Iridescent and Awarded
Pewabic, Michigan’s only historic pottery, will create tile for the Polks’ home. After officially opening its doors in 1903, the pottery makes tiles and other ceramics for renowned hotels and clients around the country. Pewabic discovered a signature iridescent glaze, promoted support for arts and crafts, and eventually earned prestigious awards: Mary Chase Perry Stratton, a founder of Pewabic with her neighbor, Horace James Caulkins, received the Charles Fingus Binns Medal, America’s most prestigious ceramics award, in 1947.
The process for creating the handmade tile at Pewabic hasn’t drastically changed over the years, Kevin says. They’re still making the clay on site, working by hand, making molds, and pressing clay into the molds.
The fireplace surround will get new tile, with a special corner tile piece featuring the Detroit skyline (the mold for which is shown here). Pewabic will also make tiles for the Polks’ house number on the exterior.
Stamp of Approval
Here, you can see an artist imprinting a tile with Pewabic’s circular signature. Mashing the stamp into the clay before it’s fired ensures that you’ll always be able to identify it as a Pewabic original.
Pewabic reuses the molds stored here to make new tiles. This, Kevin says, is only a small fraction of their library.
From Start to Finish
The spraybooth is only one part of the methodical making process followed at Pewabic. “They mix the clay here on site, make molds, form tile to the molds, and paint and kiln tile in this space,” Kevin says.
Making the Mold
Here, one of the Pewabic artists is creating the mold for a new tile design.
The tile on the left is one of the styles that will be used in the new fireplace surround. It already existed at Pewabic, and is similar to the stained-glass crest in the windows, shown to the right of the tile.
The Finished Tile
The final version of the Detroit skyline tile is shown here, packing a color burst and hometown detail in the corner of the hearth.
Renovated and restored, the hearth and fireplace surround boast the best of old and new. The Polks meticulously scraped the paint from the surround, Kevin says, and the Pewabic tile additions shine, with the crests in the top corners above the firebox and the Detroit tile on the bottom right of the hearth. Although Pewabic is an historic staple in Detroit, mass-produced, machine-made tile was more affordable than handmade tile in the late 1930s when this Russell Woods home was built.