing. “We have a slight stranglehold on our design staff”, she joked. But in all actuality most of them just stick around. “We have a very high level of craftsmanship and our workplace flows seamlessly.” “It’s a delight.”

Motawi is, indeed, a deligh. Be sure to visit their studio, especially if you’re there on a Thursday because they offer free tours at 11am. Don’t miss it! For more information on Motawi please visit their website at www.motawi.com