Slough would perhaps not be high - if at all - on your list of places to visit for tiles (should you be compiling such a thing), and yet it should be. Because right next to the busy A4, on the corner of the enormous Tesco, and a moment's walk from the elegant Slough railway station, is a beautiful example of public art created with exquisite hand-made tiles.
The glass and steel Lantern Tower connects to a bridge over the A4, the fast, safe way to get from Tesco to the shops on the other side. But how many shoppers using the Tower and bridge, how many commuters streaming out of the train and bus stations, ever stop to notice the four sides of the tile-clad lift? If they don't, they they are missing the work of of one of the country's leading tile-makers.
Lubna Chowdhary has no fear of colour, and uses it wisely and well. The joy of seeing the Lantern Tower up close is that you can scrutinise every last detail of colour, glaze, swirl, firing, bubbling, and movement that has gone into each tile, making it quite unique. The hand of the artist is evident, the chance happenings clear to see, no more so than in the gorgeous, translucent fiery richness of the red circles in the 'connections' sections.
It's a complete surprise to see something so vibrant and hand-made amidst the increasingly bland architecture of Slough (the town is difficult to navigate, now that many of the landmarks have gone and everything looks exactly the same on every roundabout). It's an equally big surprise to discover that this tile installation was commissioned jointly with Tesco - hats off to them for doing so. But it's not such a surprise to see that the tiles are not being kept as clean they could and should be.
Hand-made tiles in public places often suffer at the hands of developers - I'm always reading how great tiles (and murals and mosaics) are just ripped out of buildings without a thought of saving them - and it would be terrible if the tiles came down with the tiles when, as will inevitably happen, Tesco moves on or expands, or the Tower and bridge are replaced with a more modern design. We have only to look at how much interest the tiles of Peggy Angus have generated (and how many people are now regretting chucking theirs away?) and to consider how brilliantly tiles can transform a wall, room or even a lift shaft to realise that good tiles need to be remembered. Now that I know Slough has real tile treasure, I'm going to watch what happens and if - when - the Tower is about to be demolished, I'll be there with my hammer and chisel.
[The Towner Peggy Angus exhibition is excellent.]