The Genteel
February 24, 2021


Coral Bourgeois' nineteen foot tall mural reaching from street level up to the lobby of the Liberty Hotel, Boston. (Photograph courtesy of Coral Bourgeois and the Liberty Hotel.)

The walls and floor of Coral Bourgeois' studio in Pawtucket, Rhode Island are covered with the blues, oranges, reds, and yellows of her mural designs. The 1500 square foot space has 20-foot ceilings, worn oak floors, large windows, an old freight elevator and is housed in an eighteenth century converted mill building. At that time, Pawtucket, located on the shores of the Blackstone River, was a prosperous mill town that played a major role in America's industrial revolution.

Starting out in New York City in the mid-1980's with her own jewellery business, Art for Ears, Bourgeois grew her company by going to trade shows throughout the northeast. She won the business of customers such as Neiman Marcus and at one point she employed fifteen people. But, "I wasn't happy," she says. "I'm an artist at heart, I got my degree in drawing and painting from North Texas State University and here I was tied into the fashion trade where several times a year the jewellery line changed. I felt I was constantly re-inventing the wheel."

Bourgeois' tiles between the escalator of
the Liberty Hotel. (Photograph courtesy of
Coral Bourgeois and the Liberty Hotel.)

In 1992, Bourgeois and her husband made a huge leap, moving from New York City into a 19th century townhouse in what is now one of Providence's Historic Districts. They live there today with their two teenaged children and two cats. She explains it this way: "After years of living in New York City, Providence, at that time, was a huge culture shock. Even though it had the Rhode Island School of Design and Johnson and Wales University, the city was not an artists' haven back then." 

It was only after the move that she started applying her artistic style to tile and mural designs. "I frequent the Providence Public Library spending hours pouring over Dover Design books and other art books, magazines, newspapers looking for images of people, animals, and musical instruments, anything that strikes me. When I hit on some thing I make copies of it."

Once she has shaped the project in her mind she throws herself wholeheartedly into the piece. "To create a piece, I cut medium density fibreboard (MDF) boards into whatever sizes I need, lay them onto the studio floor like a jigsaw puzzle and adhere the images to the boards adding beads, gemstones, metal cut stampings, whatever. The last steps are painting the tiles then coating them with layers of epoxy resin. You don't know what the colour or texture will be until the resin sets, then, surprise."

Ever the consummate artist, Bourgeois is consumed by each piece she designs. She gets very physical with her art - drawing, cutting, and, in some cases, hand flattening the MDF boards. "At first I used wood which I cut, painted and decorated with left over sequins, gemstones, and cut glass from my jewellery business." After several years, Bourgeois started experimenting with ceramic tiles. "I hate to grout," she admits, "so I have switched to MDF board which is lighter and easier to work with."

I've even covered a bureau with tile images of old album covers; Janis Joplin, the Beatles, John Lennon, Sonny & Cher. My husband and son are musicians so they use it to store sheet music.

Living in and decorating a 19th century multi-level townhouse gives her ample opportunity to showcase her work. "One of the biggest testimonials to my designs is my house. I've covered everything from the kitchen with tiles depicting Moorish scenes, to the backsplash on the stairs with animal prints to one of the bathrooms where the floor tiles are laden with glittering jewels and the walls are covered with images of women of the 1930's, which I painted onto tiles. In the den I covered our bookcase doors with white pearlescent glittering tiles that I cut circle designs into. I've even covered a bureau with tile images of old album covers; Janis Joplin, the Beatles, John Lennon, Sonny & Cher. My husband and son are musicians so they use it to store sheet music."

Asked where she gets her ideas from, she said, "Mostly they spring from deep within me, by thinking constantly about the project, where it's going, who will see it. I still use my baubles from my earring business to decorate some works. I start with an image, a pattern. A piece has to have design and relief as in a tile with circles or other things that sit back and shows off the image."

Bourgeois has created murals for homes, hospitals, restaurants and hotels in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York, Louisiana, Egypt, Dubai and Seoul. At Boston's Liberty Hotel (the former Charles Street Jail), one of her murals, measuring nineteen feet in height, sits between the escalators that reach from street level up to the lobby. Sticking with the jail theme, she drew and imprinted images of barred windows, chain link fences, footprints and prisoners in 1930's prison garb onto two foot tiles with background colours of reds, oranges and greens. 

Her latest work was installed in September at the Wheeler-Hamilton School in Providence. It's an eight-by-seven foot mural, "A Day in the Life of a Child"; on the 3-D tiles she has created images of kids on bikes, the solar system, a bejeweled clock and Albert Einstein. 

The theme for this kitchen shows the owners'
love of music.  Coral inserted an image of
Bruce Springsteen, piano keys and guitars.
(Photograph courtesy of Coral Bourgeois.)

When designing for private residences, Bourgeois interviews clients to get a feel for their interests, children, pets and hobbies. For a house in Wellesley, Massachusetts the owners wanted their kitchen tiles to reflect street scenes. "The woman had worked in Providence for several years and had taken photos of what she saw from her office window; people on benches, stairs with wrought iron railings and Federal style doorways. She brought me those images and we came up with a plan." For another kitchen installation, the owner mentioned that she was a quilter. Bourgeois ran with that theme, covering backsplashes with a quilt pattern of one-by-one inch tiles in blues, gold, and reds. 

In a Providence kitchen, the tiles reflect the owner's love of food and cooking; chefs holding piping bags, slices of fruits and vegetables. All in rich colors of red, brown and green and sprinkled with glittering gemstones. In an Attleboro, Massachusetts home, the kitchen tiles show a bottle of the couple's favorite brand of whiskey, golfers, gardeners, Bono, and a Van Halen album emblem. The theme was music for a kitchen in a Barrington Rhode Island home. Bourgeois fashioned tiles with images of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, guitars, a piano, musical notes and surrounded them with brilliantly coloured peacocks, starbursts and checkerboards. In the bathroom of a home in Moultonborough, New Hampshire her idea was anything that was a circle: fans, tires, Ferris wheels, steering wheels, clocks are depicted in the tiles. 

When asked which one of her designs is her favorite her response is, "Whichever one I'm working on right now. I get deep into my work; I'm always in the moment."

Coral Bourgeois, 545 Pawtucket Avenue, Suite C203B, Pawtucket, RI 02860

+1 (401) 723-1300



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