Monday, January 10, 2011

Profile: Karen Howell

Profile:  Karen Howell (Karen is now retired)

This was a commission that Karen did as a tribute to Fred Rogers.  In fact, there are similarities in personalities of Fred and Karen:  both projected a strong gentleness that was backed by a seriousness of purpose that was/is maintained over a lifetime.

Karen earned an undergraduate degree in art education at IUP during the seventies and taught in public school in the early part of her adult life.  She also went on to earn an MFA in ceramics from IUP.  Upon being laid off during a cutback at her school district, Karen set up a studio in Trafford, PA and has been an independent ceramic artist since then.  

While proficient at throwing porcelain, Karen has evolved into a tile artist and draws heavily on her drawing skills and understanding of ceramics to develop her unique look. 

Fireplace commission in progress.  (Apologize for the poor photo.)

Molds on shelving.

More molds - Karen has literally hundreds of molds produced over the years.
Bisque with mold.   

Originals are produced on moist slab rolled tiles.  Karen utilizes her considerable drawing skills to incise lines in the moist clay which helps control the flow of the glaze when molten.

Molds are filled via a slip casting process.  Karen buys a dry porcelain mix from Standard Ceramic and blunges it in the Slip-O-Matic.  She then fills the dispensing unit (square take to the left).  About half of the 150 lb. mix in the Slip-O-Matic fills the dispensing unit.

From there Karen uses a pitcher to fill the molds lined up on a nearby table.  Poured pieces dry for a day and are then released and trimmed.  Slip cast tiles are then placed on a sheet of 5/8" drywall board cut slightly smaller than the wooden ware boards on her drying carts.

Flat slab pieces are slowly dried between two sheets of 5/8" drywall board to prevent warping.  She uses a Brent slab roller.  She has sold her ram press which was used when her business did a lot of wholesaling.  At one point she had four employees now she works alone.

The production side contains three 10 cu ft Crusader Cone 10 kilns, although she fires to Cone 6.  The kilns are connected to a Fire Right controller, which has limited ramp and cool-down capabilities but helps in managing the firings.

Over the years, Karen has done a lot of her own building and repair work, crediting her father with helping to build a skill set.  He also built a number of pieces of equipment including a potter’s wheel, although she now prefers the Brent wheel.
Cat tile.  Notice the mice in the corners.  Her drawing skills allow her to bring life to animals she draws (in this case the cat not the mice).

Crow tile.  Good example of incised lines controlling the glaze flow.

More crows (notice the eyes).

Bird tile.

 Kitchen back splash.  While Karen does commissions, most of her sales are single tiles that are sold at art fairs and from her website.

Landscape over fireplace.

Another landscape.

Karen belongs to the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen and sells her work at art fairs in the Northeast US.

Contact Karen Howell at the following:  (She's friendly).

(Karen is now retired)

Karen Howell Porcelain
PO Box 7
208 Fifth Street
Trafford, PA 15085

By phone:
412.856.8933 (between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.EST)



  1. Thank you, Terry for the post. I enjoyed the visit and the collaboration for the blog!

  2. Always great to see how other potters your tiles, Karen.

  3. Love your tiles!
    Saw them at Planet Gallery a few years ago and thought they were wonderful.

    Sandy Miller

  4. Great Karen! and thanks Terry - it IS good to see how others work their studio.

  5. Heartbroken to hear that you've closed your shop. While on our honeymoon in 1997 we found one of your 6X6 dancing bunny tiles and fell in love with it. Sadly, the other day (shortly after our 20th anniversary) a drawer was stuck on the dresser that it resides on top of. In attempting to pull open the drawer the tile fell from it's perch and shattered. Now I find that your pieces cannot be sad. Thanks for allowing us to smile for 20 years with those whimsical bunnies dancing under the moon.

    Jack Dean
    Hopkinton MA

  6. Dear Jack,
    Thank you for your kind comments!! I've been retired for 6 years now and still get notes like yours from people. I'm sorry for your loss but I tell everyone that sometimes the pieces show up on Ebay. Happy Anniversary!