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Pewabic Pottery was founded in 1903 by Mary Chase Perry (later Mary Chase Perry Stratton) and her partner, Horace Caulkins (developer of the Revelation Kiln), at the height of the Arts & Crafts movement in America. Pewabic's first home was a stable on Alfred Street in Detroit. Four years later, Pewabic Pottery moved to a new facility on East Jefferson designed by architect William Buck Stratton in the Tudor Revival style. In 1991, the building (which still houses the Pottery) and its contents were designated a National Historic Landmark and today is Michigan's only historic pottery.
Under the direction of Mary Chase Perry Stratton, Pewabic Pottery produced nationally renowned vessels, tiles, and architectural ornamentation for public and private installations and later, when the Depression reduced the demand for costlier wares, ceramic jewelry featuring Pewabic's unique iridescent glazes. Works fabricated by Pewabic Pottery can be seen throughout the United States in such places as the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., the Nebraska State Capitol, the Science Building at Rice University in Houston, and the Herald Square installation commissioned by the New York Metro Transit Authority. Stratton is a member of the Michigan's Women Hall of Fame.
In Michigan, Pewabic installations can be found in countless churches (including Christ Church at Cranbrook, Holy Redeemer Church and St. Paul Cathedral in Detroit), schools, commercial buildings and public facilities (such as Detroit's Guardian Building, Northwest Terminal, Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, the Detroit Public Library, and the new Comerica Ballpark,) public spaces (Detroit People Mover Stations) and private residences (particularly in Detroit's Indian Village and nearby Bloomfield Hills and Grosse Pointe.) Pewabic art pottery can also be found in many private and public collections including the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Freer Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
An important figure in Detroit's artistic and cultural life, Mary Stratton was a founding member of the Detroit Arts & Crafts Society and later served as a trustee of what is now the Detroit Institute of Arts. She established the ceramics department at the University of Michigan, taught students in Wayne State University's ceramic program and received honorary degrees from both schools in recognition of her accomplishments. In 1947, she received the coveted Charles Fergus Binns Medal, the nation's highest award in the field of ceramics.
Stratton died in 1961, but Pewabic continued to operate for another five years under the direction of her former assistant. In 1966, ownership was transferred to Michigan State University, which operated the pottery as part of its continuing education program. In 1979, the private nonprofit Pewabic Society was established to administer Pewabic's operation, and in 1981 ownership was transferred to the Society, whose board of trustees continues to serve as the Pewabic's governing body. The Society soon began work to restore the building and revitalize the Pewabic's design and fabrication program.
Today Pewabic Pottery is a multifaceted institution with active and growing education, exhibition, museum and design and fabrication programs. Pewabic fabricates heirloom quality architectural tiles for public and private installations, gift and commemorative tiles, vessels, gardenware, ornaments and both reproductions and adaptations of its historic designs. It offers classes, workshops, lectures, internships and residency programs for studio potters and other artists as well as outreach programs (hands-on) workshops, summer apprenticeships, classes for gifted and talented students structured to provide unique educational opportunities to students from preschool through high school. Pewabic showcases ceramic works in widely varying styles and techniques by established and emerging artists. Through its historic exhibits, it tells the story of Pewabic's role in the history of Detroit, the growth of the Arts & Crafts movement in America and the development of ceramic art. Pewabic Pottery was recently recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a "Historic Artists' Homes & Studios" site.
Now more than a century old, Pewabic Pottery reflects Mary Stratton's vision, which she expressed in these words: "It is not the aim of the Pottery to become an enlarged, systematized commercial manufactor in competition with others striving in the same way. Its idea has always been to solve progressively the various ceramic problems that arise in hope of working out the results and artistic effects which may happily remain as memorials....or at least stamp this generation as one which brought about a revival of the ceramic arts and prove an inspiration to those who come after us."