In mid-October Sheila Menzies and Joe Taylor visited Ohio, specifically responding to an invitation from David Johnson at Summitville Tiles. The company had decided to close its Art Department; and along with the Museum of Ceramics and the Ohio Historical Society, Tile Heritage was invited to review the historic documents, product samples, artwork and other memorabilia for possible inclusion in the Tile Heritage library and archives.
We arrived in crisp, sunny weather with foliage colors at their peak. Summitville lies south of Youngstown in rolling landscape not far from the Ohio River and the West Virginia border. As well as owning Summitville Tiles, the Johnson family runs an impeccably restored early 19th century hostelry called the Spread Eagle Tavern and Inn located in nearby Hanoverton. We had the good fortune to be hosted there in grand style, staying in the Washington Room, complete with not one, but two fireplaces with period style tiles from Summitville's Williamsburg Tile Collection. The inn was like a museum from rathskeller to rooftop and served delicious food and wine to boot! See www.spreadeagletavern.com.
Our visit to the Art Department at Summitville Tiles was most interesting.
Although saddened that such a treasure needed to be dismantled, we were
encouraged that the future of all of these materials had been provided for.
Tile Art Found in Wooster
Arriving unannounced, we knocked on the door of Artfind Tile in Wooster, a prosperous mini-metropolis due west of Summitville. With luck, we found the proprietors at home. Brigid O'Connor, the more stationary of the pair, and Eric Astrachan, who as executive director of the Tile Council of North America is continually on the go, were as surprised to see us as we were to find them! And immediately the "10 minute," turned 4 hour(!), tour began.
The Artfind studio and showroom of handcrafted art tiles from all over the U.S. was impressive enough, and perhaps the tour should have ended there. But, beware, no tour at Artfind is complete without visiting all floors, including the basement and the roof, and hearing all the stories associated with the reconstruction of this marvelous 1881 building.
We had the privilege of visiting the Cornerstone Elementary School, a classic example of Tudor Revival architecture that was saved from demolition in the mid-1990s by an inspired and informed citizenry. And then to the natatorium at the new Wooster High School where in 1994 Artfind Tile produced and donated a series of extraordinary murals, "At the Water's Edge," that adorn the interior wall above the pool.
Zanesville: Where Tiles Were First Manufactured
We could not visit Ohio without a visit with tile historian Mike Sims and
his wife Alta in Zanesville, where tiles were first manufactured in the U.S.
They graciously hosted us at their home for a fine meal and lots of tile
"show and tell." Mike is an avid collector of encaustic tiles and has
lectured at THF symposiums and written numerous articles for both "Flash
We were encouraged by Mike and Alta to visit a couple of contemporary installations in Zanesville before we departed. The first was a remarkable installation at the public library, an interactive work by DeBorah Goletz. All of the tile panels represent the history of the city and are designed to be used to make rubbings, using paper and wax crayon.
Running between rain showers we found the second installation at the Fioriware Studio and showroom downtown. The exterior and parking perimeter is delightfully decorated with lush, fanciful mosaic, much of it picassiette broken wares from the studio itself.
Seneca Tiles Visit
The fourth day of our Ohio tile tour took us from Zanesville west around Columbus and then due north. We drove through small towns and rain softened cornfields, richly colored landscapes under a vast open sky, eventually stopping at Seneca Tiles outside the town of Attica about 40 miles south of Lake Erie. Joe had visited the plant several times before and instinctively knew where to turn off the highway on to County Road 23. There certainly was no indication that nestled among the cornstalks was a vibrant tile factory replete with beehive kilns.
Seneca Tiles has been in operation since 1978 and is owned by Jim Fry, a consummate ceramist and astute businessman. The factory with its beehive kilns has an earlier history as a plant for the production of clay, field-drainage tiles dating back to 1906.
Throughout the plant tour, we remained intrigued as Jim described what happens at Seneca as "generally abandoned techniques" are used for making tiles: tilemakers hand-filling wooden molds with heaps of puffy, moist clay, scraping them off, then emptying them immediately and setting the tiles up to dry, just as it's been done for hundreds of years.
Seneca also makes unglazed quarry pavers in a variety of shapes and shades. These have a beautiful flash finish that comes from an unhurried firing in a beehive kiln. The rest of Seneca's production includes hundreds of different shapes and colors of glazed field tiles and hand-molded tiles. These unique and authentic American handcrafted products are distributed nationwide. We came away with a fine appreciation for this "feast of clay" amidst the cornfields of northern Ohio. Visit www.senecatiles.com.
October Guests at Tile Heritage
Tile Heritage played host for a few days to visiting THF members, artists Josh Blanc and Layl McDill from Minneapolis. Josh is president of the Handmade Tile Association and was the main "mover and shaker" who assisted us in organizing the "Tiles in the Twin Cities" symposium in 2002. Together the two run Clay Squared to Infinity, where each has a studio and where the tiles of many other artists are sold. See www.claysquared.com.
While here on the West Coast, the couple enjoyed digging through the THF library when they weren't out scouring the countryside. They spent a night with THF board member Donna Billick at her studio in Davis, toured the pottery at Gladding McBean in Lincoln, as well as the State Capitol in Sacramento. Their final hours in San Francisco were spent touring tile installations in the Marina District, an area of the city that's been mapped by THF board member Riley Doty.
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