Susan Gamble has spent more than 30 years growing Santa Theresa Tile Works into a successful company with a stellar reputation.
Now, she’s giving it all away.
Gamble’s colorful mosaic tile work can be seen on display on public sidewalks, empty walls, and inside people’s homes. But by the end of June, she’ll no longer own the company.
The iconic tile business will be handed off to Imago Dei Middle School, a private school for low-income families. Tuition for the middle school is valued at $17,000 a year, but through charitable donations, students aren’t charged a dime for tuition. The school is said to be the only one of its kind throughout the state of Arizona.
And here’s the catch. Imago Dei isn’t buying the company from Gamble. Essentially, she’s gifting it to them.
“Susan is donating the assets of Santa Theresa Tile Works to us,” said Cameron Taylor, Imago Dei’s director of graduate support and enrichment. “We’ll be opening a new business — but it’s the same business.”
Gamble started Santa Theresa Tile Works in 1986. The company spent a couple of years in a downtown studio, followed by 10 years working from Gamble’s own backyard. By 1998, Santa Theresa Tile Works moved into its current space at Sixth Avenue and Sixth Street.
Tucsonans quickly fell in love with the mosaic designs. Customers began purchasing tile and requesting Gamble to design smaller projects such as kitchen backsplashes. Eventually, the company started to offer classes, as many customers wanted to learn how to make their own tile work.
“As I got ready to wind down a bit, I realized that I still wanted Santa Theresa to continue,” Gamble said in an email. “I didn’t want the 30 years and everything we have built and accomplished here to just come to a stop.”
Then it hit her. Because she believes in the mission of Imago Dei, Gamble decided to gift her business. She didn’t want to sell the company to someone, only for her 30 years of dedication to “turn into something she was no longer proud of.”
“I realized that the business and the school had a similar mission in many ways,” she said. “Imago Dei already has a very vibrant and diverse group of community partners and offers the kids so many great opportunities to get their hands dirty and experience things. Santa Theresa is kind of a natural fit in that way.”
Gloria Knott is a University of Arizona journalism student who is an apprentice at the Star.