Unique Tile Applications: Pewabic Fountains Past and Present

Posted by Frances Ma on

Colorful custom residential tiled fountain

Custom residential fountain photographed by Jim Haefner


We recently featured this colorful Metro-Detroit residential fountain installation and the excitement you all expressed for this project inspired us to dive into our past fountain designs! 

Every tile project is customized to the client’s design goals. Iconic features of Pewabic tile designs including glaze color, surface texture, and accent tiles make them instantly recognizable. Many customers request designs informed by historic Pewabic tile installations. The residential fountain shown above took color and layout inspiration directly from our historic fountain found in the Detroit Institute of Art.


Historic Pewabic fountain at the Detroit Institute of Arts with various glazes

Historic Fountain at the Detroit Institute of Arts  

Over the years, Pewabic artists, designers and glaze specialists have left their indelible impressions on the visual legacy of Pewabic tile. This legacy is ever-evolving, pulling from the past while creating new designs for future projects. 

Gold, blue, and red tile details with a golden harlequin centerpiece Harlequin centerpiece detail 

 Turquoise and iridescent Pewabic tile details with a brass, harlequin centerpieceResidential fountain commission from Pewabic’s past with a similar centerpiece  

The process by which Pewabic tile is created at the pottery remains much the same. Learn more about the clay-making methods still in place after over a century of production in our blog post “Clay Making Then and Now”

Earlier this year, Education Director Annie began collecting images of fountains from Pewabic’s past. Here are a few highlights from her findings:

Black and white photo of Pewabic fountain installation at Women's City Club (right) and sepia-toned photo of a custom fountain at Schulze SchoolWomen’s City Club fountain (left) and Schulze School fountain (right)

 Moody, dimly lit image of the Earhart fountain at Concordia University in Ann ArborEarhart fountain at Concordia University 


We’ve also been looking back on custom historic work that remains a staple for many Detroiters when they think “Pewabic Tile”. Pewabic has been commissioned for a few large-scale fountains over the years–– notably the James Scott Memorial Fountain that resides on Belle Isle State Park and the Rainbow Fountain on Cranbrook’s campus. 

The Scott Fountain on Belle Isle State Park in operation at twilight James Scott Memorial Fountain on Belle Isle State Park

Purple, yellow, and blue nautical tile that once adored the Scott Fountain on Belle IsleDetail of the Scott Fountain built in 1925 featuring Pewabic Tile

The tiles have since been removed during major repairs to the fountain. An early sketch of the fountain’s original layout is available in our Pewabic Prints collection.   Red, green, and yellow crudely painted sketches of Scott Fountain nautical sea star detailing “Sea Star” tile design sketch from the Scott Fountain  


Red, green, and yellow crudely painted sketches of Scott Fountain nautical crab and fish detailing Crab tile design detail 


Colorful blue and yellow fountain surrounded by stone on Cranbrook's campusRainbow Fountain on Cranbrook’s campus

The Rainbow Fountain was restored in 2004. It was first constructed in 1916 by George Gough Booth along with architect Marcus Burrowes. Pewabic tile was added a few years following its initial build. The fountain got its name from the radiant rainbow the spray of water would cast across the structure at sunset. 


Black and white image of a woman from the 1900s in a bonnet planning a tile layout on the garden floorCo-Founder Mary Chase Perry Stratton laying out the Rainbow Fountain tile design 

Man wearing a mask in green planning the layout of green Pewabic tile at Pewabic PotteryPewabic Tile Tech Supervisor Brett lays out a new tile design at the pottery 

Share your favorite Pewabic fountain photos or tile installations with us through news@pewabic.org or by tagging @pewabic on social media. See our recent blog post to get involved in our celebration of 40 years as a nonprofit organization.  

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  • I had a meeting at East Detroit High School a few years back. I went through the Gratiot entrance and was greeted by a Pewabic drinking fountain. My meeting mates finally found me so I went back to work. My thoughts went back to Wednesdays as a kid my Dad took classes in the Racham building and Mom took us kids to the library to the room with the Winee the Pooh fire place with the biggest Michigan map I ever saw. Memories!

    Rob Lutz on
  • I do belive there is one at Stan Hewet (sp) mansion in Akron Ohio.

    John Myers on
  • such marvelous work!!! Pewabic is a motown triumph!

  • I love seeing the beautiful fountains. Is pewabic in the fisher and guardian buildings in Detroit?

    Gretchen Apple on
  • Your Fountain Series is fascinating! I believe there is a Pewabic Fountain in Grosse Pointe South High School as it was built in the early twenties. The virtual auction is calling to me and am ready to bid on a lotus vase. Thanks for your dedicated work.

    Carrie Ehrlich on
  • Oh, the history! I didn’t realize the beautiful fountain at Belle Isle was created by artists from Pewabic. Wonderful.

    Rebecca on

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