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FOR MANY years now, I’ve kept a touchstone at my work table. Merely through its appearance and texture, this object helps me put things—good or bad—in perspective. My touchstone is a ceramic tile of muted blue from Pewabic Pottery.
Pewabic Pottery was founded by Mary Chase Perry and Horace James Caulkins in Detroit, Michigan, in 1903. She brought to the partnership her knowledge of iridescent glazes. Caulkins brought his high-temperature kiln design.
In 1911, Pewabic Pottery moved to its present location, an elegant Tudor Revival building designed by William Buck Stratton, whom Perry married in 1918.
Pewabic Pottery’s home is now a National Historic Landmark. Yet it also remains a working pottery, producing tiles, studio objects and ceramic installations for a host of architectural venues. The Nebraska State Capitol building is one example; the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago is another. Downtown Detroit’s People Mover has several of its stations tiled in Pewabic artwork.
The pottery has a gift shop and also offers classes for adults and kids as well as an apprenticeship program for students of ceramics. It produces its own clays and glazes.
A tile begins with a special clay pressed into an appropriate mold, in the case of my tile, the “Pewabic Pottery House.”
Once the back is smoothed, the year and possibly an artisan’s identifier are embossed. Then a tacky ball of another clay is used to withdraw the embossed object from the mold.
Next, the clay is air-dried, for perhaps several days. Then come its glazing and its firing in a kiln, the latter at temperatures as high as 2500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pewabic Pottery has two kinds of kilns. A pair of manually operated “car kilns” have bases that roll into and out of the heat. The pottery’s Blaauw kiln is the latest thing in computer-controlled ceramic production. Dutch ceramist Gerard Blaauw and his brother, electrical engineer/computer whiz Leendert, formed this specialist kiln company more than 35 years ago.
Pewabic Pottery pieces are on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Louvre in Paris.
And, for me, one of its objects is a perfect touchstone. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013