New Pewabic Pottery mural paints past, future

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News


A new mural taking shaping at Detroit's Pewabic Pottery depicts the art and craftsmanship that has guided the 115-year institution for more than a century, all under the watchful eye of the woman who started it all, Mary Chase Perry Stratton. 

Artist Mike Burdick works on a mural at Detroit's Pewabic Pottery.

Created by Detroit muralist Mike Burdick and sign artist Kelly Golden on an exterior brick wall of Pewabic's administration building overlooking a courtyard, the 20-by-30-foot mural includes images of mixers, potters' wheels, artisans and of course Stratton. Stratton founded the pottery in 1903.  

"We wanted it (the mural) to reflect the spirit of Pewabic and what we are doing here," said Amanda Rogers, the pottery's marketing manager.

Visitors will get a chance to see Burdick and Golden at work on the mural during Pewabic's 28th annual House & Garden Show this weekend. It starts with a preview party Thursday and runs through Sunday with tours, demonstrations and displays of ceramic work from artists all over the country.

The mural is just one of several new additions at Pewabic these days. The historic pottery also is in the midst of finishing a 2,500 square foot addition to its studio space, its first major expansion since 1912.

Pewabic executive director Steve McBride said several artists submitted proposals for the mural, but they chose Burdick and Golden because they liked the way their mural showcased the pottery's history, its processes and its vibrant use of color, especially the teals and blues for which Pewabic is known.

"We use this courtyard for place-making events (and before the mural) it was looking a little dilapidated," said McBride. "We thought this would be a great way to energize it."

No Pewabic mural would be complete without Stratton. She's depicted in the top right corner, a stylized portrait of her throwing a vase on a potter's wheel, a mix of vibrant teal, light green and cream. Near her is Burdick's rendering of an early 1900s clay mixer -- a mixer Pewabic still uses to this day.



The mural features not just Stratton but composites of artisans and workers, along with an image of longtime Pewabic trustee Roger Garrett, who helped sponsor the cost of the mural.

Burdick, who also designed the massive Diego Rivera-esque mural on Carhartt's flagship store in Detroit, said to come up with the design, he and Golden toured Pewabic's facilities and studied historic photos. He wanted to show the processes within making pottery "and having elements of Pewabic's history."

To translate his renderings into a large scale mural, he and Golden created a grid on the brick wall with snap lines. Golden drew out the images square-by-square with a Sharpie.

"It's kind of like paint by numbers," said Burdick. 

Earlier this week, Burdick and Golden were perched high above the ground painting the higher parts of the mural while workers spread mulch below, set up tables and moved pieces for the House & Garden Show, which typically draws between 3,000 to 4,000 people. Nearby, construction workers continued to work on the new addition, which will more than triple the pottery's current 700 square foot studio space.  

"We've been so cramped for so long and with the interest in the pottery and tile that we've had for the last few years, we thought it was time to expand," said McBride. "It's going to allow us to be much more productive and make us much more efficient."

Metals racks filled with tile take up every available nook in the current studio space as artisans press tiles with molds and by hand. Pewabic produces about 850 to 1,000 square feet of tile a month.

"We've got room to fire the work, we don't have room to process it," he said. 

McBride say the addition also will make Pewabic more user-friendly for public tours. 

The $1 million addition, on what was previously used as a parking lot on the building's northeast corner, should be complete by July. A grand opening will likely be held later this summer. And it could mean more jobs for mold-makers and tile-pressers as Pewabic's production capacity grows.

"The goal is to be really looking forward," McBride said. "We like to say we are part of the fabric of Detroit. We've been tiling the city since 1903 and now we're trying to get the capacity to be as much a part of the future as we are the past."

28th annual Pewabic House & Garden Show

  • Maker/Mentor Exhibition, guided tours, demonstrations and entertainment 
  • 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Preview party 6-9:30 p.m. Thursday (while tickets are available)

(313) 223-4686

Twitter: @mfeighan