Pewabic Stands the Test of Time

April 22, 2020

Early exterior shot of Pewabic Pottery circa 1916 

As part of our throwback Thursday series, we look back on how Pewabic has stood the test of time. This 117 year old art institution has lived through the Great Depression, World War II, and the Detroit riot.

Our Co-Founder Mary Chase Perry Stratton pivoted the business during the Great Depression by selling small pots, ashtrays, and buttons. The historic bee pin depicted below alongside Pewabic’s present day rendition was designed in the late 1920s-1930s and sold in Pewabic’s gallery. 

Historic Pewabic bee pin (left) alongside Pewabic’s current Honey Bee Pin (right) 

Small jewel objects like this were sold to support gallery sales, but Pewabic’s primary source of income during this time came from a work program set up through the government to employ local artists and craftsmen during the Depression. Pewabic was commissioned for tile installations from school murals to drinking fountains.

Detail of a Pewabic fountain commissioned during the Great Depression 

During the 1940s World War II forced Pewabic to pivot again. Material shortages as a result of the war required Pewabic staff to adjust some of their longstanding practices and kiln firing techniques. Since the war was on the heels of the Great Depression, the economic climate was still rocky and Pewabic faced uncertain financial times. 

Pewabic started selling items on consignment like the pieces depicted below. These items were made on consignment by a few stores and galleries in Detroit and New York City. The two main stores were John Junge (NYC) and Hudson’s (Detroit).

Ad including Pewabic consignment ceramics pins from John Junge, New York City

These ads describe Pewabic’s “original and lovely forms” with “brilliant capricious glazes”. Ceramic pins were sold alongside hundreds of cigarette boxes during World War II. Architectural projects slowed, making these commissions a significant source or revenue during this time period.

Pewabic cigarette boxes ‘Prancing Deer’ (left) and fish (right)

Collection of Pewabic pins–– Calla Lily (left), Sunflower (middle), and Trilium (right)

Our debut 2020 Spring Collection pays homage to Pewabic’s past and present. These small ceramic pins are little reminders of the perseverance of art, the city we love, and the natural landscape. Our co-founder spent much of her time meticulously sculpting details inspired by nature. 

On this Earth Day, we are finding peace and reverence for life that is springing forth all around us. As we move toward a greener and more sustainable future, we keep the lessons of the season close to our hearts. It is astounding to think that small ceramic pieces such as the ones pictured above helped carry the pottery through such hardships. Sometimes the smallest things can make all the difference! 


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