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Arts & Crafts:
From William Morris to Frank Lloyd Wright

by Arnold Schwartzman

The author focuses on a British craftsmen, such as William Morris and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who turned their backs on the mass production of the Industrial Revolution to form a ‘Round Table’ in order to establish a means of returning to hand-crafted products.

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How Was It Made? Block Printing William Morris Wallpaper

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LATEST ARTICLE_______________________________________

The Enduring Beauty of Ceramic Art Tiles
by Bob Brooke


The endearing beauty of ceramic art tiles stretches as far back as 10,000 BCE in ancient Egypt, around the time the Egyptians built the pyramids. From there the use of ceramic tiles spread to ancient Babylon, Assyria, and the Persian Empire. The ancient Greeks and Romans took this art and made it their own. The Romans loved tiles. They placed them in large public spaces, creating some enduring works of art that exist to this day.

It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that decorative tiles gained popularity in Europe. They first spread from Spain, brought there by the Moors from Africa, and then to neighboring countries. But clay tiles were expensive, so only the wealthy could afford to use them in their homes. And since the Catholic Church had lots of money, they ended up in churches and other religious buildings. Potters painted them with scenes from the Bible, so as to teach it to the majority of people who couldn’t read.

Tiles remained popular into the 17th century. Holland became an important center for decorative tiles through the production of Delftware tiles, made famous by their cobalt blue and white decoration. One of the most common uses for Delft tiles was around the openings of fireplaces.

By the 19th century, English potters had discovered a way to mass produce all types of tile designs, making them more affordable for the middle class. Many became family heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation.

America’s contribution to the history of ceramic tiles began with the Arts & Crafts Movement. Tiles appeared in the homes of ordinary people, not just public places. Potters used earthen tones on their tiles which helped create warm, livable spaces.

Ceramic tiles are one of the oldest forms of decorative art because of their durability. The color possibilities are so large and the effects produced thereby are so permanent that there is no other one medium which is on the whole so satisfactory.

During the 19th century, builders increasingly used glazed terra cotta, or faience, on buildings and homes. But as the Arts & Crafts Movement began to spread, designers and artisans became inspired to move beyond the hard, glossy, mass-produced architectural tiles and explore the endless possibilities for adding to the decorative beauty of rooms with the matte glazes and rich, earthy colors of handcrafted tiles. A new demand for color in architecture supported their efforts to produce tiles for walls, floors, friezes, panels, fireplace facings and overmantels, murals, and even entire rooms.

The variety of decorative tiles produced seemed endless, from individual tiles, plaques, borders, friezes, and fireplaces, to large installations and fountains.

In many ways, decorative tiles provided the ideal way for ceramic artists to express themselves. Individual tiles, previously ornamental objects that also served a useful purpose, became an artistic medium and a means of self-expression for the craftsmen. Potters kept the subject matter of tiles simple and replaced glossy translucent glazes with matte finishes. Potters made the handicrafted qualities of their tiles visible.

William De Morgan
British potter William De Morgan began experimenting with ceramic techniques in London in the early 1860s. He decorated his tiles and pottery with animal, plant, and grotesque designs. Galleons and fish were common motifs, as were fantastical birds and animals. His use of delicate golds, ruby reds, vivid purple, green, and turquoise blue of Persian ceramics reflected his early work with stained glass.

His early efforts at making his own tiles were of variable technical quality—often amateurish with firing defects and irregularities. In his early years, De Morgan made extensive use of blank commercial tiles. He obtained hard and durable biscuit tiles of red clay from the Patent Architectural Pottery Company in Poole, England. He purchased dust pressed tiles of white earthenware from Wedgwood. De Morgan believed these tiles wouldn’t stand frost. He continued to use blank commercial dust-pressed tiles which he decorated in red luster glaze. However, he developed a high-quality biscuit tile of his own, which he admired for its irregularities and better resistance to moisture.

De Morgan was particularly drawn to Eastern tiles. Between 1873 and 1874, he made a striking breakthrough by rediscovering the technique of lusterware, marked by a reflective, metallic surface, found in Hispano-Moresque pottery and Italian maiolica. His interest in the East wasn’t limited to glazing techniques but permeated his notions of design and color as well.

As early as 1875, he began to work in earnest with a "Persian" palette: dark blue, turquoise, manganese purple, green, Indian red, and lemon yellow. Study of the motifs of what he referred to as "Persian" ware—and what’s known today as Iznik ware–profoundly influenced his style, in which fantastic creatures entwined with rhythmic geometric motifs floating under luminous glazes.

Grueby Faience Company
William Henry Grueby was one of the earliest craftsmen whose made decorative tiles. As a young man, he apprenticed for 10 years at the Low Art Tile Works in Chelsea, Massachusetts, before venturing out on his own to form Grueby Faience Company in South Boston in 1894. Subsequently, he received numerous prestigious awards for both his pottery and tiles in both the United States and Europe. His matte green glaze, emulated by many, became known as “Grueby green,” a symbol of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Grueby first made tiles commercially with his friend Eugene Atwood from Low’s, under the name Atwood & Grueby from around 1890 to 1894. In 1894, he formed the Grueby Faience Company with the designer George Kendrick and business manager William Graves, producing tiles and architectural terracotta. Grueby’s strengths were his glazes and enamels.

His tiles soon decorated buildings all over North America. The quality and good design of the tiles were so good that builders regularly used them on important commercial and residential buildings as well as hotels, railroad stations, and the New York City subway system.

Grueby forged a relationship with Gustav Stickley, resulting in Stickley using only Grueby tiles on his tables and plant stands.

Grueby made his finest faience tiles of molded clay decorated in cuenca. In this method, potters drew outlines on the surface mixed with a greasy substance that prevented the colored glazes from mixing. Tiles had deeply impressed patterns with the compartments filled with colored glazes.

Rookwood Pottery
Shortly after forming her Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati in 1880, Maria Longworth Nichols hired William Watts Taylor as her business manager, along with numerous talented decorators. Under Taylor’s supervision, the pottery developed its matte glazes and in 1900 won the Grand Prix at the International Exposition in Paris. Recognizing the growing interest in architectural faience, Rookwood established a separate department specifically for the full-scale production of faience tiles featuring its award-winning matte finishes. As early as 1903 the company provided tiles for the New York City subways as well as for upscale hotels in Cincinnati, Louisville, Pittsburgh and New York. By 1910, handcrafted tiles from Rookwood Pottery dominated the market.

Pewabic Pottery
In 1896, Horace James Caulkins—who owned a dental supply company in Detroit—hired Mary Chase Perry Stratton to promote his new Revelation Kiln to the ceramic community. Her success resulted in a partnership with Caulkins, creating Pewabic Pottery in 1903, where potters made both pots and tiles by hand. Stratton became well known for her glazes, specifically her iridescent blues and purples.

The word Pewabic came from the Chippewa word "wabic," which means metal, or "bewabic," which means iron or steel, and specifically referring to the "Pewabic" Upper Peninsula copper mine where Stratton walked with her father. The company, which is still in business, has become well known for the unusual iridescent glaze covering the pottery and tiles created in a manner of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Under Stratton's artistic leadership, Pewabic Pottery employees created lamps, vessels, and architectural tiles, which have remained a staple. The iridescent glazes appeared like an oil slick with an incredible translucent quality and a phantasmagoric depth of color. Pewabic’s art tiles adorn churches, concert halls, fountains, libraries, museums, schools, and public buildings.

The popularity of machine-made art tiles had diminished by the turn of the century and all but disappeared by 1910. By this time hand-crafted tiles–or those made by machine to appear handmade–dominated the market. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, people used handmade tiles with increasing imagination to decorate the walls and floors of various rooms in their home, as well as patios, walkways and gardens. They combined tiles in contrasting colors and in varying shapes and sizes in the same installation, often with striking results. Bright colors and geometric patterns were particularly popular. By the mid-1920s, decorative ceramic tiles became more than symbols of good taste.

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