In 2007, while working on an art installation in North Braddock, PA, we fell in love with this incredible abandoned church on Jones Street.
It was slated to be demolished within the year. We felt that the potential this space held – the ways it could bring joy and opportunity to the neighborhood – was too great to let the bulldozers roll in.
As artists who spend our lives attempting to build spaces that induce wonder and bring people joy, we felt we were the right people to work together with friends and neighbors in North Braddock to help invent a new life for the building. Our goal is to reopen this building as a living work of art that is in service to it’s neighborhood. To do this, the first thing we need is a new roof.
But not just any roof!
We’re gonna make 20,000 beautiful, brightly-colored ceramic roof tiles by hand, in our own ceramics workshop. By making the tiles ourselves, on site, we will be starting a social enterprise: creating meaningful employment and contributing to pride of place for people in North Braddock.
When you become a part of this endeavor, you will be creating a landmark piece of public architecture that connects all of us with the idea that beauty and craft are still an important part of our lives, and with the knowledge that what was once broken can become whole in a new way.
WHAT WE’RE UP TO
We are outfitting the Jones Street Church with a professional ceramics workshop. We need to purchase kilns, mixers and supplies, and renovate the basement to make it a safe, comfortable place for people to work.
When the workshop is ready, we’ll hire young people from North Braddock and train them to make ceramic tiles by hand. In addition to colorful roofing tiles, we’ll make and sell interior and decorative tiles, partnering with artists to release signature editions. We’ll get Braddock Tiles up and running as a local business.
While the workshop produces the tiles for the roof, we’ll begin the next phase: renovating the main hall of the church so that it’s ready for public use, so we can reopen as a community center once the roof is done.
The church is in urgent need of a new roof, so we can stop the progress of decay and seal the building against weather. However, all the affordable roofing materials we could find contain toxic heavy metals and are imported from China.
North Braddock is a proud manufacturing town, but its people are suffering from the collapse of the US steel industry and other major employers. Those good jobs have gone overseas. Given this, it didn’t seem right to import something we could make ourselves.
So we started making roof tiles, pressing and firing our prototypes in the basement of the Braddock library. And after lots of playful experimentation, we’ve developed two additional hand-made product lines — a silkscreened tile and a relief tile. We are releasing the inaugural batches through this Kickstarter.
NORTH BRADDOCK, PA
There are so many towns all over the United States that are suffering from the collapse of their local industry, and North Braddock is among them. The challenges that residents face are deeply specific, and yet lessons learned in the process of rebuilding community here will become part of a roadmap for communities everywhere. We love North Braddock and the people we’ve gotten to know and work with over the years. We’ve encountered a level of engagement and openness to new ideas that has surprised us since day one. We have come to understand this as a brave and fierce town, and we’re proud to be a part of it.
WHO WE ARE
Caledonia Curry (Swoon) is a classically-trained visual artist and printmaker who has spent the last 14 years exploring the relationship between people and their built environment. Callie is the founder and lead artist of Braddock Tiles.
Since 2007, Callie has been working to save the church from demolition, with help from Braddock community members, local artist collective Transformazium, and 70+ artists who have become part of the Braddock Tiles print project.
Callie first came to the Braddock area with a few friends who were responding to a call for urban farmers to address some of the town’s vacant lots. She fell in love with the church as a structure, and also fell in love with the possibilities it represented as a way to bring people together.
When asked “Why tiles?” here’s what she has to say:
“When I was a little girl my stepdad was a house painter, and we when would drive around town and point at buildings he had painted, I thought it was some kind of miracle, and that he was the coolest. I’d like people in Braddock to be able to point up to the new roof of the church and say to their kids, ‘I made that,’ and for their kids to ohh and ahh with wonder.”
KT Tierney is Braddock Tiles’ master ceramicist and the studio manager of the Braddock Carnegie Library’s Bath House ceramics studio. She has lent her expertise to projects all around the neighborhood, from the construction of the SuperAdobe dome across from the church, to overseeing the repair of the church basement. KT is a ninth-generation Pennsylvanian who has lived and worked in North Braddock since 2011.
The Heliotrope Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded by Caledonia Curry in 2015 to manage Braddock Tiles and two sister projects in Haiti and New Orleans.
Heliotrope Foundation Board of Directors
- Caledonia Curry (Swoon) – Founder & Chair
- Kasseem Dean (Swizz Beatz) – Recording artist and producer
- Jane Golden – Executive Director, City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program
- Sallyann Kluz – Associate Director, Office of Public Art (Pittsburgh)
- Andrew Lockhart – Founder & Director, Projekt NYC
- Karmimadeebora McMillan – Artist
- Sandra Powell – Art collector & curator
- Zahra Sherzad – Founder, Zarif Design
BUDGET & GOALS
Help us meet our initial goal of $50,000 and we’ll have the resources to renovate the church basement and make it a great place to work.
Help us meet our stretch goal of $100,000 and we’ll renovate the basement and purchase kilns, mixers, shelves, clay and other supplies — and hire our first team of apprentices.
Keep checking back for new rewards! For a closer look and high-res photos, check ourFacebook page.