Thomas and Sarah Gelsanliter are the artisans behind One Acre Ceramics in Milan, Michigan. The husband-and-wife team have merged their respective talents to create pottery and clay tiles with luminous glazes and intricate designs reminiscent of the Arts and Crafts era.
With his background in design and tile-making, Thomas draws and hand-carves the tiles. Sarah, the potter, throws stoneware clay onto her wheel to make covered jars, candleholders, and vases. Both artists work on each piece at different points in the process, allowing them to produce finished work that neither could have achieved alone.
The Princeton University Art Museum Store presently carries a selection of the Gelsanliters’ decorative tiles and mini bud vases.
Thomas said his sense of design has been influenced by American artist Solomon "Sol" LeWitt, the "founder" of Minimalism and Conceptual Art. Thomas said LeWitt set up a structure for drawing, a systematic and detailed method for his patterns and colors.
“That’s what Sol LeWitt was about. He took something simple and reorganized it so it looks fresh and spontaneous,” Thomas explained.
Each One Acre tile—with its own meticulous design and modern color palette—is hand-pressed. The Gelsanliters typically experiment with 15–20 different color variations before they settle on two or three color options for each design.
Thomas said the colors are influenced by their surroundings. The studio is located on a one-acre parcel surrounded by cornfields, a garden, and a big open sky.
“The colors we see every day seep into us,” he said.
Thomas graduated from Cranbrook Academy of Art with a degree in ceramics in 2002. He worked as a mold maker, production coordinator, and sculptor at Motawi Tileworks in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for 9 years before starting One Acre Ceramics with Sarah in 2011. Prior to his ceramics work, Thomas was a project and publications manager for the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture in Washington.
Sarah studied biology, along with ceramics, in college and worked as an environmental educator before moving to Japan to teach English in 1997. Her ceramics have been influenced by the studio potters she visited in Japan and other Asian countries during her year abroad.
Upon her return, Sarah served as an apprentice to a potter and has worked full-time in clay ever since. She worked as a production potter at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, for 10 years, and taught ceramics classes at nearby workshops for many more years.
Sarah said her science background is still put to good use when mixing colors, formulating glazes, and firing clay up to 2100 degrees.
“There’s a lot of problem solving involved,” she said.
Sarah’s penchant for crisp, clean lines is evident in her vases. “It’s refreshing,” she said, to individually shape each vase and create something unique every time.
“They’re simple but classic,” she said. “The shape itself is beautiful.”
Please call for more information, or visit the Princeton University Art Museum Store to see a selection of One Acre Ceramics vases and tiles.