Photo of Mary Chase Perry Stratton at Pewabic Pottery, 1904
This month we remember the late Mary Chase Perry Stratton born on March 15 in 1867. She co-founded Pewabic Pottery in 1903 and made notable contributions to ceramic history in America. During Women’s History Month we are reflecting on the fact that this history continues through the women writing their own chapters in the book of one of humanity’s oldest, tactile art forms.
Mary Chase was a big proponent of learning from the masters to forge your own path. You can read more about Pewabic’s Early Days here. We are highlighting some of the many women who contributed to the success of the pottery during her time and beyond. We would not be where we are today without the efforts of these women who dedicated their energy and time to what would become Michigan’s only National Historic Landmark Pottery and 501(c)(3) arts nonprofit organization.
Left: Portrait of Mary Chase Perry Stratton printed in the New York Times, 1940
Mary Chase’s work has been displayed at the Smithsonian Institution, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and even the Louvre in Paris, France. Her bookkeeper and secretary for thirty-seven years, Ella Peters, recounts the internal conflicts that were no stranger to Pewabic’s ingenious Co-Founder.
Mary Chase documented her struggle to balance her entrepreneurial motivations with her artistic ideals. She writes, “It was not easy at the peak of a profitable line to make up our minds to give up. That is exactly what we did do, taking a stand once and for all, that our product, in pottery at least, should express our own judgment and artistic taste. Otherwise, there was no fun about our adventure, and most of all, even though we are hoping to make ends meet, we wanted to work with real pleasure and satisfaction.”
Ella ensured that Mary Chase was not under-charging for Pewabic’s work during a time where a still male-dominated industry was skeptical of a “woman potter”. Their skepticism was tempered when they saw the raw beauty of the work that took a direct page from an under-represented art movement in the United States during that time –– the flourishing Arts and Crafts movement most popular in the United Kingdom.
THE ADMINISTRATIVE MAVEN
Ella Peters with student work at Pewabic Pottery circa 1940
Ella knew the intrinsic value of the pieces that Mary and her team of makers meticulously crafted by hand. She took the task of typing out Mary’s more public statements–– such as this hand-typed summarization of her Iridescent glaze success. This allowed Mary to focus on cataloging the more technical aspects of glaze development and ceramic design in her handwritten day books. Ella Peters was not only a true friend and confidante, she assisted in keeping Pewabic afloat during challenging financial times.
Statement by Mary Chase regarding her glazes typed by Ella J. Peters around 1940–– given to Thomas W. Brunk by Ella Peters
History in the making –– a scan of the Burley & Co. order from Mary Chase’s daybook that named the pottery in 1903 from Pewabic’s Archives
To this day, administrative roles held by a majority of women at Pewabic play a huge role in keeping the pottery operating. As they carry the torch from Ella Peters, our makers continue the legacy of Mary Chase and countless other notable Pewabic artisans by lending their hard-earned talents and ideas to make what we do at Pewabic possible.
A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG WOMAN
Left: Gwen Lux in her studio–– photographed by Peter A. Juley & Son
Pioneering American sculptor, Gwen Lux, studied directly under Mary Chase at Pewabic Pottery starting at the young age of fourteen in 1922. Mary Chase writes admiringly of Gwen in her unpublished autobiography.
In one excerpt, she notes that Gwen had a “...good deal of talent in clay modeling” but “...”suddenly backed in her tracks like a young horse” when confronted with her algebraic studies.
Lux, not unlike Mary Chase herself, was expected to keep her education well rounded as it was rare for women of that time to earn a living strictly through their art. Mary Chase never subscribed to this line of thinking, hence her establishment and retention of a successful art business in the face of many personal setbacks and global financial crisis. She goes on to write, “I recalled a statement by Charles Moore in connection with the American Academy at Rome, to the effect that if examinations in mathematics were required in order to enter that institute, there would be no more sculptors in attendance.
Right: Gwen Lux and Mary Chase Perry Stratton at Mary Chase’s former Grosse Pointe Park residence
Experience had shown that Pythagoras and Michael Angelo were not usually on speaking terms.” This witty remark is very characteristic of Mary Chase’s writing. She had a keen eye for design, and a way to cut through to the heart of the matter with her words.
She concludes, “I shall never forget the change in the trembling lip and tearful brown eyes, when I suggested that Gwen be allowed to fill her time with her favored talent and she became a part time contributor in connection with Pewabic work. Later… she had full opportunity for specialized study both in this country and in Europe and has made no small name for herself.” Mary Chase was very intent on encouraging, not discouraging, a new generation of women to explore the furthest reaches of their imagination and artistic expression.
Photo of a nude sculpture by Gwen Lux from Pewabic’s Archives
Indeed, Gwen Lux made “no small name” for herself. She worked on designing Pewabic Tile murals at Bethel Evangelical Church and Sacred Heart Convent (now Grosse Pointe Academy). Her sculptures were commissioned for Radio City Music Hall in New York City, General Motors Technical Center in Detroit, and at the Hawaii State Art museum–– just to name a few.
TRAILBLAZING WOMEN IN CERAMICS
Pewabic Pressing Technician and artist Acuzena in Pewabic’s Tile Studio –– photo by EE Berger
A MESSAGE FROM THE ARCHIVES
Education Director and Archivist Annie demonstrating wheel-throwing for her students–– photo by EE Berger
As we continue to uncover and explore Pewabic’s vast history, we are interested in hearing from anyone who has a personal connection to the pottery. We are hopeful that someone may have video footage and/or audio recordings of Pewabic’s founders and friends. We are grateful for the amount of information and correspondence preserved, but are always on the lookout for more insights. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are in possession of anything you’d like to share with us from Pewabic’s past.