Mary with large vase in 1929, photographed by Mach
Mary Chase Perry was born on March 15, 1867 in the mining village of Hancock in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to parents Dr. William Walbridge, the local physician, and Sophia (Barrett) Perry. She would go on walks with her father around the Pewabic copper mine, which was close to their house.
Her father’s untimely death in 1877 spurred the family’s move to Ann Arbor, MI where her brother Frederick studied to become a Pharmacist at the University of Michigan. After Frederick’s graduation, the family moved to Detroit in 1881 where Frederick Perry established a pharmacy on Woodward Avenue in Detroit’s Brush Park neighborhood.
Mary’s passion for art started at a young age. She learned charcoal drawing from Detroit artist Colonel Charles Lum, got involved with the Detroit Museum of Art (now the Detroit Institute of Arts) while attending Detroit High School, attended various art lessons and the Art Academy of Cincinnati. While in Cincinnati, Mary was introduced to China Painting.
This application of mineral paints onto pre-made pottery created a watercolor effect that was extremely popular among women during this time period. Mary traveled around the country teaching lessons in China painting. In 1984 Mary was introduced to the Revelation China Kiln being used in a local studio and purchased one to use for her own China Painting work.
Lo and behold, one of Mary’s neighbors in Brush Park was Horace J. Caulkins, the inventor of the very kiln she was using. Horace hired Mary to promote Revelation kilns locally in 1896 and by 1897 expanded her work to a national scale because of her connections through the National League of Mineral Painters. By 1899 Mary was listed on Revelation Kiln promotional materials as a partner to Horace.
Just four years later, in 1903, Mary and Horace founded Pewabic Pottery out of a stable studio in Brush Park. Their business quickly outgrew the space, spurring the design of the iconic pottery building by renowned architect William Buck Stratton. The operation moved to the new studio on East Jefferson Avenue in 1907, which quickly became too small, and the building was expanded in 1912.
A young Mary Chase Perry works in the pottery studio on Detroit's east side.
Co-founders Mary Chase Perry and Horace J Caulkins inside the new Pewabic Pottery Studio on East Jefferson Avenue.
Mary was a hard worker, driven with a clear vision. The pottery team was her family, many of whom spent over 40 years working at the pottery. In Mary's words,
“The noise of the oil burners purring along - the rolling of the jar mills with sound of pebbles falling from the top to bottom – the whirl of belts on squeaking pulleys, the tamping of the tile press with its thud - thud all combined to make a well-loved symphony to my accustomed ears. If every man and women could feel so about his job. At such times I have sung a silent song of joy that I am one of the fortunate whose complete happiness is in work.”
Snapshot of Mary Chase Perry Stratton looking at the future location of the Rainbow Fountain at Cranbrook.
Mary Chase Perry Stratton in her Detroit studio in 1956.
Shop some of Mary’s original designs through our Heritage Collection.