It all started with a fireplace in our 1936 house. It had a strange tiled mantel depicting Mayan scenes. The tiles looked old, so I assumed they were original to the house, but I had no idea who made them or when. After weeks of online research I learned about Batchelder, Claycraft, Malibu, and the Golden Age of California art tiles, but I was no closer to identifying the maker of the fireplace tiles. Discovering Tile Heritage Foundation was the break-through. The kind people at the Foundation knew that my tiles were made by Woolenius Tile Co of Berkeley, California, and even sent me a page from the original catalog showing the Design No. 367, my exact mantel. And so it began - the journey through the wonderful world of historic tiles and, more specifically, tile tables.
You are welcome to peruse the quick visual guide to the collection or simply read below.
These three S & S tiles with basic geometric decoration and tulip shapes in the corners wouldn't have been particularly special if not for their size. They are gigantic - each measures 12" x 12" and is 1" thick. Large handmade tiles are rare; the larger they become, the harder they are to make. Clay warps as it dries, so keeping a tile flat throughout the firing process becomes a real challenge.
S & S Tile Co (San Jose, 1920 - 1936) is known for its high-end polychrome tiles. It was started by Albert Solon, an English ceramicist who moved to California in early 1910s, and his business partner, Frank Schemmel. Continue reading
Let's return to our originally scheduled programming. Here we have a bright and glossy set of six tiles - a racetrack by Taylor. It's the same design as on this table. If you look closely, however, you'll see that the corner tiles have a different color combination than the stretcher tiles - yellow, red, and turquoise are flipped. These stretchers would have been a better match for the corners that I have in the other table. Oh well, mix and match. Continue reading
Carl Rice Embrey was born in 1938 in Hamilton, Texas. He studied art at the University of Texas and then taught at the San Antonio Art Institute for over two decades. Early in his career he was heavily influenced by Abstract Expressionism, but over time he became a representational painter who created nearly photorealistic landscapes and paintings of barns.
He's now one of the best known Texan painters. Despite this fact I was not able to find anything resembling Venus Revisited, the ceramic plaque that he created in 1963. I believe it might have been a one-off, possibly a school project, as 1963 was the year that he received his BFA. Continue reading
This is a charming contemporary tile that I know absolutely nothing about. I am not even sure how this tile was made; the clay surface is really rough (intentionally so, I presume). The primitive outline of a donkey is incised into clay, and iridescent glazes that range from purple to teal cover its body. There is some incised writing in the lower right corner of the tile; it's either the artist's initials or the date, but I can't make it out. There are two additional clay elements on the frame, outside of the main tile; they are somehow attached to the frame. Continue reading
This table is the sibling of the previous one, also created by Taylor Tilery (1930 - 1941). The tile design is the same but the black and orange glaze colors have been reversed. The glazes on these tiles are quite wonderful; the orange has a bit of a mottled effect which makes it pop even more. The corner tile with yet another glaze combination appears on page 161 of the California Tile, The Golden Era 1910-1940 (vol. 2). In the Taylor catalog the designs are marked as #147 Corner and #147 Stretcher. Continue reading
This table and the next one are both created by Taylor Tilery (1930 - 1941). Four corner and two stretcher tiles in Spanish design create a nice oval image, the ring of fire. The corner tile with different glazes appears on page 161 of the California Tile, The Golden Era 1910-1940 (vol. 2). In the Taylor catalog the designs are marked as #147 Corner and #147 Stretcher. Continue reading
The name "San José" is commonly used to refer to tiles made by the workshops and artisans in San Antonio, Texas, between 1930 and late 1970s. The key artist and entrepreneur who led a number of tile makers for many years was Ethel Wilson Harris. Many of the workshops shared themes, designs, and artisans, so it is often difficult to figure out who exactly made a specific tile.
After reading through Colors on Clay, a fantastic book devoted to San José tile workshops, I believe that my tile was created by Mission Crafts (1941 - 1977), a workshop owned and operated by Ethel Wilson Harris in post-WPA years. Continue reading
And another small table with a deco tile by Taylor Tilery (1930 - 1941). The Spanish geometric tile is larger than usual, so it displays nicely. Two different versions of this design appear on page 157 of the California Tile, The Golden Era 1910-1940 (vol. 2). The design is listed in Taylor Tiles catalog as #82.
The tile is in good condition with some minor surface wear and a few small pits in the glaze. The paint on the table could use a bit of a touch-up. Continue reading
Here we have a very simple small table by Taylor Tilery (1930 - 1941) with a single decorative tile and four triangular corner tiles. The glaze colors on the silk-screened deco tile are classic Taylor - black, orange, and light-beige. This design, with a different color combination, appears on page 160 of the California Tile, The Golden Era 1910-1940 (vol. 2).
The tiles are in fair condition with some surface crazing. The deco tile has a tight hairline in one of the corners. Continue reading
This sailboat table by Decorative Arts (1927-1933, Hawthorne, CA) is a beauty. I haven't come across too many Dec-Art tiles, and this table might just be the best one they ever made! The scene depicts a tall schooner in the bay, with a silhouette of a Monterey pine on the shore and pink mountains in the background.
Decorative Arts was established in 1927 and published a catalog of their designs the year after. The catalog included 116 different designs in various sizes; all tiles were decorated with decals. Continue reading
These tiles came from the same "rescue" as the floral trim tiles I've posted earlier. In addition to amazing decorative tiles Malibu Potteries (1926 - 1932) produced a number of solid tiles in all kinds of shapes. The Potteries targeted builders and architects, and I believe most of the tiles I have are meant to be bathroom tiles. The glaze colors (blue, turquoise, jade) and quality (matte and glossy) are what makes these stand out.
There are also a few really nice blue pillow tiles in two different sizes that are documented on page 66 of the California Tile, The Golden Era 1910-1940 (vol. 2).
This most adorable hippo was made in the Los Angeles studio of a ceramic artist Hal Fromhold in 1961-1963. I am not quite clear on the details but it seems that Bertil Vallien, who later became a rather famous glass artist, began his career as a ceramicist. In 1961 he had a fellowship at Fromhold's studio and created a series of these whimsical plaques: hippo, horse & bird, horse & rider, lion. I've seen a few of these so far, and each one has a different color scheme. I don't think there were too many of them made. Continue reading
Correction: the more I looked at this table, the more unconvinced I became that it was done by Taylor. Now that I've seen more D. & M. tiles, I believe that these tiles are also by D. & M. (1928 - 1939, Los Angeles). The semi-matte flat surface and the quality of the glazes are unique to that manufacturer, and there have been plenty of cases of shared designs. Eric Watt, a D. & M. aficionado, kindly confirmed my suspicion. This also explains the size discrepancy between the design in Taylor catalog and actual tiles in my table. Continue reading
The tiles in this table are another example of Spanish-influenced designs produced by Taylor Tilery (1930 - 1941). The festive geometric design is quite complex and uses a number of vivid glossy glazes in usual Taylor colors - black, orange, yellow, green, and beige.
This design is shown on page 161 of the California Tile, The Golden Era 1910-1940 (vol. 2). Another example with different glaze colors appears on page 265 of the Encyclopedia of American Art Tiles, Region 6. I could not find this design in Taylor catalog.
The tiles are in good condition with some surface wear and a couple tight surface hairlines. They are set in a simple wooden table with turned legs. Continue reading
This is my second phoenix bird (the first one is the linoleum wrought iron table), and I am quite fond of this one. Like many others in my collection it was created by Taylor Tilery (1930 - 1941), but it's a very rare and exceptionally well-executed design. Taylor had quite a number of different bird murals (jays, parrots, birds of paradise, pheasants), and this one is the best.
Four large cuerda seca tiles create an incredible Art Deco image of a phoenix (or a pheasant? or a bird of paradise?) perched on a flowering branch against a background of blue and orange stripes. Taylor used matte glazes for this mural; most other bird murals are executed in glossy glazes. It's bright and lively yet very tasteful.
The tile company that produced this tile is a mystery. Volga Tile Studios is listed in the Los Angeles City directory for 1926 but doesn't appear there prior to or after 1926. It was owned by Nina de Volgenski who is also quite elusive and left no tracks to follow.
There are a few known tiles that Volga produced. All of them are white clay cuenca tiles, often with Russian motifs. I find them quite beautiful and am actively researching the history of the studio. If you know anything about it - or have any Volga tiles - please contact me!
Batchelder Tile Company is perhaps the best known of California tile companies of the early 20th century. It operated in Los Angeles from 1910 until 1932 and started with producing Arts & Crafts hand-pressed mold tiles that were finished in matte glazes or engobe (clay slip). Batchelder was commissioned for many large installations in Los Angeles, such as the Dutch Chocolate Shop and the lobby of the Fine Arts Building. It was a large factory that produced a huge number of tiles; these tiles can be found in homes all over the country. The tiles are generally well-documented; many are marked. The company produced several catalogs with images, descriptions, and price lists. Continue reading
Tudor Potteries (1927 to 1939) tin-glazed tiles are often easy to recognize by their use of vivid, bright colors, especially orange and teal green. The patterns are usually pretty complex; intricate designs have definitive Spanish and Moorish influences.
The tiles on this table look simplistic in comparison to their brethren; they have a three-color sun-shaped design. This design is documented on page 277 of the Encyclopedia of American Art Tiles, Region 6, and on page 184 of the California Tile, The Golden Era 1910-1940 (vol. 2). It also appears in the 1931 Tudor catalog and is marked CAY. Continue reading
This cuenca tile, most likely made in the 1920s, is another great example of Spanish ceramic arts. It has a complex Moorish floral design perfectly executed in bright, saturated glazes. The tile is marked on the back: it was made by Casa Gonzáles in Seville. Unlike some other tile factories in Seville that have survived for over a century (e.g. Mensaque Rodriguez), Casa Gonzáles is no longer in business. Fortunately, there is some information about it online (in Spanish).
Casa Gonzáles (also known as Gonzáles Hermanos) started in 1902 as a family business manufacturing construction materials. A 1917 magazine ad states: "Brothers González. Sevilla, mosaic factory (pavements), building materials, sanitary wares, artistic locksmith workshops, plumbing and heating." The firm also employed a number of potters and ceramic artists who created beautiful ceramic altarpieces.
By the 1920s Casa Gonzáles was one of the most prestigious ceramic firms in Seville. They did much of the tiling for the Plaza de España and the María Luisa Park, the site of the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 held in Seville. Continue reading
This is a new acquisition and by far the favorite modern tile in my collection. It's a hand-made wall plaque depicting a green horse and a blue rider under a bright moon (or is it sun?). The expressive design is full of details and is hand-carved into the tile. The background brown glaze is very glossy and shiny but the green on the horse is vellum, and so are some of the blues. It's quite large and has a rim that gives it more depth. The back of the tile is glazed with the same brown glossy glaze.