Art Can Help

Posted by Steve McBride on

Pewabic potter Andrew K holds a wheel thrown piece he just finished. © Pewabic Pottery. Photo By Heather Nash

These are difficult times. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow, and we know it will be a long time before anyone sees the end of it. This crisis is challenging individuals, businesses and nonprofits, including Pewabic. As you contemplate this crisis, please remember three things:

We are all in this together.

We’ll get through it.

Art can help.

The very scope of this pandemic reminds us that we are part of a global community. It will take a concerted effort from all of us to overcome the challenge, but art will help us through.

The German painter Gerhard Richter called art “the highest form of hope.” Throughout history, art has helped people process and understand their lived experience. Art speaks where words fall short. It can be a powerful form of healing, providing solace through difficult times.

In our upstairs gallery, Pewabic has an exhibition called “Blue Collar,” featuring work by twin brothers Kyle and Kelly Phelps.

The Phelps brothers combine sculpted clay figures with found objects from abandoned factories to convey a profound and moving portrait of Midwest factory life. Their work is emotionally riveting, expressing the dignity and resilience of the workers they profile. 

People – Detroiters in particular – know how to hang in there through tough times. We as a community are defined by grit and determination.

Together, we’ll get through this.

Working in a National Historic Landmark pottery provides a sense of perspective. The scale of the current crisis feels almost unimaginable, but history reminds us that the world has survived serious challenges before.

Mary Chase Perry with plates and lamps in studio. Historic photo post 1907.

Pewabic Pottery has witnessed a lot over the past 117 years: the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Detroit riots of 1967, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the Great Recession of 2008. And now this.

The walls of the pottery exude history. A century ago, a Pewabic artisan might have been making clay in our clay mixer that was destined for the tiles decorating the outside of the Guardian Building downtown. That building – Detroit’s “Cathedral of Finance” – opened the very year that the Great Depression began.

Pewabic TIle on Guardian Building Alcove, Detroit, Michigan. © Pewabic Pottery. Photo by ARogers

We use that same 1912 clay mixer today. Visitors are still awed and inspired by the Guardian Building tile.

Art endures.

You can track over a hundred years of history in the Pewabic tile designs installed around the city (and beyond). And you can see the hand of the maker in every one of those designs. Pewabic is anchored deeply in the community we serve. We are part of the fabric of Detroit, and we are here for the long haul. 

The “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order has temporarily closed our doors and silenced our kilns. It has forced us to cancel all of our tours, classes and workshops, and grounded our Street Team. The loss of revenue is a huge financial challenge for a nonprofit like Pewabic. The hardest part is that we’ve had to place most of our employees on temporary leave. Everything we do is crafted by hand, and the pottery feels unnaturally empty without people. We miss the daily interaction between artists, students, members and customers. We are anxious to bring everyone back, to begin pressing tiles and throwing pots again.

If you haven’t seen it yet, we invite you to watch a short video of one of Pewabic’s potters, Andrew, throwing our petite vases. Please enjoy it as a calming reprieve. 


These are turbulent times, but there are several ways you can help Pewabic Pottery weather the storm:

  • Become a Member. At its core, Pewabic is a community of people who care deeply about Detroit’s National Historic Landmark Pottery. If you are not yet a member, please consider joining now. Ongoing membership support helps sustain Pewabic year-round.

Become A Member

  • Make a gift to Pewabic’s resiliency fund. Your tax-deductible donation will provide immediate and critical support to the pottery through the current financial crisis.

Make A Gift

  • Shop online. A gift of art can provide light during challenging times. Your purchase will provide immediate financial support, and we will ship it out just as soon as Michigan’s shelter-in-place order is lifted. 

Shop Online 

We are all in this together. With your help, Pewabic Pottery will continue to make art and enrich the human spirit for generations to come. 


Thank you for your continued support, 

Steve McBride

Executive Director, Pewabic

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