Partners by design Glen Arm couple carve out artistic niche with Table Tiles, a decorative ceramics company

January 24, 1993|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Staff Writer

On a bone-chilling January day, the little yellow house in Glen Arm blooms with the rich colors and traditional forms of paintings and pottery.

It also hums with the computers and faxes that are helping to create a business landscape for Sandy Magsamen and Mark Barry, artists who never imagined they'd ever be learning about international licensing rights.

This is the home of Table Tiles, a company of decorative ceramics that the couple launched four years ago. At the moment, it seems as if the world can't get enough of Ms. Magsamen's upbeat, whimsical images celebrating love, nature, children, cats and angels.

There's a bid from Japan to license the 33-year-old artist's images for sheets and towels. She is already collecting royalties from T-shirts and posters; next are greeting cards and silk scarves. This year, Table Tiles will introduce two lines of factory-produced dinnerware as well as offering the handmade tiles, dishes, platters and bowls upon which Ms. Magsamen has built her fame. The couple also is developing several series of books for children along with several other products.

Four years ago, Sandy Magsamen was working as an art therapist in East Baltimore, directing activities for Alzheimer's patients at Church Home and Hospital. Her husband, Mark Barry, 37, was directing art workshops for senior citizens while building his own reputation as a painter.

As Ms. Magsamen and Mr. Barry talk about the brief history of Table Tiles, you hear about serendipity, adaptability, lots of hard work and no small amount of stress. They are reluctant to discuss the company's worth, but the couple hand-produced 11,000 pieces last year for almost 500 clients, including Saks Fifth Avenue and I. Magnin's.

"If you can make that many and still stay married, you're really doing well," says Mr. Barry. "Sometimes it was sheer terror around here. . . . Christmas was a monster."

It's a life that caught them by surprise. When they married 11 years ago -- they met in Swain School of Design in New Bedford, Mass. -- they each agreed to earn $200 a week to make ends meet while they developed their craft. They waited on tables in New York, catered for Sasha's after moving to Baltimore, where Ms. Magsamen grew up, and worked as art educators in hospitals and nursing homes.

"I decided I wanted to be an art therapist because I thought I would never make a living out of my art," says Ms. Magsamen, who got her master's degree in art therapy at Goucher College. "I always thought Mark would make a living out of his art, but me, never."

In 1988 when Ms. Magsamen was pregnant with their daughter Hannah, however, she began having vivid dreams of angels, which were accompanied by unaccustomed doses of creative inspiration.

"I had never had so many great ideas!" she remembers. "I had never worked in clay before, and I started making stuff, like this teapot with angels on it. All that year I was pregnant I made clay things. People began saying, 'Oh you should sell them!' "

In 1990 the couple took 10 designs on plates, tiles and bowls to a wholesale crafts show. They picked up 40 accounts and $12,000; the following year, they were able to quit their other jobs. Now four local potters supply the vessels that the couple hand-paint, carve, fire and glaze.

"Here are two people who have been able to do all the things they wanted to do: spend a lot of time around their kid, launch their own business and do what they love -- their art," says Rebecca Hoffberger, president and founder of the American Visionary Art Museum proposed for the base of Federal Hill. (Ms. Magsamen is an AVAM board member.)

Irreverent with reverence

Ms. Hoffberger describes Mr. Barry as "irreverent with total reverence for all that's important." The kind of guy who leaves funny messages on answering machines, the artist has spent much of the last three years helping his wife build the business. He operates the kilns -- they run 24 hours a day -- picks up pottery, helps with glazing, takes care of shipping and other business details and hoards spare moments to work on his paintings.

Mr. Barry is also one of a few Marylanders to make the Guinness World Book of Records. In 1983, he completed what was then the world's longest poster, a 1,480-foot celebration of life in Baltimore that stretched down Mount Royal Avenue from McMechen Street to the institute's bookstore.

Before venturing into ceramics, Ms. Magsamen used various media for artistic expression. Ms. Hoffberger praises "The Glass Half Full," an educational film about Alzheimer's patients that Ms. Magsamen co-produced with Church Home.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.