Main Attractions

February 21, 2018

Pewabic Fireplace detail. Photo courtesy Timothy Griffin.


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.”

Detail of the loggia. Photos courtesy Joy VanBuhler.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in Blog

Keeping Pace with Making our Place
Keeping Pace with Making our Place

June 05, 2019

Steve McBride wore a wide smile as he quietly watched Pewabic Designer David McGee set the last tile in the fountain face: “I’ve waited four years for this.”

It was the almost-final touch on renovations to the National Historic Landmark’s courtyard, a space McBride had long wished to make more inviting.

Last autumn, his wish was granted thanks to the Southeast Michigan Placemaking Pilot Initiative. The William Davidson Foundation provided funding to Project for Public Spaces (PPS) to administer a capacity-building program for its grantees focused on placemaking activations. Through this effort, PPS provided design services and implementation funds to Pewabic for the new courtyard.

View full article →

Connecting with U.P. Maker and Educator Kenyon Hansen
Connecting with U.P. Maker and Educator Kenyon Hansen

May 30, 2019

Kenyon Hansen is all about making connections, and he felt a connection to Pewabic long before ever setting foot inside the building.

Last week was his first time not just at the pottery, but in Detroit, though he’s long known about Pewabic founder Mary Chase Perry (Stratton). He grew up a stone’s throw from her birthplace and childhood home in Hancock, Mich. And once Hansen became a potter, that connection strengthened even more.

The Finlandia University visiting artist came to Pewabic to jury the Maker/Mentor exhibition, lead a workshop for Education Studio students and deliver his studio work to make its Pewabic House & Garden Show debut June 6-9.

View full article →

Mary Chase Perry Stratton's 152nd birthday
Mary Chase Perry Stratton's 152nd birthday

March 15, 2019

Pewabic founder Mary Chase Perry Stratton turns a spry 152 years old today. We can only imagine what she’d think of today’s world, but we like to think that she’d be pleased that her pottery on East Jefferson is still a bastion of artisans dedicated to creating handcrafted tiles and ware and continue to encourage a love of ceramics.

View full article →