Apr. 21, 2010
My name is Lindsey, and I am the new marketing intern recently added to the Fireclay Tile team. As part of my initial training and orientation to the company, myself and another new employee were invited to spend a day working in the company's factory to get a better understanding and appreciation of the company (Visit Date: Thursday, April 8th, 2010). I wanted to share my unique and exciting experience making tile.
Off Highway CA-129 lies the small charming community of Aromas located within the counties of Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Cruz (aka the Tri County Area). Tucked off a side road in this beautiful countryside is Fireclay Tile’s factory. As you drive down the modest dirt driveway onto the property, wild flowers such as suckles and ice plants abundantly bloom on each side of the driveway. I am awestruck by the luscious green pastures and mountains that surround me.
Upon arrival, we are greeted by Office & Production Manager, Mayra and a fresh brew of coffee. After completing a tour of the facilities and introductions to all 12 dedicated crew members, we wasted no time getting our hands dirty- no pun intended. As one can imagine, it is quite dusty and it should be noted that when working with ceramics, it is not wise to wear the color black, unless one wears the dust as a badge of honor, like myself!
The first task of the day involved removing, stacking, and inspecting tiles that had been fired in the kiln. We unloaded heavily stacked trays full of tiles from one pallet to another, organizing and inspecting each piece of tile for quality control one by one. Minute flaws and variations were deemed unacceptable and unusable for the order. Everyday the ceramists are challenged with the nearly impossible task of duplicating highly specialized and individually unique tile. Through meticulous and highly complex techniques, Fireclay workers have this sustainable form of art down to a science. Every single Fireclay employee is committed to using sustainable, recycled materials, and manufacturing practices, applying this same due diligence to ensuring quality control. Fireclay's Debris & Vitrail Series both contribute to LEED credits as well (LEED Rating Sytems Information).
From glazing dried bisque, to extruding slabs of clay from the assembly line onto drying racks, we attempted to complete what looked to be easy processes. We were sadly mistaken about these intensely laborious tasks. Lunchtime could not have come sooner.
At 2PM, a mandatory break was taken by all employees. In a cleared gravel area behind one of the buildings, the entire Aromas crew (me included) divided into teams to play a quick game of soccer. Having played soccer my entire life, I could not have asked for a better afternoon treat. Besides an exhilarating soccer match, the highlight of our day came when we were given the opportunity to sit down with Rosa, a skilled artist, and hand paint Cuerda Seca tiles. The words Cuerda Seca come from an old saying, "to resist." This technique originated in Persia and made its way to California via Spain, and was adopted by many potteries in southern and northern California in the 1920's. Each tile has a painted wax line barrier to keep the glaze from running together during the kiln firing process. Once these outline designs are drawn on the tile, the glaze is then applied to the appropriate places with a syringe. Each intricately designed piece took us about 45 minutes to paint. This is a task that requires steady hands and meticulous attention to detail. Our last job of the day involved kneading and hand-stamping pieces of clay to create tile designs, as you can see in the photos below.
The dedicated, hardworking Fireclay staff embraced and appreciated our feverish attempts to assist in production. I have a new found appreciation for tile manufacturing, and commend and respect the workers for all of their hard work. I cannot wait to go back and have a rematch with the boys in soccer.