Stained in sepia tones and washed in soft muted colors, the carved relief tiles of Barbara Schmidt speak of a time when fairy tales, myths and nursery rhymes were the predominant literature offered to children. The characters Schmidt carves in porcelain include the richly imagined forest creatures of Beatrix Potter, the fierce dragons of King Arthur’s court, grim hungry wolves and strong Greek heroines. Schmidt is inspired by 19th century versions of classic children’s literature with illustrations that give visual dimension to the beloved tales. She absorbs the essence of the illustration and deftly sculpts a three dimensional homage. Each porcelain tile is hand pressed, carved, glazed and stained. The brown Mason stain she uses imparts a restrained palette of vintage hues reminiscent of a woodcut.
Always determined to be an artist, Schmidt’s professional life took a different path as she began a demanding career as an enforcement attorney. Her artistic spirit was kept alive by taking classes and drawing daily while commuting to work on the train. In 2000 she finally realized her dream to become a full-time artist.
Schmidt vividly remembers listening as her mother read her fairy tales. She was both captivated and scared by the drawings. “These classic illustrations that frightened me and inspired me and drew me in as a child still retain their power over me as an adult.” The illustrators she loved as a child, Beatrix Potter, Walter Crane, William De Morgan and Arthur Rackham, emerged as the catalysts for her tile art. The original drawings are edited, refined and sculpted in relief. A Peter Rabbit tile retains a mischievous charm, while the Danae tile (from Greek mythology) shows the terrified young mother saving her infant son, Perseus.
In a departure from classic literature, Schmidt was recently enticed by her husband (who was designing Om tiles) to create a Yoga series. Experimenting with Indian fabric stamps, she found the traditional designs “breathtakingly beautiful.” Fabric stamp and mehndi (henna body painting) designs and the Om tiles became the basis for the collection. Her intricate Lotus Hand tile won a 2010 Coverings Select Award in the Artisan Tile/Stone category, auspicious recognition for this new direction.
Schmidt admits that Peter Rabbit will forever hold a favored place in her heart. Just as her mother read Peter Rabbit to her, she read Peter Rabbit to her own daughter. “I like the continuity of tradition, the beauty of the illustrations, and the instant gratification they give most people.” Peter, who is well aware of the dangers of Mr. McGregor’s garden as well as the soporific effect of lettuce, remains an enchanting legacy in brass buttons and handcrafted tile.