NMSU engineering professor blends art and technology to create architectural tiles

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NMSU mechanical engineering technology professor Anthony Hyde coaches a student working with a clay model in his architectural tile shop, High Rolls ClayWorks. (NMSU photo by Taylor Fresques)

Writer: Billy Huntsman

During the week, Anthony Hyde is a Distinguished Professor of mechanical engineering technology and the Director of New Mexico State University’s Manufacturing Technology and Engineering Center (M-TEC), which helps individuals, industries and businesses in New Mexico conceptualize, engineer and prototype products.

On the weekends, Hyde is an artisan and owner of High Rolls ClayWorks in High Rolls, New Mexico, about 8 miles outside of Alamogordo. He opened the business last year, after finding and renovating a building – a former veterinary clinic – in High Rolls.

“I was looking for an appropriate facility and also a nice location to do architectural ceramics,” Hyde said. “It was pretty difficult to find the right facility in Las Cruces. Also, because temperatures here tend to be hotter, it’s hard to keep clay moldable.”

The former veterinary clinic was the perfect location, Hyde said, because he could put his firing kilns in two enclosed rooms that had formerly served as dog kennels and now serve as his workshops. He also made a gallery and design space, among other renovations, to make the building more suited to a ceramics workshop and display gallery.

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An image of the NMSU campus was created by NMSU mechanical engineering technology professor Anthony Hyde. Hyde designs custom architectural tile when he’s not teaching. (Courtesy photo)

“I initially thought the facility remodeling might take about six months,” Hyde said. “But it took about three and a half years, a weekend at a time.”

It all began when Hyde participated in a ceramics workshop in Seattle, where he met Peter King, author of “Architectural Ceramics,” a book he really liked, and talked to King about his idea to start his own ceramic business.

“King said, ‘What’s stopping you from doing it?’ and I said, ‘I guess the fear of failure,’” Hyde said. “And King said, ‘Oh, you’re one of those kind of people, huh?’”

Hyde didn’t like the idea of someone thinking of him this way and thus was the impetus to take action to start his business.

With King’s encouragement, Hyde decided to take the plunge.

Hyde began going to High Rolls every weekend during that time, and he continues to do so.

“But I really enjoy my job as M-TEC director and have always felt fortunate to be able to teach in the NMSU Engineering Technology Department,” said Hyde, who is also a graduate from this department. “Teaching also gives me a sense of purpose – helping students succeed,” he said.

Hyde said working with ceramics compliments his teaching in the Engineering Technology Department that emphasizes the practical application of technology.

Hyde found his passion for working with clay and ceramics after previously working with metal in a machine shop as an undergraduate student at NMSU, along with teaching metal working and manufacturing courses for many years as a professor. Clay provides both an additive and subtractive method and can makes things that can’t be done easily with metal.

“Then, when I became an administrator (director of MTEC), I got pretty far away from the hands-on aspect and the shops,” he said. “And I needed a way to keep my passion for design and creativity alive and grow in a different direction.

He has worked with clay for the past 12 years, he said.

His unique process is to start with a hand-drawn sketch of the tile he wants to create. Then he models it on the computer with computer-aided design technology. After that, he constructs a mold into which the clay is pressed into. Once the clay is dried, it is glazed and fired.

The main product Hyde produces are architectural ceramics which incorporate many varieties and uses of ceramic tiles. Some of these tiles are used to border a window or surround a fireplace. The tile shape, along with designs on the tiles, vary depending upon customers’ requests, and the designs can be very large and very detailed and very precise.

But High Rolls Ceramics also produces ceramic signs, lights, sculptures and other traditional items, Hyde said.

“Even though it seems like a big jump to go from metal working to clay processing, it really wasn’t,” Hyde said.

The most enjoyable part of the process is working with customers and bringing their ideas to life, which coincides with M-TEC’s primary role. The process he uses integrates product design, technology, art and manufacturing principles.

“Most people think there isn’t a connection between engineering and ceramics (art), but in reality, I think there is,” Hyde said.

Both professions are very technical and require a high level of design and creativity.

Customers Rick Young and Dottie Bush put Hyde’s creativity and design to the test.

“We stopped by and met Anthony in his studio, not knowing exactly what architectural ceramics really meant, but were pleased with the pieces we saw on display. We first asked Anthony if he could come up with a sign for Rick’s observatory in memory of a beloved pet, Buddy. We sent a photo of a galaxy that Rick had taken to see if it could be incorporated in the design somehow,” Rick said. Pleased with the results, they went on to do another project. “To say we gave Anthony a challenge with both of our projects would be an understatement. But he did not disappoint us and we feel we have added some truly unique elements to our home that make a huge design statement.”

Hyde said clay is used by many companies such as General Motors to model concept cars.

Because of its wide practical uses, Hyde familiarizes his students with clay modeling as a prototyping tool. He brought May’s graduating class to a workshop and helped them build a commemorative graduation plaque. He plans on doing so for this December’s graduating class. He also hosts ceramics and prototyping workshops twice during the summer as a way to share what he has learned with students.

“After attending Professor Hyde’s workshop on prototyping with clay, I realized how much having a hands-on experience helps with learning,” said Taylor Fresques, mechanical engineering technology student. “With technology now being incorporated into everyday life, it’s important to step back, get your hands dirty and create something from start to finish.”

To learn more, visit www.hrclay.com, or contact antshyde@gmail.com, 575-640-7580.


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