"Forest Panel" by Scott Weaver

Archived Story

A better tile

Published 6:47pm Thursday, March 1, 2012

I will curate an amazing exhibit in May of the work of 10 Michigan tile makers. The illustrious list will include the famed Pewabic Pottery of Detroit; Motawi Tileworks of Ann Arbor; Weaver Tile of Horton; Denison Tiles of Honor; Ziggurat Tiles of Edwardsburg; Ellison Tile of St. Clair Shores; Gretchen Kramp Ceramic Tiles of Royal Oak; and JoAnn Aquinto Ceramics of Eastpointe.

Pewabic Pottery is Michigan’s only historic pottery. Pewabic Pottery was founded in 1903 by Mary Chase Perry (later Stratton) who studied at the Detroit Museum of Art School and the Cincinnati Art School — and her partner Horace Caulkins at the height of the Arts & Crafts movement in the US. Pewabic produced tiles for architectural ornamentation for public projects that can still be seen in such places as the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., the Nebraska State Capitol, the Science Building at Rice University in Houston, the Herald Square installation commissioned by the New York Metro Transit Authority — with even more in Michigan. The unique Pewabic iridescent glazes were also used as well for vessels, jewelry and other projects.

According to the Pewabic website, “Mary Stratton was a founding member of the Detroit Arts & Crafts 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… In 1947, she received the coveted Charles Fergus Binns Medal, the nation’s highest award in the field of ceramics.”

In 1981, 20 years after her death, ownership was transferred to the private non-profit Pewabic Society where the work of fabrication, education, exhibition and historical preservation continues.

Motawi Tileworks, 1992, was founded by Nawal Motawi, with her brother Karim joining her later that year. Motawi was exposed to tiles in the Arts & Crafts movement style at Pewabic Pottery, where a professor had taken her class. Pewabic, Rookwood and Grueby inspired her choice of glazes as well as her palette of colors. Louis Sullivan, Ernest Batchelder, and Frank Lloyd Wright informed her sculptural work, for a fusion of influences that makes up Motawi Tileworks’ style for “uniquely American designs, inspired by nature, art and architecture.”

Focusing on two distinct decorative styles, low-relief tiles and are colored with a single glaze; polychrome tiles have many colors separated by a tiny ridge of clay; with a third type — the hand dipped plain, or “field” tile.

Weaver Tile, 2000, was founded by Scott Weaver, who spent four winters at Pewabic Pottery learning tile making. Weaver Tile produces high quality, high fire decorative tiles using gardening, nature and wildflower themes from molds made from original sculptures.

You will find such subjects as Gynko leaves, acorns, oak leaves, pinecones, insects, birds, even vegetables and herbs in his tiles. His glazes are natural greens, blues and browns.

Gretchen Kramp Ceramic Tiles, 1997, Gretchen Kramp after her apprenticeship at Motawi Tileworks. Kramp holds a bachelor of fine arts degree in painting and sculpture from the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit.

Kramp also studied under the Alliance of Independent Colleges of Art, New York Studio Program. Strongly influenced by Pewabic Pottery, her public works include ceramic tile murals for the Detroit Zoo’s National Amphibian Conservation Center, and the Arctic Ring of Life, as well as Detroit Children’s Hospital. Motawi founder Nawal Motawi has described Kramp’s work as having “a sweetness,” with often-unexpected themes.

Kramp’s tiles are glazed with a silkscreen process — on the floor!

Watch for more about the exhibiting artists next month.

This exhibit promises to be an amazing gathering of tile artists whose techniques and styles all differ.

You can see this show at Fernwood Botanical Garden & Nature Preserve, Niles, from July 3 through Aug. 19, with the opening reception from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. July 6.

Send email to katheek@comcast.net.

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