Arts and Crafts Homes - - CONTENTS - by Mary Ellen Pol­son

The back­splash tile pro­gres­sion.

early 20th-cen­tury kitchens were cen­ters of in­no­va­tion, equipped with such tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances as plumbed sinks, elec­tric ranges, ice­boxes, even toast­ers. Walls were no ex­cep­tion: as part of a clean­li­ness ini­tia­tive known as the san­i­tary move­ment, the era’s upand-com­ers pre­ferred ei­ther plain or scored white plas­ter or, when they could af­ford it, tightly grouted, creamy white sub­way tile laid in a run­ning-bond pat­tern, es­pe­cially be­hind the range and any built-in work­tops.

Tile also made a splash on coun­ter­tops. Most early tile coun­ters were fin­ished in matte off-white hexag­o­nal tile— 1", 2", or 3" widths were com­mon—or slightly larger square tiles ei­ther laid straight or on the di­ag­o­nal. As an al­ter­na­tive to 3" x 6" sub­way tile, the same or a co­or­di­nat­ing tile pat­tern often con­tin­ued up the wall.

By the late ’teens, col­ored hex tiles popped up in oth­er­wise white in­stal­la­tions. Soon after, tiles in pas­tel hues (green, yel­low, blue, peach, pink, and tan) were in­tro­duced. These more col­or­ful coun­ters and back­splashes were typ­i­cally edged with box-cap tiles on the counter and border tiles on the back­splash.

Black was a fa­vorite for edg­ing, as were con­trast­ing col­ors. For ex­tra piz­zazz, tile­set­ters might add a nar­row ac­cent or fea­ture strip in the same ac­cent color as the edg­ing about two-thirds of the way up the back­splash.

Few of these in­stal­la­tions, of course, were done with hand­made art tile. That be­gan to change in high-style in­stal­la­tions in the late 1920s, when the art-tile move­ment reached its peak—a per­ilously short pe­riod, given the en­su­ing stock­mar­ket crash of 1929. Art pot­ter­ies around the coun­try thrived, from Mercer’s Mo­ra­vian Tile Works in Doylestown, Penn­syl­va­nia, to Rook­wood in Cincin­nati and Pewabic in Detroit (all three still work­ing). The most di­verse and vi­brant of the pe­riod’s art-tile in­stal­la­tions, though, were found in Cal­i­for­nia and the West, where the tile tra­di­tion that be­gan in Ernest Batchelder’s back­yard in 1910 had ex­ploded.

In­flu­enced by ev­ery­thing from Cal­i­for­nia’s Span­ish Colo­nial past to re­cent dis­cov­er­ies of Mayan ar­chi­tec­ture, dozens of pot­ter­ies turned out an as­ton­ish­ing ar­ray of art tile. Two dis­tinc­tive looks emerged: the thick re­lief tiles in muted col­ors as­so­ci­ated with Batchelder and the Arts & Crafts move­ment, and tiles in the His­pano–Moresque tra­di­tion, pro­duced by Mal­ibu Pot­ter­ies and half a dozen oth­ers.

The sig­na­ture piece of the matte and slip-glazed Batchelder genre was the scenic tile. Some­times as large as 8" x 16", scen­ics were ideal cen­ter­pieces and quite nat­u­rally made ex­cel­lent ac­cents for back­splashes. In con­trast, the His­pano-Moresque style was a na­tive re­sponse to cheaper Tu­nisian and Span­ish im­ports then flood­ing the mar­ket. Flo­ral and geo­met­ric tiles glazed in mul­ti­ple bright col­ors lent them­selves to in­ter­lock­ing pat­terns that could cover an en­tire floor or wall, or

act as bright ac­cents in­ter­spersed among field tile.

While al­most ev­ery his­toric tile­maker work­ing in those tra­di­tions is long gone, the art tile move­ment of re­cent years ar­guably is mak­ing up for the loss. And just as kitchens have long since evolved from util­i­tar­ian spa­ces for ser­vants to the heart of fam­ily life, the art tile pro­duced for kitchen and bath walls to­day is well suited to mod­ern lifestyles, with­out com­pro­mis­ing the au­then­tic­ity of the craft.

Want to cre­ate an au­then­tic pe­riod-look tile counter and back­splash, ca. 1925, or an over-the-top His­pano–Moresque kitchen wall treat­ment? Na­tive Tile & Ce­ram­ics has you cov­ered. Or per­haps you pre­fer a back­splash made in the Batchelder style, with one per­fect “scenic” tile as a fo­cal point. Cha-Rie Tang of Pasadena Crafts­man Tile of­fers tiles slip­cast from au­then­tic Batchelder orig­i­nals, as well as orig­i­nal de­signs in the same style. Still other tile mak­ers—in­clud­ing those shown on these pages—con­tinue to ex­pand the bound­aries of the move­ment by cre­at­ing new ar­ti­sanal work that’s in­stantly iden­ti­fi­able as Arts & Crafts, yet un­mis­tak­able as to maker, car­ry­ing on a tra­di­tion as old as the Arts & Crafts move­ment it­self. a

be­low Fa­mil­iar pat­terns from the past from Li­ly­work Tile dis­play the vari­a­tions and im­per­fec­tions of hand­made tile. right Her­ring­bone tile from Mis­sion Tile West is a mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the white tile back­splash.

left The sculp­tural look of Weaver Tile re­sults from hand-press­ing the clay into a mold. Deco re­lief tiles are scraped, then given a high­light glaze. be­low Like the mak­ers of Arts & Crafts-era tile, the Cargiles of Terra Firma Art Tile draw in­spi­ra­tion...

above Clay Squared to In­fin­ity’s ‘Aquila’ pat­tern gets its sense of rhythm from four dis­tinct sizes of field tile, punc­tu­ated with ‘Cos­mic Cloud’ ac­cent tiles.

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