creative:impact - The Feel Of The Clay And The Heat Of The Kiln

Nov 12, 2019

Nawal Motawi, owner/artistic director of Motawi Tileworks
Credit Motawi Tileworks /

As the owner and artistic director of Motawi Tileworks, Nawal Motawi has been playing with clay and fire for decades.  To this day, Motawi art tiles are still handcrafted.  Hear how she started her business in her garage and sold her tiles at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market and now sells in more than 300 locations across the country and Canada when Nawal joins David Fair and Deb Polich on this week’s edition of "creative:impact."

Deb Polich, President and CEO of The Arts Alliance

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy.  In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of The Arts Alliance, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

Motawi Tileworks
Credit Motawi Tileworks /

About Motawi Tileworks

Located in Ann Arbor, Mich., Motawi Tileworks (The Tileworks) makes handcrafted tile as individual art pieces and for residential and commercial installations.  Owner and Artistic Director Nawal Motawi began creating historically inspired tile in her garage and selling it at the local farmers market.  Demand for her work grew, and in 1992 Motawi formed The Tileworks, which came to specialize in Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts and Mid-century Modern aesthetics.  In addition to its own unique designs, The Tileworks is also licensed to produce art tile based on the celebrated work of Charley Harper, Frank Lloyd Wright and Yoshiko Yamamoto.  Motawi tile installations can be found in libraries, hospitals, Disneyland and many other homes and spaces across the country.  For more information, visit

The Tile-Making Process

Motawi Kiln
Credit Motawi Tileworks /

Designs are etched into plaster molds used to press clay into tile. The tile is trimmed and bisque-fired in kilns, then glazed by hand and given a final firing.  In 2003, The Tileworks adopted Toyota Business Practices to manage production and standardize tasks, and the approach is still used today.  The company makes three types of tile:

  • Art tile: Glazed, multi-colored tile for individual display or installation
  • Field tile: Glazed, single-colored tile for installation
  • Relief tile: Glazed, single-colored tile with an image either carved into the surface or sculpted above the surface

Facts and Figures

Motawi Bulb Glazing
Credit Motawi Tileworks /

  • Employees: Motawi Tileworks has more than 40 employees.
  • Wholesale locations: Motawi art tiles are sold in more than 300 locations in more than 14 states and in Canada.
  • Sales: This past fiscal year, The Tileworks earned more than $3 million in sales. It was also the company’s most profitable year to date.
  • Subsidiary: In 2011, Nawal Motawi purchased The Tileworks’ clay supplier, Rovin Ceramics.  Also located in Ann Arbor, Mich., Rovin Ceramics provides clay, pottery tools and supplies for schools, potters and ceramic artists and organizations.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at