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Tile by tile: Debbie Dickinson builds community with mosaics

Mar 3rd, 2018 | Category: Crafts

by Mary Vermillion

The RE Store gets tile donations. A lot of tile. To be exact, in 2017, the Bellingham reclaimed and used building materials store sold 41,244 pounds of tile. The year before, it was nearly 55,000 pounds. When you have that much tile, you need a partner to help move through it all. And the RE Store found a perfect match with Debbie Dickinson, aka the Tile Girl.

Debbie Dickinson (center, standing) talks with students at her Feb. 17 mosaic class, held at her studio on State Street in Bellingham. Students choose from the colorful tile scraps (all from the RE Store) stacked on shelves. PHOTO BY MARY VERMILLION

Debbie Dickinson (center, standing) talks with students at her Feb. 17 mosaic class, held at her studio on State Street in Bellingham. Students choose from the colorful tile scraps (all from the RE Store) stacked on shelves. PHOTO BY MARY VERMILLION

A few times a year, Dickinson takes a break from her commission tile and stone work to offer mosaic workshops for local crafters. The RE-Store gives Dickinson store credit to forage for tile that her students will shatter to create mosaics based on templates Dickinson supplies. “Partnering with Debbie allows us to keep even more tile out of the landfill,” said Samantha Hale, the RE-Store’s outreach and marketing manager. In addition to donating the materials, the RE-Store staff promotes the classes, supporting their customers’ interest in crafting workshops.

Dickinson has a lot to share as a teacher. She grew up in Friday Harbor and returned to the island after a brief stint playing college volleyball. Back on San Juan Island in the early 90s, she went to work for a friend who was a contractor and found an affinity for tile. “I like the utility and it’s so beautiful and diverse,” she said. “And with mosaic you’re taking broken bits of junk and turning it into beautiful things. What’s not appealing about that?”

A self-taught painter, she said she has always been able to copy what she sees. Nature and travel inspire her creations. “Things occur to me with strong lines, and that translates well to tile,” she said. Dickinson also sews – she once was a wedding dress designer. “I like getting my hands on stuff,” she said. She credits her parents for her DIY spirit. “They had a garden and sewed their own clothes,” she said. “My mother painted. There were a lot of handicrafts (in our house).”

Dickinson and her husband, a Bellingham native, moved from Salt Lake City 11 years ago. Settled in Bellingham, she continued her custom stone and tile business, Debbie Dickinson Possibilities in Tile, for local clients from the Canadian border to Anacortes. Projects include a tile Turkish “rug” for a Bellingham bed and breakfast, a chambered nautilus bathroom floor, and Tree of Life backsplash. Her work extends beyond the Pacific Northwest. She encircled a doorway entrance with vines made of sandstone and basalt at an academic academy in Atlanta. And recently shipped a majestic moose made of tile to a Texas transplant from Montana, who missed the wildlife of her home mosaics web

Although she’s busy with her custom pieces, Dickinson began offering the mosaic classes last October after helping with the State of the Solar System art installation project on State Street. Working with the volunteer artists, “I recalled how much I enjoyed teaching,” said Dickinson, a former yoga instructor. “I like seeing how people approach the work. I really enjoying watching the process, and it was fun to share the studio space.”

On a recent winter weekend, a room of happy crafters snipped, shaped and glued colorful tile pieces onto mosaic templates at Dickinson’s spacious studio on on State Street in Bellingham. Recorded jazz music played softly in the background. A pot of coffee brewed. Dickinson wandered from group to group checking on progress and offering suggestions. Friends, family members and co-workers perched on stools surrounding the plywood-topped work benches. They rose from their seats to wander over and sort through the colorful bins of tile, beads and ceramics lining the studio’s brick walls.

At one table, three Columbia Elementary kindergarten teachers gathered to bond outside of work. “It’s a good time of year for a relaxing, centering activity that gets you out of the house,” teacher and crafter Helena Quigley said. Rather than choosing one of the mosaic templates of a star, skull, elephant, bird or mirror, Quigley had drawn an outline of her Bellingham home and was peacefully adding colorful glass pieces to the form. Across the table, her fellow teacher Julie Fosty was gluing shards of blue tile to a star template. She planned to bring the completed stars to her classroom.

Tiles are arranged by color and stacked in Dickinson's studio.

Tiles are arranged by color and stacked in Dickinson’s studio.

No experience is necessary for the mosaic classes that Dickinson calls social and fun. “It’s amazing to watch as creativity happens. People may come by themselves, but they won’t be alone for long,” she said.

“I encourage anybody to get their hands dirty and to try something new,” Dickinson added. “I trust people’s ability to make amazing things in this world.”

For more information, visit Dickinson also posts upcoming mosaic workshops on the Tile Girl Facebook page, or ask about her mosaic workshops at the RE Store in Bellingham.more moasics web

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