September 2, 2007

Tile in Michigan

So with my seemingly sudden re-interest in making ceramic gift tile, I have been asked by some fellow artists to talk a little more about my history and the tile community around me. I have actually been making tiles as a side interest since my days in college, around 1996. Wow so that's about 10 years, huh? Since then, I have made occasional tile molds and have done some light production of gift tiles to supplement my other clay arts. Beads sort of took over after college, but I come back to tile often, usually when I am feeling burnt out from beads, or need a diversion.
Michigan and Detroit in particular is well known for ceramic tile. One of the reasons is Pewabic Pottery, a turn of the century institution founded by Mary Chase Perry Stratton. She is a true inspiration to me and I could go on and on about Pewabic, but you can go and check their site if you want to know more about the history of the Pottery. Let's just say that Pewabic is an enduring inspiration for many artists and collectors, not only continuing to produce its own high quality tiles and pottery, site specific tile installations, and educational programs, but it also fostering new ceramic artists like myself. I am fortunate to sell in the Pewabic gallery, and back in the day (a few years ago) when they hosted many tile fairs, I sold at those as well. Unfortunately, the Detroit economy is very hurt, so the tile fairs have dwindled down from the several a year that used to occur in the heyday. Now I think they just have one a year hosted at the pottery.
Mary Chase Perry Stratton at the kiln.
The influence of Pewabic on local artists is great, and we have many wonderful tile artists in the area. The great thing is that I have always felt a nice sense of community among us and there is a really nice mix of different styles. I think that is particularly unique to this community, as it is easy for a regional style to develop, especially when a historical institution or style is present. I mean, there does seem to be a bit of preference to historical motifs, especially with a historical and art nouveau style, but there is enough variety to not become bored by the same look of tile all over the area.

I actually wonder about the regionality of tile. Because of the reasons I described, our local art community really supports tilemakers and collectors love to buy tile. But I wonder what happens outside of a community like this. I have shown tile on my website and in other markets out of state, and people have become confused by it. I think the prevalence of Pewabic may have something to do with the general education of the public here. I noticed a similar thing in the Philadelphia area, probably due to the influence of another turn of the century functioning pottery there, Moravian Tileworks. I know Moravian has sponsored tile fairs as well, but I wonder about the reach of their education on the local community. Is it similar to Pewabic's, with bountiful tile makers and collectors? I wonder where else tile is supported, and if historical institutions in those places are in part responsible. Someday, when we move out of state, will my tiles be a part of my art the way they are now? Or will I be inspired by another regional trend?

I leave you with some personal local tile favorites. A few galleries that specialize in tile, and the works of some of our friends and influential tile makers:

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