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
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
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
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
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
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.
Malibu Potteries (1926 - 1932) produced a huge variety of tiles during its short history. Rufus Keeler who ran Malibu Potteries was very keen on highest quality products and was a fan of experimenting with glazes. Malibu produced a couple of catalogs that were aimed at builders and architects.
This collection of trim tiles was a "rescue" from Malibu fires of 1978. As a matter of fact, these tiles might have survived two fires - the original one in 1932 that destroyed the factory and then the Agoura-Malibu firestorm of 1978. The second fire destroyed whatever was left of the old factory, and tiles were scattered around for many years, sometimes washing up the beach.
This was another one of my "rescues." For the last few decades these beautiful tiles with Mayan and Aztec motives were stuck in someone's garage, covered in dirt and spiders. When I cleaned them and laid them all out, I realized that this was no less than a complete fireplace mantel by Muresque.
Muresque Tiles (1925 - 1935) was a tile company in Oakland, CA, owned by William Muir. The company produced hand-pressed deep-relief tiles, and a lot of the designs were reminiscent of those by Claycraft and Batchelder. Continue reading
These vintage hexagon tiles have incredible matte glazes. There is a lot of variation within the tiles of each color, and the speckled glazes are not uniform. The tiles are quite thick (1/2") and are made of white porous clay.
I was told that they were likely made by Calco (1923 - 1932), the pottery company in South Gate, CA, that was started by Rufus Keeler. Keeler later went to work for Malibu Potteries. He was known to be a big fan of experimenting with glazes, especially in rich colors. Continue reading