Pewabic Art In Cathedral Tiling
From the Cathedral publication One Hundred Years: 1824-1924
By MARY CHASE STRATTON, Founder and Proprietor of Pewabic Pottery
IN A CHURCH like St. Paul’s, there is a sense in which all paths lead to the sanctuary. On a field of blue-as blue as those starry ceilings of old Egypt-lies a large cross, glowing with the marvelous hues which it is possible to obtain with iridescent glazes. A halo of tiny tiles in antique gold lies upon the arms of the cross, while in the very midst is an iridescent disc bearing the form of a pelican feeding her young with drops of her own blood, the symbol of the mother church sustaining the young churches. Such is the tiling in the Sanctuary floor, the center and heart of the whole design. Nowhere else in the world, we believe, is there a floor bearing the slightest resemblance to this of St. Paul’s. Perhaps its closest relationship, and this in feeling only, lies with the exquisite mosaics in the ceiling of the Tomb of Galla Placidia, Ravenna.
In the three main porches, the square six-inch unglazed tiles give an impression of breadth and stability suitable to the entrance of a great church. In the Hancock Avenue porch, four-inch natural clay tiles are set with modeled inserts. The border is essentially Gothic, and consists of simple arrangements of squares and triangles, in varying tones of brown, soft green, and the quiet blue which gives the key-note to the whole design.
Within the doors of the nave the units are deeper in tone and smaller in size than the tiles of the main porch, so that they seem to increase the breadth of the aisles and the loftiness of the ceiling. One is led forward by the narrow border and the instinctive spotting of blue throughout the field until he stands at the steps of the choir. From this point the design is taken up with ivory and brown glazes of the field, bordered by large Gothic triangles in greens and blue. Three panels, set diamond-wise, occupy the middle line of the aisle. In the center of each lies a twelve-inch plaque, bearing in low relief an angel form, while the borders are made up of modeled ecclesiastical designs. The blue note which we have been following is nearly submerged in the clouding of the brown and green of these angel panels, but is present in sufficient degree to keep us expectant. Ascending the stone steps we come to an ivory and brown field, set diagonally with modeled inserts and a staccato border of vivid blue oblongs, which alternate with square three-toned modeled tiles. Lastly, a border of tiles bearing various types of small crosses, suggesting the sacrifice connected with spiritual attainment, introduces us to the culminating design of the Sanctuary.
The tiles in general are characterized by freedom in the fashioning, having an
undulating plane on the surface, with softened edges and corners. All the irregular shapes were cut in the clay, being made from templates during the process of the laying when necessary, so that there was no chipping or cutting of the finished, burned tile. The unglazed areas were made of solidly colored clay. Frequently the harder or lighter burning gave great play of tone to these surfaces, often running from a light, greenish-blue to a deep dull blue in the same tile.
My friend and associate, the late Horace J. Caulkins, collaborated with me in this work. When we surveyed the completed task, we felt what I trust was a pardonable satisfaction. While ignoring many long-established conventions in paving, we had been able to maintain consistently the spirit of the Gothic period of which the Church is so splendid an example.