At Large with Erin Adams

With production at capacity Southwest Creations Collaborative (SCC) has just added 2400 square feet of new production space.

With this expansion, we’ll be able to offer a more diverse range of services and even greater flexibility in meeting clients’ needs. Next up in the new space will be production for a new ceramic tile line by Erin Adams Design. An artisan and interior designer, Erin Adams’ production facility is in Albuquerque, NM. We spoke with her recently about Mexican folk art, the value of craftsmanship, and why she chooses to work with SCC.

You’re known for your glass mosaic tiles, but your new tile line is ceramic. How will that affect production choices?

The new product line is called Merge, and SCC will handle production. It’s a good match with their philosophy and production capability, and it’s similar to work they’ve done on my glass mosaic tiles. It’s just a matter of taking what they know and applying it to different materials, as well as learning a new production process. We’re going to use a RAM Press, and we’ll probably install a few kilns at SCC so we can fire over there.

How long have you been working with Southwest Creations?

We started working together almost seven years ago. I was at a point where I needed to outsource some of my production, and when I first heard about Southwest Creations, I was told they did contract sewing. Since I approach my mosaics as sewing-I’ve always thought of it as fabric-I didn’t see why they couldn’t do the work.

In the beginning, we cut the glass in our studio and drove it over to SCC every day. They would produce 200-250 square feet a week-now they deliver 800-1000 square feet a week.

How and when did you begin working with glass mosaics?

I’d stumbled on glass as a graduate student-it was affordable, I thought it was cool, and I’ve used it ever since. I’ve been creating mosaics for 24 years.

After I got my master’s in ceramics at Pratt, I started working in interior design in New York, specializing in club interiors. I’ve always been most interested in creating environments, in transforming a space into an experience. In my gallery in New York, for example, I didn’t just hang art on the wall-I created entire environments to match the theme of each show.

After New York, I moved to the Bay Area and worked with stained glass mosaics on an architectural scale. After that I moved to New Mexico and opened my factory, which started with five employees and now has 22. Although I’ve been tagged as a glass mosaic artist, I think of myself as a design innovator more than anything else, because I love working with new materials.

I’ve always approached my products from a production point of view. I’m intrigued by the production process and I’m not into making two of anything-I’m into making 2000 square feet. That’s the way I visualize: in space, with space, and in scale. Which is why my relationship with SCC is so brilliant-they have the ability to create a production process around anything I design. And they always respect my aesthetic and artistic judgment; if I want a piece to be more free form, they will do it.

You’ve cited Mexican folk art as a strong influence on you and your work.

Yes. My mother opened the first folk art gallery in San Antonio, TX, so I was always surrounded by folk art-it’s part of who I am. We’d go down to Oaxaca, Mexico, where I was fortunate to meet artisans such as Josephina Aguilar and Manual Jimenez. There’s an innate craftsmanship and uninhibited quality in Mexican folk art; in that tradition, my work isn’t about achieving perfection, it’s about celebrating the hand-craftsmanship of it.

Where can your products be purchased?

I sell exclusively through Ann Sacks Tile + Stone showrooms. Clients can view and choose from our product samples and color boards in the showrooms. We don’t stock anything-everything is a custom order. We’ll also design to spec and work with architectural drawings, which not everyone does.

One of the challenges of the production process is preserving both the intention of the artist and the artistry of the design. This becomes even more difficult, if not impossible, when production is sent off shore.

That’s absolutely true. A lot of the work that Southwest Creations does-the customization and working to spec-couldn’t be done off shore. We’ve trained them and worked hard to help them achieve certain looks, but their craftsmanship is amazing, they really get it. And I don’t question it. I have such faith in their skills. SCC can produce anything we put in front of them.

For The Cheesecake Factory at the Grove in Los Angeles, for example, we did the entire facade of the building in a very intricate pattern-it was almost like wallpaper. It was a huge job, and Flor Lopez, SCC’s production manager, figured out the quickest, most efficient way to produce it.

Flor is amazing, she has an exceptional mind for production. If we need 300 extra square feet on sort notice, she finds a way to get it done-but without ever sacrificing quality

Beyond production, another important aspect of my relationship with SCC is providing work that keeps jobs in the community. It’s about being a part of that, and being part of their growth as an enterprise. When I called Susan the other day and asked, “How about doing a ceramic tile line?” she said, “We don’t know anything about ceramics.” And I said, “We’ll teach you.”

It opens them up to something new. Working with glass mosaics gave the women the courage to know they could work with different materials and develop new, artisanal skills. Once we get them working in ceramics, who knows where it will lead?

I admire Susan’s open-mindedness and willingness to be challenged. I think we’re both very much frontierswomen. I don’t know the word ‘no’. I’ll say, “What? You think that? Let me show you differently.” Susan has that too.