DETROIT: Pewabic Pottery

27 Aug

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It is a lovely summer day, we have just arrived at Pewabic Pottery on Jefferson for the annual Home and Garden Show. A large tent occupies the paved parking lot, outdoors, large pieces are displayed among groupings of patio furniture, smaller pieces can be found in flower beds and along walkways. Inside the white tent, a banner hangs, this is Pewabic’s 110th Anniversary; tables are draped in turquoise blue cloths, topiary’s act as centerpieces, signature Pewabic pieces and t-shirts are available for purchase. Artist’s tables line the enclosed space, we start from the back and work our way forward. Tiles are a popular item, one table features flowers such as Tulips, Daisies and Poppies, another table is lined with clay pieces shaped like Ginko leaves, the glaze is fabulous, going from milky to metallic. Motawi Tileworks has a fanciful selection of Arts and Crafts style pieces, I like the one with the bunny. Further on, plates, nesting bowls, vases and cups feel free-form, glazed in turquoise, yellow and peach, they make me want to buy all new dishware. A tall tile reflects an up north scene, complete with a Pine tree, sand dunes and a lake in the distance. The next factory tour is about to begin, time to go inside.

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Pewabic Pottery was founded in 1903 by Mary Chase Perry Stratton, this Tudor revival style building was built in 1907 to house the factory. Pewabic is known for its vessels, tiles and architectural ornamentation for both public and private installations, Mary is known for her unique iridescent glaze. Pewabic pottery can be found throughout the United States including pieces in Washington DC, Houston, New York and the Nebraska State Capitol. The building itself is a National Historic Landmark. Let’s go in. We start at the museum store, here tiles and vesselware handcrafted by Pewabic staff members are available for sale. I see many signature pieces such as vases and tiles in colors such as blue, olive and gold. The next area belongs to the Gallery of Studio Artists, you will find a gorgeous variety of items such as mugs, vases and bowls in diverse finishes. The showroom contains tile collections, samples of tiles and glazes, this is where you would come if you were interested in having something done for your house. We climb a narrow stairway to the second floor, story boards and photos teach us the history of Pewabic Pottery and its founder Mary Chase Perry Stratton. We see an antique kiln and some of Mary’s early pieces, the room itself is quaint; leaded glass windows, black painted arches and door frames, and a stunning tile fireplace.

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We proceed to the Kiln room, this is where the firing is done. Think of a kiln as a giant oven that heats up to about 2300 degrees F, it bakes the soft clay pieces called greenware into a hardened piece called bisque, bisque is then glazed (painted) and fired again, the end result, the beautiful items displayed in the store. On the right are two “car” kilns, our guide points out tracks on the floor, kilns are pulled out on these tracks to be opened.  On the left is a fancy computerized version called an envelope kiln, I have to imagine it gets pretty hot in here when the kilns are on. Pewabic makes their own clay, in liquid form it is called slip. We walk through the clay making area, stopping to see the belt-driven equipment, original to the building and used by Mary herself. They make 1500 pounds of clay per week! Further on we enter the Glaze room, all glazes are made here, shelves are lined with five-gallon pails filled with different colors. Glazes are applied by spraying, dipping or hand painting; tiles are usually sprayed, while vessels are usually dipped.  Rolling racks are filled with glazed pieces ready to go into the kiln, the colors are a mystery to me at this point, as they completely change and come to life in the firing process.

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In the tile pressing area a woman is showing us how a tile is made, a square chunk of clay is placed in a plaster mold, working with her thumbs she presses the clay evenly into the mold. She picks up a different mold that has been sitting about a half hour and gently coaxes the tile out by tapping it on the table, an image of a bumblebee surrounded by a honeycomb pattern appears. When the clay is completely dry the piece is cleaned and placed on a rack, when enough pieces are ready they will be loaded into the kiln and fired. We end our tour upstairs with a visit to the Education studio, this is where classes and workshops are held. The room is lined with works-in-progress, students work at tables and benches, there is a small classroom area for children. There is no class today, but a few students are hard at work. Downstairs we pass through the store area once more, there are so many beautiful things to look at.

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We decided to choose somewhere close to have lunch, Andrews On The Corner is just down the road on Jos Campau at Atwater. The temperature has gotten steamy, so we choose to eat indoors, our waitress greets us with menus and glasses of ice water. We glance at the selections; soups made from scratch, salads, burgers, fish and steak, it all sounds good. The room is on the dark side, in that dive bar sort of way, dark wood floors and wainscoting, walls are deep red, wood booths line the perimeter of the room, the bar is the centerpiece. The cabinet behind the bar is a handsome piece, in the center an art deco style mirror reflects the light, glass block flanks each side. Just like that, our food arrives; the grilled jerk chicken salad is plentiful, the chicken sits atop a bed of spinach, strawberries and feta cheese are sprinkled about, raspberry vinaigrette is served on the side. The chicken is cooked perfectly, the combination of flavors a winner. The Ground Round burger is also good, we shared both things, making for a nice light lunch.

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The Atwater Brewery ijust down the street on Jos Campau, housed in a 1919 factory warehouse the brewery itself was founded in 1997. In case you are not aware of it, Atwater has its own taproom right inside the brewery, who doesn’t like a cold beer on a hot day? We pull up a seat at the bar, after a brief description of what’s on tap, we make our decision, a Summer Time Ale for Kris and a half Vanilla Java Porter, half Decadent Dark Chocolate Ale for me. As we sip our beer we look around the brewery space, the main brewing equipment is Kasper Schultz brought in from Germany, malt and hops for lagers are from Germany, while American hops are used in specialty ales. Kegs are shrink-wrapped to pallets and stacked high, bottles of beer are packed by hand into cardboard boxes, long communal tables made of planks are set off to the side. I love the names of the beer: Grand Circus IPA, Purple Gang Pilsner, Detroit Pale Ale, and the ever popular Dirty Blonde. Before we know it our glasses are empty, for a mere dollar you can take the glass home. If you are looking for an out-of-the way spot to chill and you like beer, visit the Atwater Tap Room.

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