One-on-One with Denise Siegel
March 1st, 2005


By Janet Arden
March-April 2005

Denise Siegel is an accomplished artist who has blended her love of bas relief, sculpture and bronze into a growing number of stunning tile designs marketed by her company, New Age Bronze Tile, Inc. In 2004, her 2″ bronze tile dots and 2″ by 12″ bronze liners were installed as accents in a slate floor and ceramic wall tile in the House Beautiful Makeover Show House in Glencoe, Illinois, and subsequently in the magazine. The look was stunning and served to underscore what Siegel already knew—the bronze accents are absolutely suited to stone and ceramic installations.

TileDealer recently talked with Siegel about her tile making process and its success in the marketplace.

TileDealer: How did you get started?

Siegel: I’ve always been an artist. About 12 years ago I had a dream about a big, empty house with nothing in it but a sculpture. I woke up and decided to take a sculpture class. As soon as I got into the clay, I knew it was what I wanted to do.

TileDealer: How did you get from sculpture to tile?

Siegel: I’ve been very focused on making a living as a sculptor. I work hard. You have to be very clear on your plan. I started with a few commissions referred by students. Then it just mushroomed. It occurred to me I could make a living as a tile sculptor. People doing a kitchen or bathroom wanted something wonderful to go in it. Bronze tile is more expensive but since the customer uses only a few for accents, it’s an affordable way of incorporating art into one of these rooms.

TileDealer: Why bronze?

Siegel: I’m not a ceramic artist and I don’t know anything about ceramic glazes. But, I have always been interested in bas relief, which is sculpture built up on a flat surface.

TileDealer: How do bronze tiles differ from ceramic tiles?

Siegel: You have to know how to get clay tile into bronze. Ceramic clay has zero-percent absorption, but sculpture clay, which I use, has a high rate—9-percent in the terra cotta, which I use. Rather than firing and glazing in the studio, I sculpt the clay to the finished design and it’s cast by a foundry.

TileDealer: How do you turn your bas relief design into the bronze tile?

Siegel: When the bas relief sculpture is complete, liquid rubber is poured over the tile to make a mold. After it sets and is removed from the sculpture, the mold is used to make a wax positive. The wax positive is stamped into sand; the space left by the stamp is filled with bronze. This casting is completed at a foundry. Once the casting is complete, the real work begins.

The piece must be sandblasted to clean it. The foundry does this for me. Next come the patina and burnishing. I always do this myself. I use liver of sulfur to achieve the patina on my pieces. You can use any chemical to react with the bronze. Liver of sulfur was used during the Renaissance and is the oldest, most traditional patina. Eventually it darkens and enriches the bronze. Then I burnish the bronze by rubbing it with a non-metallic scouring pad to even the patina and bring out the highlighted areas. Next I lacquer my pieces to maintain the look of the finish over time. Bronze has been without lacquer for centuries and can maintain its original look with minimal but regular care. However, the bronze will tend to “green.” This is not a look many homeowners want, especially if the tiles are being installed in a humid climate, kitchen backsplash, bathroom, outdoors, etc. Finally, the tiles are waxed and buffed. My staff in the studio helps with these last two steps.

TileDealer: Does the customer need to do anything to maintain the bronze tiles?

Siegel: Bronze is forever. It absolutely does not break. The tiles should be washed with mild soap and water—no additives like bleach or vinegar. They should be waxed yearly with simple butcher or paste wax.

TileDealer: How did you approach the marketplace with New Age Bronze Tile, Inc?

Siegel: I started with Materials Marketing. They fabricate high-end stone and tile in the Chicago area. They supplied the materials for the House Beautiful project and one of the designers on that project, Tony Stavish of A.J. Stavish Designs, used my tile. I also went to Ann Sacks Tile and Stone. It so happened that they were looking for someone to produce bronze tiles.

TileDealer: Your Foundry Masters line continues at Materials Marketing and your new Antiquity Bronze line of tiles and liners will debut this spring at Ann Sacks. How do these successes impact your studio?

Siegel: It’s volume and it’s just a question of getting more people in the studio to help me. I’ve spent the last three months setting up my studio and systems to do it. The New Bronze Age Tile continues to be all custom work. I’ve just finished an 18′ square bronze relief sculpture to go behind a cook top. The homeowner is also using some of the smaller Foundry Masters tiles from Materials Marketing to continue the look. I’m working on another project of three panels based on some amazing jellyfish drawings that date to 1846.

TileDealer: What’s next?

Siegel: The fun stuff is at the studio. I get a kick out of every tile I make. I also continue to work on my own figurative sculpture and to teach figurative sculpture. Teaching keeps me tied to art history as well as to sculpture history and figurative work.

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