The locally made, handcrafted tiles of Native Tile & Ceramics adorn numerous prestigious commercial buildings and residences throughout the U.S., including the homes of Hollywood notables.
- Written byDiane E. Barber
- Photographed byShane O’Donnell
Local artisan and master tile maker Diana Mausser realized her artistic calling while growing up in the South Bay. At a very young age she sewed her own clothes while creatively changing the store-bought patterns that she worked from.
“I liked to hang out in the Cotton Shop fabric store in Hermosa Beach when I was child,” she shares. “I was so excited about all of the fabrics that I wanted to wear them!”
Her love for designing things did not stop with clothes. In the 1970s she made and sold macramé plant hangers and watch bands and beaded necklaces. “I loved art and designing things,” she says. “When I was 8 years old until I was about 12, I set up tables on the beach in Hermosa to sell what I made. Then I started making quilts for my family. My sister and I even held carnivals for the neighborhood in our yard.”
Diana later pursued a B.A. degree at UCLA, majoring in ceramics and textile design and also studying printmaking and photography. “After my first class in ceramics, I was completely hooked,” she recalls. “The more I was exposed to it, the more I realized how detailed and technical it is. With the chemical process it is science and art in one. I had a lot of happy accidents when first learning, which made me very excited about the possibilities.”
She graduated from UCLA, attended the California College of the Arts in Oakland for one year and then was employed by a few Los Angeles tile companies. There was an experience at one of her jobs that awakened the desire to start her own business.
“A client for the company I worked for as a glaze technician opened my eyes to California tile history and made me aware of the great potential for tile,” Diane says. “He wanted a tile with a carved image of a medieval knight on a horse slaying a dragon restored and reproduced, which was out of the scope of the company’s usual services. I convinced my supervisor that I could do it, and I did!”
Driven by a passion for creating her own glazes and formulating colors (which she still does today) and creative inspiration from the historic arts and crafts tile of the late Ernest Batchelder, Diana set out to forge her own path in the tile industry. With barely enough money for a kiln and rent, she started Native Tile & Ceramics in 1990 within a 500-square-foot shed in a Marina del Rey boatyard.
She began building the business with small restoration jobs. Soon after she opened her doors, the tile gods smiled on her when Manhattan Beach-based Metlox Pottery closed its doors and she happened upon a treasure chest of glaze supplies, which she purchased for merely $1.
Her creative wings took flight, and she began crafting her own versions of California-style tile designs. The business flourished, and in 1998 she moved to the company’s current quaint studio: a 1940s bungalow in Old Torrance.
With a commitment to exceptional quality and time-honored tile crafting, Diana and her team of 10 artistic employees hand-press, glaze and fire each tile as the resident cats and chickens look on. With an array of custom-mixed colors (from muted and earthy to vibrant) and unique timeless designs, Native Tile & Ceramics produces five distinct tile styles: vintage Californian with an antique and watercolor look; Malibu-style with crisp lines and a graphic design appearance; Cuenca-style with raised lines that originated in Spain; relief with carved patterns; and Tunisian with a distinct gloss and varied line quality.
Today Diana is credited for designing more than 1,100 historically inspired Craftsman, Spanish and Moorish-style tiles, which have beautified numerous noteworthy buildings including the Avenue of the Peninsula shopping center, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Pasadena Conservatory of Music, the Rose Bowl Stadium and the Biltmore hotel in Santa Barbara … to name just a few. They have also been sought after by discerning homeowners over the past 25+ years (including Steven Spielberg, Kevin Costner, Robert Downey Jr., Diane Keaton, George Lucas, Madonna and other celebrities) and can be found in kitchens, hearths, bathrooms, pools, outdoor living spaces and other architectural surfaces in homes locally and throughout the country.
When asked what is on the creative horizon for Diana and her staff, she says with smiling eyes, “I am always ready for another dragon to light up my imagination.”
You can find Diana’s work at Classic Tile & Design in Hermosa Beach.
The Palos Verdes Peninsula Chamber of Commerce and Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center in Torrance welcomed over 30,000 fairgoers from throughout the South Bay region to the annual free event with continuous music, food and carnival rides. Some of the highlights included a performance by David Benoit and the Asia America Youth Orchestra and Living Green demonstrations on “Green Street.” Photos by Kay Finer and Steve Coy, CL!X Portrait Studios.