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Updated 11:00 AM March 1, 2004
 

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League 75th anniversary event
Historian chronicles story of Pewabic Pottery


Enter the Michigan League from Ingalls Mall, and you will tread on history. The glazed tiles in the floor and those in the Michigan Room on the building's second floor are from the renowned art studio, Pewabic Pottery, based in Detroit.
Pewabic Pottery, vase with two handles (1906), stoneware with iridescent glaze from the U-M Museum of Art, transfer from the College of Architecture and Design. (Photo courtesy UMMA)

As part of the League's 75th anniversary celebration, the Friends of the Michigan League hosted a presentation Feb. 18 on Pewabic Pottery by art and architectural historian Thomas Brunk, who specializes in this southeast Michigan pottery.

Michigan architects and those from around the country in the early part of the 20th century were well aware of the work being produced by Mary Chase Perry, co-founder of Pewabic Pottery, Brunk said. The pottery's work was featured in public buildings and private homes, a part of the International Arts and Crafts Movement in Michigan and elsewhere. Brunk showed slides of the pottery installed on Belle Isle and in churches and private homes throughout the Detroit area.

Perry partnered with James Caulkins, considered a high-heat and kiln specialist. Perry (1867-1961), who later married architect William Stratton, was the artistic and marketing force.

Perry's family had strong U-M connections. Her father earned two degrees here, and her brother studied pharmacy. While living in Ann Arbor, Brunk said, Perry took up china decorating—an acceptable profession for women of the time—to support herself but became enamored of creating pottery and especially experimenting with glazes. Her iridescent finishes became the Pewabic Pottery's trademark, Brunk said.

"You cannot duplicate her glazes," Brunk said. While Perry kept notebooks of her "recipes" for glazes, they were not made available to other potteries or individuals. She started from scratch, grinding the ingredients by hand. "She was well aware of the chemistry," Brunk said, "and always wore a mask and gloves while working with the substances."

Establishing her pottery in a stable in Detroit, Perry devoted her time and talent to this new-found calling, but she did not forget Ann Arbor or U-M, where she supervised and organized a Ceramics Department in what was then the School of Architecture, and taught U-M students. She received an honorary master of arts degree from the University in 1930.

In addition to the tiles in the League, other examples of Pewabic Pottery on Central Campus include the first floor men's and women's restrooms of the Michigan Union. There, colorful Pewabic tiles are featured in the floor pattern. Audrey Schwimmer, manager of the Michigan Union, thinks the decorative tiles in the floor of the Union's Art Lounge also are from Pewabic.

The Museum of Art has a collection of 46 Pewabic vessels and five tiles. This collection is considered the best documented and most comprehensive of any public collection. While not currently on display at the museum, the collection can be viewed at http://www.umma.umich.edu/, then click on Exhibitions, then Online Exhibitions, then Painting With Fire at the bottom of the page.

Pewabic tiles commissioned by the Friends of the Michigan League to celebrate its anniversary are for sale in the League Gift Shop for $39.95 and are available in three variations of color and glaze, all crafted in the League's original logo.

The League's next lecture in the anniversary series will be "The Art and Architecture of Stained Glass," 4:30 p.m. March 25 in the Michigan Room at the Michigan League.

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