Unison Pottery & Tile Works
Middleburg, Virginia

Xerxes the Great of Persia was the son of Darius and ruled from 485-465 BC. He regained fame in the western world when represented in Edward Learís Nonsense Alphabet in 1846. John Gardiner, author and husband of the Unison tilemaker, made up his own rhyme for the regal figure:

X was King Xerxes

Who more than all Turkís is

Renounced for his fashion

Of fury and passion.

Joan Gardiner has a way of catching us off guard when we first glance at her decorative tiles as she often adds humor, irony or satire to her illustrations. Whether she is portraying the human form, animals, insects, any aspect of nature, she does so with an unexpected "twist" that catches one's eye, causing a contemplative pause that results in a smile, outright laughter or, on occasion, a grim reproof!

Joan majored in painting at the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore and later apprenticed to potter Jill Hinckley in Washington, DC before moving to Loudoun County, Virginia in 1973. She began making decorative tiles for her home in Unison in 1982 and since then her tilework has been installed in many private homes and public places. Her close friend, the late Steuart Weller, Weller Tiles & Mosaics in nearby Ashburn, installed most of her work including the Ashburn Library, the Purcellville Library, and an alphabet wall at the entrance to The Hill School in Middleburg.

Joan is at home in her country studio, a small board and batten structure of several rooms, located on the main road through Unison (pop. about 30!). Her tile-making technique is classic maiolica that she learned while living a year in Portugal. A white tin glaze is applied over a red earthenware clay body that is then painted with colorful oxides before firing. According to critic Lucy Wittle Goldstein, "These tiles are unique and vibrant works of art. Together they create large works of art that tell stories and create memories and capture intense color and movement."


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