No doubt about it: The Detroit Public Library’s Main Library on Woodward opposite the DIA is one of Detroit’s most iconic buildings. A peek inside reveals museum-level artwork, including a Pewabic installation so magical that on a recent evening tour a couple became engaged underneath the sparkle of the iridescent loggia ceiling. It’s no wonder visitor after visitor told Barbara Madgy Cohn that they wanted a book about the historic building.
Cohn — a DPL Friends Foundation board member and director of the tours — joined forces with former board member Patrice Rafail Merritt to co-write The Detroit Public Library: An American Classic, published by Wayne State University Press in 2017. Both authors will speak about the book in a presentation highlighting Pewabic’s contributions to the treasured Detroit landmark, 2-4 PM Saturday, March 3 at Pewabic. The pair will also answer questions afterward.
The coffee table book features more than 200 historic and contemporary photos of the early Italian Renaissance-style gem designed by Cass Gilbert and built in 1921. Like Cohn’s tours, the book includes the building’s two Pewabic installations, the loggia ceiling and the Storybook Fireplace.
“One of the things we do on our tour is talk about Detroit industry and how Pewabic Pottery was such an important Detroit industry of the time and it was such an integral part of the public library,” explains Cohn, who introduced the popular library’s popular art and architecture tour in late 2013. “Many people remember coming to story time and listening to stories at the fireplace. I find that quite magical. It was one of the most popular programs at the library.”
Both Cohn and Merritt were astonished when their research revealed a low cost of the fireplace — in comparison with today’s standards. The decision-making behind the stories depicted remains an unanswered question.
“The curious selection of the stories was quite unique and we are not sure who made them – Cass Gilbert, Mary or Horace. The question remains open. In today’s world Pocahontas and Tar Baby would not be used in a public building,” says Merritt, who appreciated being able to combine her work with both the Pewabic Society board and as executive director of DPL Friends.
While those who grew up in Detroit often recall the Storybook Fireplace, the dreamlike loggia usually comes as more of a surprise, feeling hidden in plain view on the building’s recognizable Woodward façade. The ceiling illustrates, in mosaic, Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man” from As You Like it, based on drawings by Frederick Wiley.
“It’s like a secret because people don’t know about it,” says Cohn, who gains permission to access the usually restricted space. She prefers to show the loggia at night so visitors can marvel at the ceiling’s glistening gold iridescence, occasionally asking how she knows it’s Pewabic. She draws attention to the end where mosaics spell out Mary Chase Perry Stratton and Horace James Caulkins as the makers. “It’s almost like a hidden treasure.”
No one’s crazy about the prospect of standing in line. Outside. In February. But Empty Bowls isn’t just any line. This line helps feed the community.
Saturday marks Pewabic’s 26th annual fundraiser to benefit Gleaners Community Food Bank of Southeastern Michigan, where buying a handcrafted bowl means performing a good deed with the added bonus of top-notch soup. It’s a bowl runneth over kinda thing.
“Almost every year the line streams out the door and into the parking lot, and shoppers are excited and chatty as they make their way in to purchase their bowls and enjoy some really great soup for a good cause,” says Stacy Kessel, Gleaners Director of Marketing and Communications. “Everyone really pulls together for this event – Pewabic, our soup donors, our volunteers, and hundreds of shoppers – and we’re honored to have such a long-standing and impactful partnership with a renowned community organization like Pewabic Pottery.”
Bowls range from $5-$40 and are made and donated by local students, Girl Scouts, Pewabic students and staff and other area artists. Each bowl comes with a complimentary serving of soup. Restaurants donating soup this year include Sindbad’s, Russell Street Deli, Zoup!, Beverly Hills Grill, LunchTime Detroit, and Touchpoint/St. John’s Hospital. All proceeds benefit Gleaners Community Food Bank, where every dollar provides three meals for someone in need.
“A $15 bowl provides 45 meals: that’s a huge impact. Even buying a kid’s bowl for $5 provides 15 meals,” says Alethea Davenport, education event coordinator at Pewabic. “Last year we made $13,000. That’s 39,000 meals.”
For Davenport, involved in Empty Bowls for about 15 years, the event reiterates a meaningful aspect of both nonprofits: caring for the community, with one Detroit nonprofit volunteering its time to help another. Even Pewabic employees working that day are volunteering their time. It’s also an opportunity to watch visitors return year after year.
“It’s a good vibes event where a little goes a long way,” says Davenport.
Pete Pinnell knows vessels.
With more than 35 years as a practicing artist and probably close to 100 columns for Clay Times Magazine, Pinnell was a natural choice to jury Pewabic’s On the Rocks: An Exhibition of Vessels for & Related to Drinking.
On the Rocks opens with a reception 7-9 PM Jan. 19 at Pewabic. Preceding the reception, Pinnell presents “The Art of Drinking,” a lecture that details the customs and rituals surrounding drinking, at 6 p.m. at the College for Creative Studies’ Anderson Auditorium.
Jurying was an opportunity to see current stylistic trends, says Pinnell, who has exhibited his own pottery in more than 120 exhibitions across the globe since 1995. Artists from as far as Singapore submitted nearly 500 works to Pewabic’s call for entry late last year. Pinnell ultimately selected more than 200 to be part of the cash-and-carry show. One trend Pinnell noticed was a return to the reverence of craftsmanship.
“I enjoyed the breadth of the work across all applicants. There was a lot of variation among all of the objects that were entered,” says Pinnell, professor of ceramics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “The general level of craftsmanship was high and personal expression was very high across the board. There was a lot of interesting specificity to each work.”
The variations submitted reminded Pinnell just how broad the subject of drinking is. Among other pieces, accepted work includes cups, mugs, goblets, flasks, teapots, and pour-over systems.
“On one hand drinking seems like something fairly simple and straightforward, but it encompasses so many traditions and practices,” says Pinnell. “It’s so varied in terms of its importance to ordinary drinking to times that are meaningful and special. I think that’s reflected in the work and the personal expressions of those that applied.”
Pinnell appreciated having the wide scope of seeing as many as five examples from each artist, enabling a wider understanding of an artist’s abilities and style.
“Overall I think the quality of the work was quite high. I think people who see the show are going to be very pleased. I have a suspicion that things are going to walk out the door very quickly,” estimates Pinnell. “People interested in buying things are going to come early. I think the prices seem very reasonable.”
Pinnell urges those who didn’t make it into the show not to feel bad.
“I think a different juror on a different day would have made different selections,” says Pinnell, adding that however impartial, inevitably taste plays a role, so people shouldn’t take things too much to heart.
“Art-making is a lifelong pursuit and the cool thing about art is that you can continue to get better at it your entire life right up to the point you stop making art or die,” says Pinnell. “What you make today is no indicator that there isn’t going to be a masterpiece. Keep making and keep trying to get better.”