Marga van Oers | StoryTiles
The Dutch have been making white tiles since the 16th century, otherwise known as Witjes or 'Whities'. Visual artist Marga van Oers (1986) has embraced this historical craft but a
personal touch. Just a year ago, Marga launched a campaign on the Dutch crowdfunding website,
, and after a successful two-week run, raised enough money to produce the first batch of tiles known as
. With an eye for detail and a humorous touch, Marga combines elements of classic Dutch tiles and old magazines
cutouts to create collages that evoke an emotion, and leaves it up to the viewer to create a story. We caught up with Marga in her home in the middle of the Jordaan in Amsterdam
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I studied communication science but realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I have always been creative but never knew how best to express myself. I decided to enroll in a teacher’s degree for the fine arts. It’s traditional in the sense that you learn a bit of everything, and I needed to master the techniques. During those four years I was drawn most to ceramics and collage. I worked at Loods5 at the same time and noticed that there was a shift between art and design – they were coming together more. I knew I wanted to create something affordable that people could have in their homes, something that would make them happy, and that would exude a sense of authenticity and craftsmanship.
What inspired you to start StoryTiles?
It was about a year ago. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do when my grandmother gave me a box of old tiles. I immediately thought, this is it, I have to do something with these. Tiles are actually just small artworks, and when I started working with them, I realized their potential. When I shared my idea with my sister-in-law, Judith Beek, over coffee at KOKO’s Coffee and Design , she wanted in. Before we knew it, we were working out the details. It costs a lot of money to start something, money we didn’t have. Judith came up with the idea to crowd fund our first production of tiles on Voordekunst . We made a video , launched the campaign, and raised our goal of 3,000 Euros in just 15 of the 30 days we had.
And how’s it going?
After producing that first batch, we launched a website, contacted shops, and presented StoryTiles at the Woonbeurs in October 2013. Judith lives in Singapore, I guess you could say we have a long-distance ‘Skype relationship’, but it works for us. I’m in charge of design and production and Judith focuses on the administration and manages our contacts. About a month ago, we found a company to pack and send our tiles, which is saving us a lot of time. I have this memory of sitting on the floor with my cousin and my friend in my old studio surrounded by hundreds of tiles and boxes, packing them individually and jumping on my bike to the post office with hundreds of boxed tiles stacked in my bicycle basket – it was a nightmare! It takes time to figure everything out. But it’s fun. It feels like one big adventure.
Can you tell us more about the tiles?
I have two lines, the Old Dutch Tiles and the Modern Tiles . I collect old tiles from the 16th and 17th centuries for the Old Dutch Tiles line, and make collages with old cutouts. The collages are baked on the tiles and melt in the glaze. From there the tiles are transported to the packaging company and I don’t have much control over it anymore It’s hard to explain the process, it just happens really. I’m usually working on several tiles at once so I can make connections amongst the different designs and come to more interesting results. I try to do as much as I can by hand – I’m more inventive that way.
And does each tile have its own story?
The name StoryTiles comes from the idea that these Dutch tiles have their own stories, as do the cutouts, and together, they form a new one. People do ask me about the stories behind the individual tiles. It’s not necessarily a story but a feeling. There’s always an interaction between different objects or creatures, or an emotion that’s brought about. I’m not usually interested in purely aesthetic images. I want to create something. Everyone knows these old tiles, but I like to think I’m bringing them back. There’s a new energy in them that people seem to be drawn to.
Would you say that the city of Amsterdam inspires you?
Definitely. I do think that the entrepreneurial drive is something you either have or you don’t. But those who have it are drawn to Amsterdam because this is where things happen. Sure it’s a small city but there are opportunities here. People help each other. We’re also at the Sunday Market once in a while with other makers and creators. You really sense the need to make, to do, to sell. There’s a desire for something real. And there’s an interest in the story behind a product. You can really feel that in Amsterdam.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It’s funny, I feel like my time is divided into projects, into steps that will lead me where I want to go. First it was project Woonbeurs, then project packaging, project website, project photos for the website… My year is just divided into chapters, and I live from one to the next. Small things pop-up in between, like new deliveries or a weekend market. Judith is an important part of it all, and I love going through it all together. I’m so involved with what I’m making that it’s nice to have someone who can be more objective, take an outsider perspective, and be more critical. That’s important. And it feels like we’re running a family business, which is making us work even harder.
Can you name a few of your favorite places in Amsterdam?
I’m a hardcore Amsterdam West fan and love the Westerpark. I don’t shop too often, but when I do, I’m usually doing a round of the shops that sell my products, like Hutspot and Stedelijk Museum Shop . Or I stop by Kitch Kitchen , it makes me happy. I like to visit museums and exhibitions in Amsterdam. What’s great about working for yourself and being ‘free’ during the week is that it feels like the city is still sleeping since everyone’s at work. Since I manage my own time, I feel very free.
What's next for you?
People have asked me if I’m ever going to get bored of the tiles. No way! I see so many opportunities, and have so many new ideas. We just launched StoryWood , for example, in Milan . These are collages printed on large pieces of wood that are up to 2 meters in length. We’re also working launching new product lines in the near future. The thread through all the products will be the stories they tell.
Thank you Marga for this interview! Visit Marga's website for an overview of tiles or a list of stockists, and follow StoryTiles on Facebook and Twitter .