Maggie Curtis produces a variety of architectural ceramics, including custom-built ridge tiles, capitals, garden sculpture, embossed tiles and friezes.
Maggie started off as an art teacher with a side business as a studio potter. She was first exposed to architectural ceramics in 2000, when she needed to replace roof tiles on her own home. Her builder, knowing she did ceramics, suggested she make some of her own replacement tiles.
Some of Maggie’s work includes of ceramic “ridge tiles” – decorative sculptures that sit atop a tile bridging the two sloping angles of a building roof. Maggie sent me a video showing how she builds these ceramic pieces. In the video, Maggie creates a dragon sitting atop a rooftop ridge tile. Her process is confident and effortless – clearly the result of years of experience. First, Maggie forms a rooftop tile foundation by laying a thick clay slab across a wooden frame. Using coils of clay, she starts building the shape of a dragon perched upon the ridge tile.
Maggie builds expands and builds up the form using similar methods, roughing in the basic shape of the dragon.
Once the basic shapes are defined, Maggie then adds detail, starting with the face but working out to wings & feet.
When the sculpture is complete, Maggie carves it into sections, evens out the thickness of the clay walls, and then reassembles the sculpture before drying and firing.
Here are a few images from Maggie’s website of rooftop ridge tiles that she’s completed for clients. They are wonderful, imaginative and playful architectural details custom-built to the specifications of her customers. I absolutely love these things!
Maggie has also created different types of architectural ceramics. For example, she created a commemorative plaque for a the Appledore Rail Station in England.
These photographs illustrate Maggie’s creative process in building the Appledore Rail Station plaque. You’ll see that after designing and building the large piece, she cut it into smaller pieces for firing, reassembling those fired pieces on-site.
What’s not evident is the research she conducted for this plaque. Maggie told me that she worked closely with historians and railroad enthusiasts to research the specific locomotive details for the type of trains that ran on this particular rail line.
Maggie was also commissioned to produce several terracotta “Trade Maps” for a commemorative monument in the port of Bideford, England. She again conducted extensive research on the 16th and 17th century maritime trade centered in Bideford for the final Trade Map plaques.
Maggie sculpted stories of people, cargo and ships in the terracotta clay for this commission.
The port of Bideford was a major English shipbuilding and trading center during the American colonial period. Products transported in and out of Bideford include tobacco; salt cod; sugar; rum and timber in exchange for essential supplies such as woollen cloth, rope and tools; craftsmen; shipwrights; emigrants; convicts and indentured servants. Interestingly, local Bideford pottery was also a big export to the Americas. Six potteries were needed to supply domestic and decorated slipware, and examples of Bideford pottery have been excavated in Virginia, New England and Newfoundland.
Detail on the Trade Map plaques is impressive, again reflecting Maggie’s work with local historians. The Fellowship, for example, was Bideford-built in 1630, jointly owned by George Shurt and John Strange, who were sending ships to Newfoundland, and later established trading links with colonies in Virginia and New England. Cargo included earthenware pottery sent to the American colonies.
Maggie subsequently published a book that describes some of the ships and cargos memorialized in the Trade Map plaques. It’s fascinating, and adds interesting color to a somewhat sanitized view of colonial America taught to US students. Take Maggie’s description of the ship “Henrietta,” as an example:
Owned by Philip Greenslade, the “Henrietta” [is shown] shipping earthenware to Virginia, Maryland and Barbados. Also part of the outgoing cargoes were emigrants, indentured servants and convicts. Craftsmen were in great demand, not least ship builders. Bedfordian John Smith built at least two 200-ton ships in 1696 on the Chester river, Chesapeake Bay: the “Entrepot” and the “John.”
From 1708 to 1714, emigrants from wealthy families were attracted by the prospect of increasing their trade and acquiring land, and their servants were encouraged to join them by having their passage paid. The Transportation Act was intended to deter criminal activities by sentencing those convicted of even petty crimes to transportation to the colonies, where they would provide free labour to the colonists. Shipping merchants received 5 Pounds for each convict taken. Bideford was a favoured port where George Buck alone took 16 shiploads of convicts [to the American colonies] between 1726 and 1743.
Maggie posts additional information and resources related to the Trade Maps on her website.