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UTILITARIAN ARTWORK, TILE BY TILE

Bettina Elsner, a native of Munich, Germany, has been designing and crafting artistic tiles for more than 30 years, 25 of them in the large, sunny studio in her Largo home.

Shelves and tables are covered with paints, paper, brushes, architectural drawings and current and completed projects.

A brilliantly-colored Moroccan-style archway, tropical murals, accents, borders and individually-painted tiles are stacked on tables and braced against walls.

As a child, Elsner was fascinated by the colorful Italian tiles her parents brought home from their honeymoon and had made into tables.

She studied the techniques of her craft with a ceramicist in Germany, but the ability to draw and create custom, hand-painted scenes, accents and borders are a natural gift. "I'm self-taught," she said.

But there are generations of noted artists in her family tree. Her father, a medical doctor, was a talented painter. Her mother was a student of fashion and design and created costumes for movies in Berlin before World War II.

What are the largest and smallest jobs you've done?

One of the largest projects was for a home on Fishers Island in New York. I did five bathroom floors and walls with extensive paintings, three open fireplaces, the kitchen and a pantry. I don't remember the exact cost, but it paid the down payment for my house. The smallest jobs have been on single tiles like a dog portrait on a 6 by 6 inch tile that was $45.

What are some of your current projects?

I'm doing an acrylic on stone beach scene with pelicans and palm trees for a home on St. Croix; some hand-painted house numbers for a developer in Sarasota through a store; and a two-wall project of a beach scene for a kitchen in a home in Pleasant Grove, Utah. The finished project, with 100 tiles on one wall and 66 on the other, will cost $3,600.

How do your clients find you?

Most of my business comes from the Internet.

Who are your clients?

They are people who want something personal, something different and they have all sorts of interesting ideas. I'm so happy that I do custom work and that people want things I haven't made before. I find that very exciting.

How long will your tiles last?

"I work with the old methods which are indestructible - metal-based powdered pigments that melt into the glaze during the firing process. Archeologists will be finding these tiles 2,000 years from now."

Christina K. Cosdon can be reached at cosdon@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4154.

Atelier Elsner - 11812 143rd St. N, Largo - (727) 596-3038 - www.elsnertile.com.

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