Germantown tile artist is a finalist in ‘Martha Stewart American Made’ competition

 (L-R) Production manager Rachel Sooy and art director Karen Singer stand behind the press where clay is flattened in their studio on East Church Lane in Germantown. (Lauren Gruber/for NewsWorks)

(L-R) Production manager Rachel Sooy and art director Karen Singer stand behind the press where clay is flattened in their studio on East Church Lane in Germantown. (Lauren Gruber/for NewsWorks)

At Karen Singer’s tile studio in Germantown, the network of glazed mosaic tiles interacts like a community. Each ceramic piece supports the others and creates a varied, more profound whole, much like how Singer and her team works with local partners, clients and communities.

That community connection, through online votes and Facebook shares, helped qualify Karen Singer Tileworks, Inc. as wildcard finalists in the “Martha Stewart American Made” awards competition.

The contest honors localized makers, small-business owners and creative entrepreneurs in the craft, design, food and style industries.

The entry came after Lisa Longo, the general manager, insisted they apply.

“It’s exciting that people got excited about spreading the word about what we do,” said Singer, the artistic director.

The backstory

The business began after Singer gained a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania in sculpture. She later fell in love with clay tiles.

In 1991, on the suggestion of friends, Singer reached out to non-profits and ended up with three commissions in four months.

Singer and her team are distinct from regular sculptors because of their use and interest in bas-relief, a sculpture on a flat backing that isn’t completely 3-D. Working with non-profits locally and nationally, they also use a mixture of 2-D and 3-D forms which help create scale and space.

“This is a tiny company,” she explained. “We have a national reputation within the small world of people who do fundraising for non-profits.”

Singer said that when her murals stand out, they build awareness and excitement about the non-profits’ image or mission..

“When you give them something that connects with how they feel about their [organization], it’s really powerful,” Singer said. “So, we started exploring this.”

The tile company also works with schools, hospitals and retirement homes and frequently teams with communities in and around Germantown like the PA School for the Deaf on West School House Lane. 

On the award itself

“To me, ‘American Made’ means creating things with local talent and local materials that harness creativity and create growth,” said Singer. “It’s about supporting local communities, keeping money spread within a local area and helping to improve where you are.

“I think that if you do that with grace and ethics, people want to support you. “

Singer cited the necessity of community interchange to find your best asset and determine where it can help people.

She has designs on expanding the tile business and nurturing other artists like she did with the production manager Rachel Sooy and draftsperson Gigi Arnone, now the only two other workers besides Longo and Singer.

A Germantown resident since 1983, Singer said she also wants to develop a historic-mural walking tour.

“My fantasy is they’d be worked on by neighborhood groups and residents,” she explained.

You can vote for Karen Singer Tileworks, Inc. up to six times a day until Oct. 13. Frequent voters are eligible for prizes.

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