Life In Clay
Pewabic unveils a new tile studio — plus, its annual holiday show.
Suzanne Chessler Contributing Writer
Mary Chase Perry Stratton helped to usher the Arts and Crafts Movement into Detroit.
In 1903, Stratton co-founded, with Horace Caulkins, what would become Pewabic Pottery — and three years later she became a founding member of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts. After years of experimentation, Stratton discovered an iridescent glaze that put Pewabic on the map as one of the most innovative potteries of its time.
Stratton’s legacy is still proudly upheld: At this year’s Pewabic Holiday Showcase, a new glaze — Frost — will be introduced. Among the many objects available for purchase at this showcase are two ceramic works of Judaica.
A mezuzah and a Star of David tile were made in the new Maxine and Stuart Frankel Pewabic Tile Studio, an addition completed this year as the first production expansion of the National Historic Landmark since 1912.
“The Star of David tile is a classic. It can hang from the wall; we also sell stands that can hold it on tables or desks,” says Steve McBride, Pewabic executive director.
“The traditional mezuzah has a honey glaze, and it has been a classic for 10 or 15 years,” McBride says. “There’s a little space in the back for the scroll. We haven’t shown the mezuzah, which also comes in green tones, for a while, but we brought it back this year.”
Genevieve Sylvia, Pewabic senior designer, set forth to make a true mezuzah that she felt was representative of Pewabic. Sylvia selected a detail from the pottery center’s Oak Leaves Tile to bring a connection to the Tree of Life.
“We determined to give it the signature look of the oak,” explains Sylvia, who researched lettering to make sure the proper forms were included. “I felt honored to be able to bring this significant addition to our devotional collection.”
The Frost glaze was planned to enhance many of Pewabic’s new and one-of-a-kind ceramics. It features an ethereal blue sheen with a glistening surface crackle. While the tone suggests a peaceful winter season, it will carry through the rest of the year.
Among the pieces being offered glazed in Frost are bud vases, mugs, bowls and lamps. The popular Leaf and Berries Tiles also are available for the season along with other continuing pieces that include Detroit and Sleeping Bear Dunes tiles.
“Our mission as a nonprofit is to enrich the human spirit through clay,” McBride says. “We plan products that add depth to daily life.”
The Maxine and Stuart Frankel Pewabic Tile Studio has added 2,500 square feet of space at the back of the building located on Jefferson. Artistic uses of the space include making plaster molds as well as tiles.
The addition, designed by inFORM Studio and built by Sachse Construction, holds a state-of-the-art Blaauw tile dryer that was custom made in the Netherlands.
“The increased production capacity made possible by this expansion will position Pewabic to play an even greater role in Detroit’s development efforts,” says McBride, pointing to recent Pewabic projects for Little Caesars Arena and the Shinola Hotel among many other public places established outside the city.
The Frankels provided the lead gift for the expansion.
“Our support for Pewabic Pottery’s new tile studio comes from its historic and contemporary importance and our love of clay,” Maxine Frankel says. “Pewabic is one of the longest-lived jewels of Detroit. Its tiles and pots, jewels themselves, have been cultural ambassadors of the city for decades.
“We’ve been watching as Pewabic’s outreach grew, fostering interest in ceramics through education. It is natural to support the growth of a dedicated and talented institution so that it can flourish at an exciting new level.”
More than 250 foundations, corporations and individual supporters contributed to the long-term development effort for this nonprofit organization. Along with its support for the tile studio, the William Davidson Foundation provided additional funding to support a campus master planning effort.
“Pewabic continues to be a gift-giving destination,” McBride says. “This holiday season feels particularly festive for us as we celebrate 115 years of handcrafting in Detroit. We’re still creating beautiful new glazes like our founder Mary Chase Perry Stratton did, as we look to the future with a new Tile Studio that better equips us to tile Detroit’s renaissance.”
Pewabic’s Holiday Showcase runs through Dec. 30. (313) 626-2092; pewabic.org.