5000 YEARS OF TILES
By Hans van Lemmen. Smithsonian Books, 2013. 304 pp., $39.95
TILE’S LONG HISTORY and its many expressions are covered in this ambitious reference that also presents 330 color images. After introducing historical underpinnings, the book devotes many pages to medieval tile making. These early techniques were rediscovered during England’s 19th-century Gothic Revival. The Renaissance and Baroque periods were a “golden age of tile” that introduced tin glazing, which allowed for an opaque white surface that could be paint-decorated.
Anthropology meets art, as, for example, in the spread of early Islamic design. Islamic potters developed four main tile decoration techniques: lustre decoration, tile mosaic, cuerda seca, and under-glaze painting. Consider these critical techniques combined with the use of abstract and stylized design motifs, and it’s easy to see why Islamic tile art inspired so much tile-making since, including the work of William De Morgan.
British tile historian Hans van Lemmen devotes a sub-chapter to American Arts & Crafts tiles, praising the work of Henry Chapman Mercer as “original and rank[ing] amongst the great tile experiments of the New World.” He goes on to document Mercer’s influence on Grueby and Batchelder, and covers the unique contributions of Rookwood and The Saturday Evening Girls’ Club.