Meet the Maker: Paul Burns

Meet the Maker: Paul Burns

Nancy Mitchell
Jun 18, 2013

Creating beautiful things from ceramics comes naturally to Paul Burns. He grew up in a family where everyone painted and threw pots and created murals and mosaics with ceramics, and spent summers making tiles in his uncle's shop. These days, he's the president and Chief Ceramicist at Fireclay Tile, a company comitted to creating beautiful tiles using “old world” methods that are unique, affordable, and friendly to the environment. 

Name/Location: Paul Burns, San Jose, California

Where did you grow up? When I was 10 years old I moved up from Southern California to live with my uncle in San Jose. He was into his twelfth year of owning a handmade tile company that had been founded in the 1920’s.  I worked with him at the tile factory on Saturdays and throughout the summer. Back home we had a potter’s wheel in the backyard and we were always busy mosaicking the patio and planter walls with tile shards.  

What was the first thing you made and sold? Everyone in my family painted, threw pots and made panels and murals with handbuilt ceramics. We opened our own gift shop in nearby Los Gatos to sell the arts and crafts that we made. This store, called “Gina’s,” is still in business today and in its 55th year. It's the longest running retail business in the town. The first thing I made and sold was a wrought iron table with a top of hand carved clay leaf shapes. I was 15 years old. I don’t remember the price and this was before we took digital pictures of everything.

Where did you study/train? I studied life sciences at UC Berkeley. I have applied my love for science and discovery to our tile products. We are currently working to put CRT glass (old television and computer front panel screens) to use to make something beautiful.

Where do you find inspiration? When I was a junior in high school we spent a year in Spanish class studying the art history of Spain. The ultra creative thinking of Antonio Gaudi and Salvador Dali became my design idols, and influenced how I looked at clay and glazes. I love this quote from Dali: "A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.”
What’s one thing you wish YOU had made or designed? I wish I had made my designs of men’s pants in the early 80’s. At the time I was a 20 something man who knew that there was a need for a refined khaki pant. Polyester slacks or blue jeans were not the only answer.

What’s your advice for a designer/maker just starting out? Don’t give up. Making mistakes and missteps are the way through a doorway to success.

To see more of Paul's work, visit Fireclay Tile

(Images: Fireclay Tile)

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