Tiles for tourists in digital age

'Maps, nautical charts from defunct firm revived with modern production.'

Even a dead business can have value. In fact, sometimes the age and obsolescence of an enterprise, the fact that it didn’t evolve into the next big thing, makes it worth something. More

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Tiles for tourists in digital age

'Maps, nautical charts from defunct firm revived with modern production.'

PBN PHOTO/NATALJA KENT
CHARTING A COURSE: Screencraft Tileworks has made vintage maps and nautical charts a focal point of its gift-manufacturing business. Above, company co-owners Trip Wolfskehl, left, and George Abar talk near materials used at a recent trade show.
Posted 8/20/12

Even a dead business can have value. In fact, sometimes the age and obsolescence of an enterprise, the fact that it didn’t evolve into the next big thing, makes it worth something.

Screencraft Tileworks of Providence fit that description in 2003 when current co-owner Trip Wolfskehl stumbled on what was left of the once-thriving souvenir manufacturer for sale in Bourne, Mass.

Founded in 1952 to silkscreen tourist-trade images like the Mayflower or Paul Revere House onto ceramic tiles, Screencraft Tileworks had regressed to little more than a hobby for the wife of an owner who bought it in the 1990s.

But while Screencraft had no customers and its obsolete equipment was gathering dust in a barn, it did have a library of 3,000 images, maps and drawings, the art that all those souvenir tiles had been based on over the years.

The owner said he would sell the company for $35,000. Wolfskehl offered $2,500, and promised to remove the silkscreens, production kiln and other company possessions from the barn, which he would also clean.

It was a deal.

“The art was worth something,” said Wolfskehl, who had been drawn to Screencraft Tileworks by a childhood interest in ceramic art. “I moved everything to an old mill in Fall River and tried to revive it.”

Still using the old silkscreen technology that Screencraft had employed for decades, Wolfskehl made a tile for the city of Fall River, that gained him some notoriety and the attention of George Abar, whose own business, Abar Imaging, of Providence, was facing its own challenges with the rapid adoption of digital photography.

When Abar and Wolfskehl started talking, they realized their two businesses had a lot in common. What’s more, Abar could provide Screencraft with modern imaging and manufacturing capacity, while the latter could offer a chance to diversify the photography business into a new market.

The two became partners and Screencraft moved into Abar’s Corliss Street plant, incorporating in Rhode Island in 2005.

The new Screencraft stores its images and prints tiles digitally, improving quality, speed and the variety of what it can make. Over the years, Screencraft has expanded its catalogue to 7,000 images.

Vintage maps and nautical charts are now at the core of the Screencraft product line, forming the graphic background for tile-based coasters, clocks, trivets, Christmas ornaments, table tops, picture frames and wall murals.

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