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  • Laura Rodgers

Pewabic Tile: Detroit's Art Treasure

Renovating our house has brought on many discussions of design, history, and the combination of both. Some of these conversations have been with architects and contractors who specialize in the renovations of historical homes. But many have been with friends, coworkers, longtime Detroiters, and fellow Michiganders. It were the latter conversations that led me to Pewabic tile. Rich with Detroit history and Michigan roots, I fell in love with this tile, its history, and the beauty it could bring to my own home. Research brought me to the understanding of what this tile meant to this area, visualization brought me to the realization that I needed this unique, handmade tile in our house.

Seen here in the varying shades of white, these tiles will make up the sequential pattern behind the stove.



We have decided to forgo the embossed tile in exchange for the faceted tile seen in the black pallet below. The faceted tiles will be in the “cloud” white glaze while the remaining tiles will be in varying shades of alabaster and cream.







Pewabic Pottery is a studio and school located in Detroit, Michigan, founded in 1903. The studio is known for its iridescent glazes, some of which can be found in notable buildings such as the Shedd Aquarium, and on display at galleries all over the world and today is a National Historical Landmark ("The History of Pewabic Pottery", 2021)


Just a little history:


Mary Chase Perry (1867-1961) was born in copper country — the town of Hancock in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula — on March 15, 1867. Her father was the town doctor for the miners at the Pewabic, Quincy and Franklin copper mines. From those remote and rural origins came a creative genius who influenced the art world with her innovative and lovely pottery and glazes. ("A message from USA TODAY NETWORK", 2021) Together, father and daughter, took walks and discovered the red clays and other minerals native to the region. Mary made many little clay figures which a local brickyard agreed to fire. When Mary was ten, Dr. Perry was killed by an unknown assailant and the family moved to Ann Arbor and later to Detroit. ("A history of Pewabic pottery in the U.P.", 2019)

Mary continued artistic interests and enrolled at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Fascinated by china painting, much in vogue at the turn of the century, she returned to Detroit to open a china painting studio. One of Detroit’s major supporters of the Arts and Crafts Movement was her neighbor, a dentist, Horace Caulkins. His Revelation Kiln revolutionized the methods for firing dental materials, glass and enamels, and decorated china. ("A history of Pewabic pottery in the U.P.", 2019)

Mary began to experiment with iridescent glaze effects, but it was not until 1909 that she succeeded in a glaze formula that displayed her famous iridescent, opalescent effect. The iridescent glaze formula has been called one of her greatest achievements. Believing that each artist should create something new of their own, this formula was never shared and was lost with her death. ("A history of Pewabic pottery in the U.P.", 2019) Today, artists at Detroit’s Pewabic Pottery, the studio she founded, have been able to recreate some of her glazes, some through experimentation, some through analysis, but some are too toxic to be used today. ("A history of Pewabic pottery in the U.P.", 2019) This new pottery was christened ‘Pewabic,’ named after the Upper Peninsula copper mine where Perry used to walk with her father. The word came from an Ojibwa word for clay the color of copper.

An architect by the name of William B. Stratton, along with his partner, Frank D. Baldwin were becoming very influential in Detroit during the early part of the century. Mary Chase Perry married Stratton in 1918. Stratton encouraged Mary to make surround tiles for a fireplace in a new building he was designing. This commission led to a second Pewabic Pottery focus, the production of tiles. Her tiles were preferred by many architects giving her financial success. Commissions were filled for tile floors, fountains, and other architectural ornamentation for businesses, schools, libraries, museums, churches, mausoleums, memorials, and hundreds of private homes. ("A history of Pewabic pottery in the U.P.", 2019)

An important figure in Detroit’s artistic and cultural life, Mary Stratton was a founding member of the Detroit Arts & Craft Society and later served as a trustee of what is now the Detroit Institute of Arts. She established the ceramics department at the University of Michigan, taught students in Wayne State University’s ceramic program and received honorary degrees from both schools in recognition of her accomplishments. In 1947, she received the coveted Charles Fergus Binnus Medal, the nation’s highest award in the field of ceramics. Mary Chase Stratton was named to the Michigan Women’s Historical Center Hall of Fame in Lansing, Michigan. ("A message from USA TODAY NETWORK", 2021)

Mary Chase Stratton worked daily at the pottery into her nineties. She died in 1961, but the Pottery continued to operate for another five years under the direction of her former assistant. In 1966, ownership was transferred to Michigan State University, which operated the Pottery as part of its continuing education program. In 1979, the private nonprofit Pewabic Society was established to administer the pottery’s operations, and in 1981 Pottery ownership was transferred to the Society, whose board of trustees continues to serve as the Pottery’s governing body. The society soon began work to restore the building and revitalize the Pottery’s design and fabrication program. ("A history of Pewabic pottery in the U.P.", 2019)

Mary Chase Stratton lamented that “If only Americans were not so prone to tear down their buildings a few years after they have put them up, I might believe that the tiles were the most important part of our work. . . but I am inclined to believe that the pottery in which we have achieved some unusually fine glazes will outrank in artistic value of all our other work.” Indeed, her pottery is on display in museums across the world, including the Louvre in Paris. ("A history of Pewabic pottery in the U.P.", 2019)


I was excited to place my order for the tile this past week, with an anticipated worst case delivery date of June 3, we might be waiting on this tile but in the whole scheme of life, I think it will be worth it.

The last two weeks brought the framing of our kitchen and the building of its cathedral ceilings to the house.

There is more construction to be done on the roof line but hopefully that will be completed this week and attention can be turned to the inside of the house. With the frigid temperatures that are occurring here I am sure it will be a welcomed relief to the workmen on the roof.





We have had more than the kitchen addition added to the Rodgers home.

Sweet Nash William was born on January 28, making Nora a big sister. Being Gigi to these two littles makes waiting on this house so much easier.


Happy Valentine's Day,

Stay Well,

Laura






For more information on Pewabic Pottery:

  • The History of Pewabic Pottery. (2021). Retrieved 15 February 2021, from http://www.artsandcraftstile.com/the-historic-pewabic-pottery/

  • A history of Pewabic pottery in the U.P. (2019). Retrieved 15 February 2021, from https://www.miningjournal.net/news/superior_history/2019/03/a-history-of-pewabic-pottery-in-the-u-p/

  • A message from USA TODAY NETWORK. (2021). Retrieved 15 February 2021, from http://blogs.detroitnews.com/history/2000/02/12/pewabic-tile-detroits-art-treasure/

  • What is Pewabic Pottery?. (2021). Retrieved 15 February 2021, from https://debodomstern.reinhartrealtors.com/what_is_pewabic_pottery/


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