Pewabic tiles adorn the Cadillac Center Station of the Detroit People Mover. (Pewabic Pottery)
Detroit’s Pewabic Pottery has come a long way since its 1903 beginnings in a stable on Alfred Street. Four years later, the esteemed Arts and Crafts-era institution moved to a new facility on East Jefferson designed in the Tudor Revival style by architect William Buck Stratton — and the rest is history. In 1991, the pottery was recognized as a National Historic Landmark and the Midwest’s only historic pottery.
That rich history and the long relationship between the pottery and the Motor City is the focus of a new retrospective opening tomorrow at the Detroit Historical Museum. “Made by Hand: Detroit’s Ceramic Legacy” explores the past, present and future of the iconic landmark, nationally renowned for its vessels, tiles and architectural installations.
Jessica Guzman, the pottery’s director of programs, says all eras will be represented in the show, which continues through Jan. 12 and includes more than 30 elements, both historic and contemporary. “It’s a celebration of our 110th anniversary,” she explained. “We really wanted to feature the relationship we’ve had with the city of Detroit.”
That means that not only will you find the standard housewares such as vases and architectural tiles that make up the pottery’s backbone, but also artifacts and supporting items from many of the city’s top architectural installations. Divided into two sections — historic and contemporary — the exhibition is a nod to the pottery’s long, prolific history. The historic section includes works that date to the late 1800s/early 1900s and into Detroit’s industrial heyday — including the Guardian Building, the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle’s beautiful Scott Fountain — while the contemporary section includes newcomers such as Comerica Park, DMC Medical Center and the Detroit People Mover. Supporting artifacts include historic drawings from the Guardian Building and Scott Fountain, as well as dinnerware sets popular in the 1920s.
“One of the most interesting parts of the exhibition is the explanation of what goes into the production process,” says Guzman. “The DMC installation, for example, is one of our newest and includes tiles designed by both patients and doctors.” Guzman says one of their goals is to show people what the pottery is doing today, not just during its illustrious history. “Outreach is important to us, as is showcasing emerging ceramic artists in our gallery,” she says.
Of course, having a little fun with Pewabic’s past is OK, too. Among the drinkware sets in the exhibition are “Growlers,” pre-Prohibition pitchers with mugs used to transport beer home from local pubs. Similar sets used during Prohibition were known as “Boston Lemonade sets,” Guzman says.“We’re not sure where Boston comes in, but we’re pretty sure they weren’t used for lemonade.”
“Made by Hand: Detroit’s Ceramic Legacy” continues at the Detroit Historical Museum at 5401 Woodward through Jan. 12. Hours are 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.
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