The Sweet Weight of Memory

Looping around the old wooden house like a graveled and oil-coated oxbow, the driveway eased up into a yard littered with bits of sunlight-snagging metal: enameled porch chairs; galvanized tubs reserved for icing down watermelon; a hand pump hung with dippers and buckets.

At either end of the just slightly bowed roofline, ceramic insulators surrounded an array of lightning rods. Inside the house, ceramics overflowed the kitchen – mis-matched mixing bowls, pie plates, an orange refrigerator jug – while smooth, hexagonal tiles spread across the floor.

Apart from an étagère tucked into a living room corner to provide a resting place for tiny porcelain vases, candy dishes and a caterpillar won at the County Fair, the only purely decorative bit of ceramic art in my grandmother’s house was the cheese board kept in her kitchen.

Given that she departed Sweden for the United States from the Baltic Sea port of Gefle, and given that Bosättningsaffär translates roughly as “household furnishings store”, it seems likely the board was an advertising piece for a local shop. Still, its provenance remains uncertain. Perhaps my grandmother received it as a departure gift. Perhaps she herself purchased it, then wrapped and carried it away as a comforting reminder of her old-country home. Whatever the explanation, it arrived in America as one of her most cherished possessions, and throughout her life it rested, icon-like, inside a glass-fronted cabinet.

Once, I asked if I might hold it. The look she gave me suggested I’d asked to blow up the house, but the cabinet doors swung open and for a moment its surprising weight rested in my hands. “You take it, Grandma,” I said, my heart pounding with anxiety, my child’s mind convinced that, should I drop it, I’d be forever banished from my family.

Today, the weight of it hangs on my wall, sufficiently well-secured to please even my grandmother. An object of beauty in its own right, it testifies beautifully to the power of family ties and history. Still, as far as I know, it’s never held a chunk of cheese. It probably never will.

In truth, Grandma’s cheese board is an overgrown ceramic tile, an art form common enough in our country but one I rarely noticed during my formative years in the Midwest. I was more impressed by South Dakota’s Corn Palace than by Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza, itself an extraordinary example of architectural tiling. 

Not until a sailing trip landed me on the shores of Catalina Island did I find both my eyes and my interest caught by a remarkable vision of tiled fountains, archways and facades.

Catalina Island and Avalon - the Crescent and Sumner fountain

The Island’s tiles were produced locally by Catalina Clay Products, a company founded by William Wrigley, Jr. and developed in partnership with David Malcolm Renton, a builder from Pasadena, California who specialized in Craftsman homes and Mission-style bungalows.

They made an interesting pair. Wrigley not only owned the Island, he also owned the Chicago Cubs, whose spring training (War years excepted) took place on Catalina from 1921-1951. Prior to his work on Catalina, Renton was responsible for the construction of the observation tower and astronomers’ quarters at the Mt. Wilson Observatory.  After teaming up with Wrigley, he also supervised construction of the Casino Ballroom, a primary landmark on the island.

The pottery itself, located near Avalon at Pebbly Beach, operated from 1927-1937. Its tiles were distinguished by the use of native clay and native oxides for glazes. Associated with a period known as the Spanish Colonial or California Revival, the tiles combine primitive design with shimmering traditional colors -Catalina blue, Descanso green, Toyon Red and Manchu yellow.

In Avalon, tiles are everywhere. Many depict the natural world – brightly colored birds or fish, cactus and buffalo. Others suggest Moorish influences, while many reflect the popularity of the 1920s Art Deco movement.

Today, finding and obtaining original Catalina tiles requires luck, perseverance and plenty of cash. It doesn’t take much research or time on sites like eBay to realize that terms like “historical”, “hand-crafted” and “real vintage” often translate to “made in my garage last weekend”, or that paying hundreds of dollars for a four-tile Catalina table is common.

On the other hand, if a historical connection to Catalina is enough to make you happy, Gladding, McBean tiles are far more common and affordable.  In 1937, Gladding purchased Catalina Clay Products and moved their facilities to the Los Angeles area. The company continued to use the tradename Catalina Pottery” on select dinnerware, art pottery and tiles, but rather than incising the name, as was done on Island-made pieces, Gladding used paper labels or an inked mark that says, “Catalina Pottery USA”.

When I discovered this lovely  Gladding tile in a box at an antique shop, I mistook it for a true Catalina Island piece because of its mark.  In the end, I didn’t mind my mistake. In the process of identifying it properly, I learned a good bit about the history of California pottery and even more about the importance of marks – useful knowledge for any collector.

Over the years I’ve accumulated a small clutch of other tiles – some beautiful, some historically interesting and a few representative of the best of the Arts and Crafts movement.

This transfer-printed and polychromed Cushion tile made by the Wheeling Pottery of Wheeling, West Virginia, dates to c. 1890. It has no artist’s name or initials, although the usual pottery marks are present. When I pulled it from a box of sale items in rural Oklahoma, I couldn’t help imagining another woman, much like my grandmother, wrapping and cosseting this fragile bit of clay, intent on keeping it close throughout her journey toward an uncertain future.

A quite different tile from the same period exemplifies the English Aesthetic movement.  Stylized motifs taken from nature, an obvious Japanese influence and dedication to transforming ordinary household objects into useful bits of beauty characterized the Aesthetic decorators’ work. Many American potters adapted Aesthetic designs for their own wares, hoping to compete with such European imports as this Staffordshire tile.

If I could keep only one tile to carry with me in my travels, it might be this Art Nouveau wonder produced by Minton Hollins & Co. of Stoke-on-Trent, England. Minton & Co began production c. 1828. When their tile-making began to be managed by partner Michael Daintry Hollins in 1840, the new brand name was adopted.  Minton Hollins tiles have been incorporated into the Palace of Westminster, the U.S. Capitol, the Victoria and Albert Museum and my entry way, where this single tile has taken on its own icon-like status.

Still, if it came to a choice, I’d be hard-pressed to relinquish my Arts and Crafts tiles. Tokens of my years in the San Francisco Bay area, they continue to evoke rich, visceral memories – deep, blue mornings, afternoons redolent of eucalyptus and French roast, evenings draped in fog.

This exquisite floral, just over three inches square, was framed with an open back to allow for easy reading of the incised mark – “California Art Tile, Richmond, California”. Founded in 1922 as the Clay Glow Tile Company by James White Hislop, a third generation brick maker, the business incorporated a year later as California Art Tile.  Known for soft, muted glazes, the company was responsible for one of the most prolific and artistic bodies of work in Northern California.

After the death of an old tile setter in El Cerrito, California, much of his stock was auctioned off, including this set of four Woolenius tiles.  Representative of the Mayan theme popularlized by Ernest Batchelder, they were meant to be used as fireplace inserts but never were installed.

Woolenius Tiles was established in 1927 by Charles Elsenius, a fellow who moved to Berkeley from San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. A brick mason by trade, he specialized in fireplace and chimney work, and decided to begin producing his own tiles as well.  When he began his business at his house on Woolsey street, he created the business name by combining the first syllable of his street with the last part of his name, a common custom at the time.

To say Woolenius was influenced by Batchelder hardly is remarkable. The importance of Ernest Batchelder to the Arts and Crafts movement, both as an artist and as a businessman, was so widespread and so pervasive that installations of his tiles can be found around the country. By 1930 the Batchelder-Wilson Company had showrooms not only in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but also in New York and Chicago, and major installations had been placed in Minneapolis and Vancouver.

Because Batchelder was devoted to the cause of beautiful fireplaces as the centerpiece of a home, thousands were installed in even quite modest bungalows. As a result, more than a few homeowners have been astonished to find themselves in possession of a piece of architectural history.

Having seen Batchelder’s work in person and having absorbed the history from Robert Winter’s fine book, Batchelder: Tilemaker, I caught a light case of Batchelder fever myself and set out to find a representative tile for my collection.  It took some time, but eventually I purchased this elegant piece, incised with the Batchelder mark and shown here actual size.

While I consider each of my tiles to be beautiful, this one meets both requirements of William Morris’s famous exhortation to “have nothing in your house which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”. 

Not only do I believe my little bit of Batchelder to be beautiful, I know it to be useful. It lives on the corner of my desk as a paperweight, an old-fashioned but necessary occupation. Now and then, I reach over and pick it up, surprised each time by its substance and heft.

The weight of it resting in my hand is deeply satisfying.  It reminds me of California, of sunlight streaming across the floor of a friend’s house on Woolsey street not far from the home of Charles Elsenius. It reminds me of the importance of joining art to craft, but above all it reminds me of that long-ago day when the weight of my grandmother’s cheese board rested in my hands. Feeling this tile, remembering that day, I smile, and feel a weight lifted from my heart.

For the first post in this series and some context, you’re invited to enjoy “William Morris: Useful Bits of Beauty”
Comments always are welcome. To leave a comment or respond, just click below. And please – no ReBlogging. Thanks!

107 thoughts on “The Sweet Weight of Memory

    1. Thanks, Nia.

      I’m not surprised the tiles appeal to you. You have an eye for color and design, and so did the tile makers. I’m glad you enjoyed the post – a happy weekend to you, too.


  1. A fascinating history. And then a reminder of how much I treasure the few items I have of my grandmother’s–two framed needlepoint florals along, a bread and butter saucer from the turn of the century, and the pink hobnail pitcher from the late 1800s that belonged to the great grandmother. Treasures that may end up in an antique store one day, but comforting to me now.

    Some obscure connecting points. Ben grew up in Oakland and spent his youth and young adulthood sailing the waters of the Bay and beyond to Catalina, Mexico, Hawaii, Tahiti. He went to Stanford and Berkeley and his dad had a foundry in Richmond, not producing tiles, but “works of art” of their own kind.

    My mom and dad owned a sailboat before I was born and used to sail to Catalina, probably in the 30s and 40s. Perhaps my mother laid eyes on that “remarkable vision of tiled fountains, archways and facades” that you beheld.

    My favorite tile is the Batchelder. Lovely.

    1. Martha,

      Here’s another connecting point for you. Most of the roof tiles at Stanford were produced by Gladding, McBean as part of the industrial side of their business. And it tickles me to think that Ben grew up in Oakland and had connections to Richmond. At various times I lived in El Cerrito, Oakland and the Berkeley flats – and I still drink Peet’s coffee.

      It amuses me now to think that, during my years in the Bay Area, I never set foot on a boat. Sailboats were just part of the scenery, not so different from buildings or trees. I’ve met more California sailors here than I ever did there, and it was only after I left the state that I returned to make that sail from Newport Beach to Catalina.

      I’m sure your parents saw some of the same sights I did. If they ever went ashore, as they surely did, that fountain would have been impossible to avoid. I wouldn’t be surprised to know they danced at the ballroom in Avalon, too. A blogger I read was there for New Year’s eve – last year, I believe. It seems to be as magical as ever.

      I can almost see those family items you mention. I’ll have to look – I’m sure you posted about them, and I seem to remember the pitcher, at least, on a sideboard. Isn’t it amazing, the power of objects to hold and convey memories? I’m sure you have the same experience I do, finding that every pitcher, every saucer, has a story to tell – or a string of them, for all that!


      1. Yes, I did write once about the heirlooms on the sideboard. They were there my entire life, in the same position. Growing up I polished the sterling silver tea set that sat next to the gorgeous cobalt blue carnival glass bowl and berry set that belonged to my great grandmother.
        In mom’s 80s and 90s I dusted the sideboard for her every month or so. We carefully labeled the dishes, going back four generations into the 1800s. When mom died my brother wanted the berry set, my nephew the silver tea set (which had belonged to the stepfather’s mother, so no attachment there). But everything else sits in almost the same place.
        Among the treasures were some sterling silver spoons in a velvet case that somehow missed identification. After realizing about a year ago that the initials on the spoons were those of my maternal great great grandmother, Maria Blackmer, I researched the Chicago spoon-maker and matched his presence in Chicago about the time she would have been married in 1850.
        But now what. There they sit along with the other dishes, with no curious granddaughter to say, “Grandma, where did this come from?” Son says no grandchildren….and even if I had one later, I may be over the rainbow bridge by the time she or he is old enough to have any interest in a pink hobnail pitcher.
        Alas, I think you know what I mean.

        1. Indeed, I do know what you mean. That’s why I’m already making my plans to distribute what I have while I’m as compos as my mentis will allow. There’s so little family it requires some thought, but it’s clear that the small museum in my grandparents’ and parents’ town is a place to start. I can’t stand the thought of any of these things going into an antique shop – let alone getting dumped in Goodwill.

          One of my friends was musing over this and made a good point. “Get young friends,” she said. “Otherwise, you won’t have anyone left to give stuff to.” We do have to be practical about such things!

  2. I love my tiles from Mexico, France, Belgium, Spain and Italy and I love this post! I will miss my tiles displayed along the plate rail high to the ceiling when we move. Perhaps we can replicate a similar display in the new house. You have such beautiful pieces and it’s wonderful you know their story.

    I will never forget my brother visiting from CA and saying to me laughing all the while and pointing to my tiles and plates up high…we could never do this in CA due to the tremors they experience!

    I remember my aunt taking me to the Hotel Maria Luisa in Seville, Spain. They were disposing of their tiles and other items. She explained to me they were remodeling and the tiles there would be priceless. She suggested I pick up a souvenir. I have one and my mother has several. Every time I look at them, I think of Sevilla and know they are over a century.

    Thank you for this treasure of information re: Catalina, CA.

    1. Georgette,

      You need to tell your brother about quake putty! Of course, he may already have some. I learned about it from liveaboards who also like to go cruising. It works beautifully to keep things secure on a boat that’s heeling and knocking about in rough weather, and from all reports it does nicely in earthquakes. I have some crown molding ledges where I display an assortment of treasures, and I use it there, too.

      From what I’ve read, the increased value of tiles, mantles and such, along with the increasing number of architectural salvage firms, has raised awareness about the importance of preserving these treasures. At one time, they’d just bring in the bulldozers. Now, many demolition companies work in conjunction with preservation groups to be sure the past isn’t just swept away. It’s wonderful that you and your mother were able to claim some from Seville – no matter their price on eBay, they are priceless because of the associated memories.

      As I was looking at the list of countries you listed, I realized that, apart from Grandma’s cheese board, my first real exposure to tiles came in a little town named Pella, about 30 miles from my home town. It was – is – a Dutch town, with wooden shoes, windmills, wonderful bakeries and a yearly festival to celebrate the fields of tulips. Many of the shops there were decorated with tiles from Holland, and of course Delft tiles were for sale in the shops.Every culture has their variation on the theme – the differences are wonderful.

      Won’t it be fun to rearrange your memories as you move into your new home?


  3. Delightful post, Linda. It was like being in your home, having you near to explain the intricacies of these pieces. History and beauty in a collection you can hold in your hands — priceless.

    1. nikkipolani,

      Oh, you should hear me when I get started on my china! I’m entirely as enthusiastic as you are with your roses though not nearly so knowledgeable. It’s such fun to learn about any collection – to move from the “oh, pretty!” stage to real knowledge about a piece’s history and characteristics.

      I’m so happy you felt as though you were getting a little “tour”. Telling you “about” the pieces and introducing you to them are two different things!


  4. Linda, I love it when I learn something from my blogging friends, and you never fail to satisfy my thirst for knowledge. What beautiful tiles you’ve collected!
    I can just almost see the Little Linda holding grandmother’s prized cheese board in her hands, and I can so imagine Grandma as a young girl carefully preserving something of her past to take on her journey into the future. How brave our ancestors were — I wonder how many of us would be that courageous??
    I love the Catalina tiles — the colors are fabulous! — and I didn’t realize Mr. Wrigley of Chicago Cubs’ fame was co-owner of a tiling company. Brilliant!

    1. Debbie,

      Our ancestors were brave, weren’t they? Even those who didn’t travel oceans but only traveled from one state to another had their adventures and their trials. Of course, the goal for many of them was a better life. They knew it was possible, and they were sure they could make it happen – or, at least, they were willing to give it a shot.

      Isn’t that amazing, about Wrigley’s connection to baseball? I didn’t know that until I did the research for this post. I got fairly well sidetracked reading about that whole thing – including the fact that there were two Wrigley Fields. One was in Los Angeles – quite interesting.

      Have you ever done any work with African trade beads? I was thinking it would be a wonderful way to combine your interest in jewelry-making and ceramics. Most of mine are gone now, but I have a few that I made into necklaces, combining them with other stones. I gave the bulk of them to a museum, but I wish now I’d kept a few more than I did. On the other hand, they’d only stay in a drawer, so I suppose it’s fine.

      It’s amazing how clearly I remember my fear about dropping that cheese board. I couldnt’ wait to get it out of my hands! I know Grandma still would have loved me – but it never would have been the same. ;)


  5. What a delightful trip down memory lane. I too love tiles, though I am not a collector per se. A large pool and fountain in my patio is covered with handmade Mexican tile, and my counters and floors are handmade tile as well. I go often to the pottery area of the V & A in London, always hoping to see more of my ancestor’s pottery. I imagine this is where I inherited my love of clay.

    1. Kayti,

      I think your patio must be lovely. When I did an image search for “Mexican tile”, I was astonished by the complexity and beauty of some of the designs. I have a sense that much of the “Mexican tile” we see here bears as much resemblance to the best Mexican tile as Taco Bell burritos do to a great Mole Poblano.

      The Victoria and Albert is a place I could return to again and again, although I probably never will. This tile panel on display there, made by William Morris and William De Morgan, was one of the patterns duplicated in the Morris gift wrap package that helped introduce me to his work.

      It’s a wonder and a mystery to me that people can paint, sculpt and work clay into such marvels as these tiles.But I remember how much fun it was to “mess” with clay as a kid – for someone like you, with such obvious talent, the pleasure must be multiplied.

      On another subject entirely…. Have you ever read Tennessee William’s short story called “The Mattress by the Tomato Patch”, with its section on California’s “rocking horse weather”? If not, I’ll send that section along to you. It’s only two or three paragraphs long, but it’s really quite remarkable, and all of this talk of California has brought it to mind.


    1. Ben,

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your kind words. I visited your blog, and had to smile. You can’t be living very far from where that cheese board sat in its cabinet. I’m an Iowa native, and had some terrific years there.

      In fact, I nearly had given up the thought of a trip to Iowa this fall, but your photos have made me reconsider. It really is beautiful, and if I’m going to see it, I’d better get going.

      Thanks again for visiting and commenting. You’re always welcome.


  6. Love this Linda…Tiles are so fascinating and captivating. You have taught us well. I can see why you would love your paperweight, because it is very beautiful and looks the part of something you would want to touch. Sweet remembrance of your Grandmother too.
    peace n abundance,

    1. CheyAnne,

      I couldn’t find a way to get this tile into the post, but here it is, just for you. It’s modern and commercial,, but I purchased it on the road to Chimayo, so it’s a wonderful token of a wonderful trip. Of course I had to have something with a beautiful New Mexico blue door! Now, it hangs in my kitchen by the sink, along with another showing a woman walking on the road.

      There’s nothing better than art as a souvenir, don’t you think?

      Happy weekend to you!


  7. As always, beautifully written.

    Your grandmother’s cheese board is a treasure. What a blessing that you have it.

    I know next to nothing about tiles, but there are two hanging on the wall of our kitchen that are sort of special for me. I bought them in the Armenian Quarter in Old Jerusalem. One is a fishes and loaves motif and the other a stylized peacock. As you may know, the Ottomans brought some Armenian craftsmen to Jerusalem a couple hundred years ago to repair the tiles on the Dome of the Rock. Their descendants still live in Jerusalem, making ceramics to sell to tourists like me (and no doubt making top quality art as well). My tiles may be junk to a trained eye, but to me they are reminders of a great visit.

    Thanks for the fascinating history lesson.

    1. Bill,

      I don’t even remember how that cheese board came into my possession. Dad must have retrieved it after Grandma died, but I don’t remember it being displayed in my parents’ house, I don’t remember moving it to Texas and I don’t remember it in Mom’s apartment here. After seeing it for so many years at my grandparents, my next memory is of putting it up on my wall after Mom died. No wonder history’s so hard to write – there are these great, blank spaces!

      I don’t know about a trained eye, but it seems to me that you’ve met at least one of Morris’s criteria with your tiles: they’re useful, in the sense that they continue to evoke memories and connect you to a special time in your life. Of course, I’m the one who thinks combining found birds’ nests with African “country money” and art nouveau lamps is just fine. I might not be in style (whatever that means) but I’m surrounded by my own history.

      I didn’t know about the Armenians, but now I do. It’s so interesting – this example of Armenian arts in Jerusalem shows tile just like that in my grandparents’ house, and this installation could easily be a William Morris design. Lovely, all of it!


      ADD: I just noticed my comment above to CheyAnne, and laughed. You brought yours from Jerusalem, I brought mine from New Mexico.

  8. Your descriptions of the various tiles and their histories is fascinating and the tiles are beautiful.

    I was very much taken by the tile that belonged to your grandmother and how much it meant to her and now to you. Your words about the tile that you found in rural Oklahoma; your imagining that another woman had likely cherished it so much really touched my heart. Those feelings transcend the world of value and history and artistic beauty and remind me of the feelings of those women and the importance to them of relatively small things in their world.

    1. montucky,

      We have so much stuff we tend to forget what it was like, not only to “make do”, but also to live with only a few deeply meaningful treasures. In the old days, there weren’t any moving vans trucking around the country on freeways, delivering heirloom sideboards and armoires to Cripple Creek. Moving by Conestoga wagon and flatboat or boarding a ship must have been like evacuating for a hurricane – you took what you could carry.

      We do tend to forget that those who came before us were first of all human beings.This is a terrible generalization, but still – as a society, we’ve grown remarkably arrogant, coarse and unfeeling, a most unhappy combination. I have a few letters written to my great-great-grandmother by a friend with whom she camped on the Texas prairie around 1880. The letters are well-written and interesting, filled with details about daily life and concern for other families. I well can imagine Mrs. Foster carrying and caring for such a tile – an affirmation of beauty in a world that often enough was difficult and harsh.


  9. Another post that I love. So informative and it appeals to my senses because I like old things and enjoy reading about the history of the things that most of us treasure. I learned about tiles tonight and the lesson that you have put forth has been quite enjoyable.

    The tiles that you have pictured here are all beautiful. That certain warmth when viewing the tile that belonged to your grandmother surely must have led you on a quest for all the wonderful and unusual tiles in your collection.

    1. Yvonne,

      Actually, I worked backwards. I began collecting china, and then I became interested in the Arts and Crafts movement, and then I gathered up a few tiles, and then I recognized Grandma’s cheese board as a tile. I suppose someone on the outside could say, “Well, of course it’s a tile, you silly goose. What’s wrong with you?” But I only saw it as **Grandma’s Cheese Board**, and never gave a thought to where it had come from or how it was made.

      Now, because of my new knowledge of all these things, I have a deeper appreciation for the cheese board. Funny how that works, whether we’re learning about art, music, wildflowers, food, writers or even our own families. Curiosity broadens our context – never a bad thing, in my view.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the tiles. It’s fun to share such special things.


  10. Earlier, when I was here reading this wonderful Post, I remembered that the people next door to me renovated and restored the house after they bought it- and with great loving care, I must say.There are tiles, all over. I am not sure they are Catalina, but I had taken a picture or two of some of them. I will email them to you—-maybe you will know. I LOVE all the tiles you showed in this post….So very BEAUTIFUL! Your Grandmother’s cheese board is exquisite!

    Also…There is a man who lives in the Hills not far from me, tiling his whole house, inside and out. Using mostly tile that has been tossed out—he created his own fantastic designs. I did 6 or 7 posts on him and the many many areas of his home that he has tiled since around 1967… I will have to send you the links to these posts. His work is utterly exquisite!

    Seeing the tiles you have collected, reminds me of ALL the great and beautiful creations there are in this world….And Thank God for them!

    1. OldOldLady of the Hills,

      The tiles installed at your neighbor’s house are beyond beautiful. I like them, very much. The colors appeal, as well as the design. Whether they’re true Catalina I can’t say, but they certainly are Catalina-like in their design.

      The clay that was used for early Catalina tiles was very red, as you can see from the fountain. As time went on, white clay was brought from the mainland, and they began to mix it with the red. Eventually, the products became lighter and lighter, making the body of the tile a better base for designs like those at your neighbor’s house. Eventually, wholly white clay products were made which had a very different appearance – like this vase.

      Your mention of the fellow who tiled his entire house is intriguing. Some people get started and just can’t stop, it seems. Here in Houston, we had another man who decided to do a decorating job on his house. It wasn’t quite so elegant as tiles, but on the other hand – well, you’ll see! His is a great and beautiful creation, too – and the house gets plenty of visitors!


  11. You’d go nuts over Antonio Gaudé’s stuff. The Parque Guell and the Iglesia de la Sagrada Familia in Barcelona all have inlaid tile mosaics on them. I’ve always loved the small (less than 1-inch) hexagonal tile floors that many of the older homes from the 20’s and 30’s had in the bathrooms (my aunt’s house, built in the 1930s in Houston had one). I love decorative tiles. The first house my mom and dad owned (they built it) had dark green ceramic tile on the kitchen counters. .

    (Erm… Gefle is on the Baltic Sea …)

    1. WOL,

      As these things happen, I just “met” Gaudi and the Iglesia de la Sagrada Familia a few weeks ago via another blog friend. He and his wife were there, and took some of the best photos I’ve seen. If it’s jaw-dropping on the internet, I can only imagine what it’s like in person.

      Those plain hexagonal floor tiles did define an era, didn’t they? There’s a little hole-in the-wall cafe in Uvalde that still had them the last time I was there. It made me feel good just to walk in there.

      You’re right about Gefle, of course, (or Gävle, as it is now). I knew that from my research, and have it correct in my genealogy notes. Apparently auto-complete isn’t just a function for internet search engines. Thanks for noticing and pointing it out – as I said to Friko, who also caught it, that’s why we need editors. Fact-checkers, too, now that I think about it. ;-)


  12. Thank you for sharing your beautifully written informative post. It teaches and shares heritage and some of your own history, at the same time. I look forward to each post from you; each is a delight.

    1. Carol,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it. It was great fun to write, although I confess there came a time when I thought, “My goodness – there’s too much here. I’ll bore them to death.” Surely wouldn’t want to do that!

      Since you write, too, you might be interested in this little tidbit. The initial title was “the sweet glaze of memory”. It seemed perfect, but I just couldn’t pull things together. Finally, I got the cheese board and the Batchelder tile and put them side by side. That’s when I realized that one is glazed and the other isn’t. It’s their weight that’s the commonality. I changed “glaze” to “weight” in the title, and finished the post in about an hour. Interesting how these things happen.

      Many thanks for such kind words. I appreciate them very much.


  13. What an absolutely gorgeous collection! And that you know their history makes them even more precious. These are lovely. I especially adore the Hollins tile. Do you have these hung on the wall or placed on a shelf?

    1. SDS,

      The Hollins is out of this world. It’s one of those pieces you can lose yourself in. It seems so simple, but the more you look, the more detail you see. And the glaze is remarkable. It’s absolutely flawless.

      These little beauties are all over the place. I’ve a huge bath, and at one end I took out a door and moved in a Mission Style china cabinet. That’s where I have my blue and white pieces, and that’s where the cheese board hangs.

      The Wheeling tile’s in the bath, too, grouped with a Bradley & Hubbard bronze plaque, a found bird’s nest and a finger oil lamp. The Hollins is on a table in the entry way, the Aesthetic is on a shelf in the living room with a candlestick oil lamp and a hand-painted pitcher, and the Gladding is on a high shelf in the kitchen.Oh – and the dainty Cal Art tile is in the kitchen, grouped with some pottery figures from Mexico and a photo I took of the church in Ranchos de Taos.

      The only ones who don’t have a “home” are the Woolenius. They’re four separate tiles, and I just don’t know what to do with them. For the time being, they’re on a bookcase shelf in the living room, guarding the books.

      A place for everything, as the saying goes…


      1. You’re a thoughtful decorator. Surrounding yourself with beautiful things, so that each entry into another room is met with lovely sights – that’s the way to do it!

  14. What exquisite tiles and such fascinating information.

    Thanks to my addiction to watching Antiques Roadshow, I’ve learned that the humble tile has become a collector’s item. I’m amazed at the extraordinary prices some of them command.

    I’m hard put to choose a favorite out of your tiles but that elegant Art Nouveau Minton, the rustic Woolenious and rosy Batchelder vie for top place.

    1. Gué,

      When I was writing this, I did a little extra poking around, and was astonished to see how prices on some of these have gone up. With the Catalina it’s scarcity, of course, but even the Woolenius and Batchelder would fetch far more than I paid.

      When I began collecting china, eBay was new, and people often listed items they knew nothing about at rock bottom prices. The trick was to learn to recognize mis-labeled pieces, pick them up for pennies on the dollar and then resell them for terrific profits.

      Today, those days are gone. Everybody’s an expert, and even the ones who aren’t are using the new online resources and books to figure out what they have. I’ve whittled my own stock down now to what I want to keep, so the wheeling and dealing is pretty much over. Hurricane season still will drive me crazy, but at least I can protect what I have with a reasonable expenditure of energy.

      It is hard to pick a favorite, isn’t it? Each of them has a quality or two that makes it special – thank goodness I don’t have to choose!


      1. I realized, a few hours after I posted, that I do have a tile. A friend gave it to me years ago. I doubt it’s valuable but I like it. It has a picture of a woman with a flying flamingo (?) on a leash. The style is rather Middle Ages and looks like it ought to be an illustration for Chaucer. On the back is “N SPAIN.” Probably a tourist piece but who cares?

        1. I wouldn’t care. I’ve got some of those “tourist pieces”, too, and they’re a far more lovely remembrance of a place than the old felt pennants and car window stickers we used to drag home. Or the shot glasses. Or the miniature pair of beaded moccasins.

          I kept thinking about that image, and went looking. It isn’t this woman, by any chance? Here’s her picture on the Lanvin site . She’s number 30, about halfway down.

          If this is the gal, don’t toss that tile. It may be a knock-off, or not. The doll was priced at $575.

          To quote Yakov Smirnoff, “What a country!”

  15. Very sweet post.I had a friend who was very involved with Arts and Crafts design. She introduced it to me and now I am always looking for it.

    Madison has many Craftsman style houses. I love the tiles, too.

    1. Martha,

      I was amazed to find so many Batchelder installations in Michigan and Wisconsin, but I learned that Batchelder got his start teaching in Minnesota and developed quite a reputation there before moving to L.A. Beyond that, of course, there’s more call for fireplaces in your part of the world!

      Was your friend an artist, an architect, or just a fan? It seems to me that more and more people are trying to apply some of the precepts of the movement to their homes, even if they can’t afford to go all out with one of those wonderful bungalows.


  16. I do not choose the items to display in our home (I just make the walls, floors and counters and hang the items where I’m told to) so I just took a stroll around the place to see what was actually in place.

    The numerous paintings are predominantly the work of people we know well.
    There are a couple of maps in hallways which I suppose were my choice.
    Small “Ironwood” carvings and an elaborate (but too short for me) Cane from Liberia and other small durable geegaws from many other countries we have visited.
    One top shelf crowded with framed photos of family.
    The fridge was just recently cleared of all the current photos and post cards stuck with magnets but is starting to show signs of a similar (though somewhat more limited and organized) surface growth.
    No tiles as such though I remember having to open a “carry-on” box of Mexican tiles in Edmonton because the scanner could not see into the contents. I think those tiles are in the bathroom of the island cabin.
    Wait a minute. I’ll have to check but I believe there is an image made from discarded tile fragments from the Louvre hanging in the outhouse on the island.

    Now I feel our decor is missing something: Tiles.
    I just don’t know yet where they will come from nor where they will be installed.

    1. Ken,

      And thank goodness for those of you who can produce walls, floors and counters. We’d be in a bad way without them.

      Your list is intriguing, mostly because it’s not so different from mine. I have some paintings and prints, all from people I’ve known or learned to know through their art. There are the carvings from Liberia, of course, a few masks, some Kissi pennies, a piece of Kru money. There’s a country cloth, too, but its so big I don’t have a wall to put it on.

      Likewise the family photos, the newly-cleared fridge… Some things exist world-wide, it seems.

      What I have to know is how you ended up with tile fragments from the Louvre. There has to be a story behind that – love the location of the art you created, though.

      When you stop to think about it, though, isn’t the history of most of your things like mine? I never knew where the next treasure was going to come from, or where it would be installed. Our homes are very much like the collector shells someone mentioned at the last post. The shell just ambles through life, picking up this and that and sticking it on. Despite the lack of planning, it can be darned attractive in the end.


      1. An old limerick comes to mind:
        “I wish that my room had a floor.
        I don’t so much care for a door.
        But this walking around
        Without any ground
        Is getting to be quite a bore!”
        I had missed the “Paramount Chief’s Robe” someone gave me when I left Liberia because It also is too large to display. It is a beautiful glistening white and I think it was looted (like most things there at the time) so I should probably send it back.
        As usual I had to check my story and though I trust this source it is also hear say:
        “What I have to know is how you ended up with tile fragments from the Louvre. There has to be a story behind that – love the location of the art you created, though.”
        Well, the tile fragments supposedly came from a renovation of Notre Dame Cathedral, not the Louvre.
        A good friend of ours (who we had helped to move house a number of times) gave us the somewhat nondescript image of a vase made from these fragments which an artist friend had given her when she lived for a while in Paris. I’ll get a photo next time I visit the island.
        Now I need to go searching for the “collector shell” –

          1. The tile piece is now posted on my blog. I only took memories from my short stay in Paris:
            Subway tunnels festooned with pipes and wires, an Air Show on Champs Elise and some clothing shop on Embassy Row which displayed small manikins dressed up children’s formal clothing.

            1. It’s great! I saw it and left a comment over there. I think it’s pretty classy, and I think it had some real thought given to it. Those are the sorts of pieces that get toted around because of the memories attached. They truly are irreplaceable.

  17. When you use that Batchelder tile, it’s art and your relationship with it. All that resentment toward those guards in uniform who stood in each room at the museums during the class trips disappears!

    Which brings me to my Escher tile dilemma. It sits on my desk, with a warning not to put anything hot on it. I got it when an Escher exhibit, complete with expanded pieces from a private collection, visited NC. The tile is only a nice souvenir from the gift shop, so is not art per se. But I am Dutch and want to use it, and how hot is coffee in a mug?

    1. Claudia,

      Never mind the class trips. When the last King Tut exhibition came through Houston, I stood next to the cat’s sarcophagus for a very long time, eyeing the guard who was eyeing me, with the “Do Not Touch” sign between us.

      As for the Escher, I can only give you my opinion – which is, those “don’t put anything hot on this” notices are meant to discourage fresh-from-the-oven casseroles and such. Before the West Virginia tile up above went to live in the bathroom, it was on my desk, and often had a coffee mug on it. Now and then Mom would say, “You’re going to scratch that thing” and I would say, “It’s already scratched”.
      She’d suggest that, eventually, I’d wear the image off it. I suggested that if the image was worn away and I still was around, I’d have bigger problems than a worn tile to think about.

      Besides, we live in a country where people sue over the fact that coffee’s hot. Maybe the museum’s crack staff of litigators were just being proactive, thinking about what could happen if someone’s tile cracked. ;-)


  18. Gefle has a porcelain manufacturer under that name. It is reasonably well known. Perhaps that is why your grandmother treasured her tile/cheeseboard.

    I have never seen the Baltic referred to as the Black Sea; is that the Swedish or US name for it?

    You have a splendid tile collection. I didn’t know anything about US tile manufacturers before. Not that I know much about any tiles anywhere except a few of the European makers.

    1. Friko,

      Ah, you caught it too, before I corrected it. No, it is indeed the Baltic Sea, which I knew from my research about Gefle/Gävle. In my earliest notes I had it right, until some unconscious impulse took over and changed its name. Despite multiple readings, I never saw the error. So thanks – another bit of evidence that a good editor always is helpful!

      I was surprised to learn that Gävle also is the home of Gevalia coffee. And though I’ll probably never know, I wonder if my grandparents left because of dislocation after the third of the great fires that affected the town. Perhaps work was hard to find.

      US pottery history is terrifically interesting. The little collecting I’ve done has been from Ohio Valley potters. I started and stopped collecting long before learning that my ancestors came from West Virginia, traveling in part by flatboat on the Ohio River. The connections are intriguing.

      The very few English tiles I have were my introduction to English potteries. They’re so much older, and there are so many, that confusion can take over pretty quickly. Say “Ohio Valley pottery” and you’re dealing with perhaps fewer than a hundred or so potters. Say “Staffordshire”, and it’s a whole different ball game! Trying to identify a British mark could take up someone’s whole retirement!


    1. Susan,

      There’s just something about stone and wood, tile and old glass, that’s so deeply appealing. I’m not at all surprised you enjoy tiles – the rich colors, the infinite number of designs, the worldwide nature of the craft all contribute to the appeal.

      And look at the central tile in this Batchelder fireplace. Put it in full screen mode and it’s marvelous. I wish he’d put it on a loop – I could have had my very own fireplace. ;)


  19. It sounds like your tiles aren’t objects but rather old friends. I have just been thoroughly educated on such an interesting topic! You have a knack for bringing to life the overlooked and under-appreciated. What a gift.

    Of all the tiles shown above, I like the buffalo one, and also the Mayan ones, because of my love of archaeology and ancient cultures. The pale floral one (California Art Tile) is also exquisite.

    My grandfather was an artist who made his living through his art. He painted oils, charcoal sketches, and he also made ceramic objects like anatomical armless busts, beautiful jewelry, and of course, tiles. We have one set that is the Zodiac, just gorgeous. Will send you a pic sometime. Also an ocean scene with a large ship, I think. He set these into rectangular, wrought iron coffee tables. We have one in our living room. These are heirloom pieces in my family; they are also weighty, and like old friends, even family members. A great way to remember a man whom I knew very briefly before he passed, keeping his memory and his talents alive.

    Happy rainy but clearing up now weekend. It’s only 84F here, yahooo!

    1. Office Diva,

      You’re right. They are friends, and I’d prefer not to have to abandon them. What I go through to get ready for hurricanes, you wouldn’t believe. Or perhaps you would. In any event, if Janis was right and “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”, I’m a ways from being free.

      That Cal Art tile’s interesting. Sometimes I see a cactus flower when I look at it, and sometimes I see a crab. Always, it reminds me of the colors of the desert.

      Some of the most beautiful Catalina tiles are set into tables like your grandfather’s. I’ve always liked the combination of wrought iron and tile – what wonderful heirlooms for your family. Do you have any of the jewelry? Wearable memories are some of the best.

      It’s interesting that he did ships, too. They were a common theme for the California potters. As a midwesterner, I grew up thinking of people going overland to California, but of course much of the commerce and travel there was because of their ports. Gladding, McBean produced many ship tiles. Some aren’t particularly appealing to me, but I like this one.

      The edge of the cloud cover’s finally arrived, and we’ll be sunny the rest of the day. It’s only 72 and the humidity’s dropping – a low of 68 tonight! At least this first day of autumn will be seasonal, before we start warming up again. I think it’s going to be necessary to head outdoors!


    1. Ellen,

      When I went looking for a tile for you that reflected your recent post about grapes, I learned something interesting. There are very few – if any! – California tiles from the 1920s and 1930s showing grapes. The reason, of course, is that there wasn’t any California wine industry at the time. There had been some vineyards planted, but all of the attractive tiles showing grapes are quite modern – a reflection of the industry’s growth once rootstocks had been established and prohibition sent to the dustbin of history.

      In any event, I’m glad you enjoyed the post. So many of the images you post reflect the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau styles, so I’m not surprised you enjoyed these.


    1. Curt,

      Glad you enjoyed the tiles and the blog. As for art joining with craft – I just can’t help myself…

      There once was a Burner named Dan
      who thought to himself, “Sure, I can!”
      My art of disguise
      may evoke some surprise,
      but my craft does look good with a tan!


    1. becca,

      Have you ever thought of doing tiles yourself? Some of your work would transfer so beautifully.

      Like you, I’m fond of tiles because they’re so accessible. They’re very nice placed into tables or trivets, but I do like displaying them individually because I like to be able to pick them up.

      Thanks for stopping by – I hope you’re enjoying a morning as nice as ours. Cool, and drying out – what a treat!


    1. Bella Rum,

      You must be home, and easing back into life. I’m really happy to see you – to be quite frank, I’m honored to find you here. I hope all’s well – I’ll be by in a bit to see how things went.

      The tiles are lovely, aren’t they? Sometimes all it takes is a little “bit” of beauty to ease the mind and spirit. It’s beautiful here today – I hope your first day of autumn’s equally lovely.


  20. Bella’s comment speaks for me, too. About the only thing I can add is that when I spent the summer of 1966 in Lisbon I became acquainted with a characteristic type of Portuguese tile called azuleijo. Spain similarly has azulejo. The name is based on azul, i.e. blue, the color of the Swedish tile you began your post with.

    1. Steve,

      When I followed your first link and spent some time looking at the images, I eventually surfaced the site of the Museu Nacional do Azulejo. It must be an extraordinarily beautiful place. A visit would be splendid, but they’ve done a good job with their site and browsing it was a pleasure.

      I wondered if our “azure” was related to “azulejo” and “azuleijo”. I found this explanation. Given what I’ve learned from your Spanish-English word connection site, it makes sense.

      “The Spanish for “blue,” azul, is originally an Arabic word referring to a particular type of valuable blue stone, the lapis lazuli. In Spanish, the word degraded over time, and the l- was lost (as though it was the the french l’ for “the”) and we were just left with azul for just “blue.”

      The English for azure — which is really just a shade of blue! — comes from the same root, although azure still retains a luxury connotation that was lost with the simple blue implication of azul in Spanish.

      Many languages, including Spanish, have an -l- and -r- shift, where, over time, the -l- and -r- sounds are swapped. We see this here, as the a-z-l root of azul maps to the a-z-r root of azure.”

      One thing’s certain – the Spanish and Portuguese tiles are gorgeous.


      1. I’m glad I enticed you into so much Iberian language lore. I knew the things you’ve mentioned here, and I thought about mentioning at least the connection to azure, but I didn’t want to hijack your post onto too much of a linguistic tangent. I thought azuleijos and azulejos might be new to you, and therefore worth a look—which I’m glad to hear you enjoyed.

        1. Linguistic “hijacking” always is welcome. After all, the first collection I began putting together was one of words. Unlike tiles, I never can have too many, but quite like tiles, the more I understand about them, the better!

  21. Wonderful piece. I admire the way you use something very personal to segue into something artistic and historical. You are just an amazing writer. One day, I hope to be able to do the same thing as objectively and eloquently as you. I know, I’ve said that a dozen times before! But it is so true. I’m just not that disciplined of a writer, but if I need encouragement, all I need do is visit your blog and start reading! Hope you got some of this rain we’ve had for the past 3 days. We don’t need it, for sure.

    1. Bayou Woman,

      One thing’s for sure. They may be willing to use Fiestaware seconds for skeet shooting in Ohio, but you’re not going to find these tiles turned into sporting clays!

      Figuring out this writing business is tricky, but you said something that really pleases me. First, you said that I use the personal, and then you said I do it objectively. That might sound like a contradiction to some people, but to me it has the sound of Georgia O’Keeffe saying. ““Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant… It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.”

      Turning life into art – into painting, words, music, tiles, pirogues, quilting, pies, furniture – is so fulfilling. I seem to do best with words, so that’s what I do, hoping to encourage other people to engage with the world in new ways. That’s exactly what you were doing with your story about learning to shoot. It was a great story, beautifully told – and who knows who might find the courage to pick up something new because of what you wrote?

      As for the rain – yes, ma’am, we did get it. Right in my neighborhood we got just over 2.5”, and it came in waves, so it all soaked in. The front’s through, and it’s going down to 70 tonight. Every window in the place is open, and everyone’s smiling.


  22. I love the title you gave this post. It is simple enough and haunting enough to apply to many things. I too have a couple of tiles that I keep just because they were Grandmother’s. My mother paints on china plates and will do pieces on tiles as well. She has a kiln in the garage. Of the ones you show here my favourite is the nature scene. At least it captured a more thorough examination.

    Thanks for the lovely history lesson wrapped up in memory triggers.

    1. Judy,

      Oh, this title! It went through several incarnations, and ended up as it is now only an hour before I finished the post. Sometimes the titles come first, and never change. Sometimes, they reveal themselves in the process, and sometimes it’s like going on safari to scare one out of the bush.

      I’m intrigued by your mother’s china painting. I hope she signs and dates things. I have a lovely little set that was hand-painted with holly and a Christmas greeting in the late 1800s. Every year it comes out, and helps to decorate the season.

      I love the tile with the nature scene. Now that I know some of my direct ancestors came from Virginia, it’s even more meaningful. I believe in their day West Virginia was a part of Virginia, but the land would have looked the same, no matter what it was called.

      I hope your weekend’s been lovely and you’ve been able to enjoy it. We’ve had some lovely rain, and now there are open windows. It’s heavenly. Thanks for stopping by, and especially thank you for mentioning your mom’s painting. That tickles me.


    1. Hi, Rick,

      Enjoy it I did, and I’ve already passed it on. I’ve seen several of the musical events, but I’ve never seen one of these done as a tableau vivant. It’s really quite wonderful – although I’m sure they had to dot every “i” and cross every “t” will mall security!

      Thanks so much for passing it on.


  23. What a beautiful and informative way to honor the memory of your grandmother. She loved the item that brought back memories of her youth and country of her birth, but she loved you more. Hard as it was, your grandma placed her treasured item in your tiny hands.

    A beautifully written and researched article. Enjoyed it very much.


    1. Maria,

      Grandma could seem grumpy at times, but she really was a sweetheart. The only time I remember her getting truly angry at me was the day I threw a snowball at Grandpa when he wasn’t looking.

      I was such a curious child I always was picking up things. Earthworms. Rocks. Knick-knacks in the house. What I can’t remember is if I ever was told not to touch the cheese board, or if that icon-like status was enough to keep me hesitant!

      It’s so nice of you to stop by, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I was looking at your floral on my refrigerator and thinking how nice it would look at a tile!


  24. So many beautiful tiles! I like the Woolenius the best of the above, although each is gorgeous in its own right. There is something exceptionally attractive in articles that have a use beyond their beauty. Of course, paintings etc are equally beautiful, but I experience a different kind of aesthetic pleasure in an object of use that has been well designed and/or decorated. I do not know so very much about tiles, but feel the richer for having read this, and so I thank you!

    1. Allen,

      Aren’t they nice? I’m glad you like the Woolenius. That’s the set that has the most personal meaning for me, because the studio that produced them was on a friend’s street. And, their condition probably is the best of the lot – excepting, perhaps, the Minton.

      Since you say you enjoy utilitarian objects that have been well designed and decorated, I think you may really enjoy the next post. The “object” is so ubiquitous that everyone uses it, although today’s versions aren’t always as beautiful as those from the past. How’s that for a tease?

      I’m really glad you enjoyed this.When I look at the tiles surrounding me, I feel as rich as Tevye was hoping to be!


    1. Holistic Wayfarer,

      Clearly, there’s both usefulness and beauty in Morris’s injunction itself. Thanks for highlighting that.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the tiles. Thanks so much for stopping by, and thank you for taking the time to comment. You’re always welcome!


  25. How nice that you have your grandmother’s cheeseboard on the wall, Linda. It’s a beautiful piece, and of course, a valued reminder of your heritage. The tiles you show here are also very attractive, and I see from what you’ve written, that there’s a lot to know about them if a person is to become at all serious in collecting them.

    1. Andrew,

      It is fun having a little “something” to remember Grandma by. As for Grandpa, I have a few of his hand tools, and an oaken blanket chest he made from a dining room table that was replaced by a larger one. It’s funny – being at the end of the family line is feeling a little sad to me these days. I wish there were children and grandchildren to pass such things on to. Ah, well – too late to change that!

      There is a lot to learn about the various potteries and the tiles they produced. But the learning’s fun, and interesting. I’ve known a couple of truly “serious” collectors (i.e., obsessive) and most of the time they didn’t seem to be having any fun with their hobby at all.


  26. It sounds like we are drawn to many of the same things. I have never collected tiles such as your beautiful examples, but can certainly understand the draw. I have my mother’s small cutting board with handles and have carted it everywhere since she passed. I have several items from my parents and from my own childhood that hold very special memories. Thank you for sharing these tiles and their history. What an interesting thing to collect.

    1. Teresa Evangeline,

      I suppose I came by my collecting urges honestly. Dad was a stamp and coin collector, and Mom was a great fan of glassware. I recently learned one of my great-aunts also was a collector of glassware. . She never married, and supported herself by weaving. Quite interesting, really.

      I’ve never held “things” in contempt, as a couple of my friends do. The world is a concrete, after all – and it’s really quite wondrous how a soup bowl or cutting board can make a world stay. They’re a bit like us – bodies, imbued with spirit and memory.


  27. Linda, I got started collecting tiles over 35 years ago in Beaumont, Texas. I don’t have many, and none of mine are as precious as yours, though each is precious to me. My two favorites are the one that got me started, which was found in an old mansion that was slated for bulldozing, and the other is from my Mother-in-law.

    Come to think of it, that one probably is precious. It is a Rookwood, framed in maple. The face of it depicts two Dutch boys and the glazing is a satin finish. I always admired that piece and was delighted when she left it to me.

    Your posts most always take me back to the most delightful memories. Thank you, Linda!

    1. Lynda,

      I have a feeling that your tiles are wholly as beautiful as these. One thing that happens when we highlight an object is that we begin to really look at it, and appreciate its qualities. (It suddenly occurs to me that museums do exactly that – present us a painting, sculpture, etc., in a way that highlights the object itself.)

      I have a friend who’s been in my home many times. After she read this post, she said, “Where do you have those tiles? I’ve never seen them.” And yet they’re right there in front of her every time she comes in. It’s an interesting phenomenon.

      I envy your Rookwood tile! I’ve always wanted a piece of Rookwood, but never could find a piece I liked in my price range. Here’s an example of a vase I could live with happily.

      The things that carry memories always are the best, though. Rookwood is beautiful. Rookwood as a gift from a treasured person is irreplaceable.


  28. I’ve been looking forward to reading this for days, and now I feel replete :-)
    It was when I visited Spain that I first fell in love with tiles – now I need to look again at the photos I took so long ago. Your Batchelder has captured my heart, even though the others are lovely also.
    The arrangements you mention sound utterly delightful :-)

    1. eremophila,

      I mentioned to Lynda, whose comment’s just above, the experience of my friend who’s come to my home many times without noticing the tiles. Clearly, I had the same experience on a large scale when I visited Spain and other countries whose architectural and decorative tiles are so beautiful – and so obvious! How I could have missed them, I haven’t a clue. But I did. So many countries have made use of tiles – I suppose learning about them could take a lifetime.

      The first two photos, of the Catalina fountain and the closeup of the tiles, were scanned from photos I took on that trip, in the late 80s. I certainly never imagined I’d be sharing them with people around the world on something called the internet. My gosh – it would be more than another decade before I’d even have a computer!

      The Batchelder’s lovely, isn’t it? I’m glad you like it, and that you enjoyed the post.


  29. your descriptive words made me feel as if i was there looking on the scene. when you describe holding your grandmother’s treasure, i could feel the tension of fear and expectation and how your feelings and her feelings were both very different, yet crossing paths nonetheless. your grandmother, although protective of the item, also wanted you to learn of her and it sounds like you did. beautiful memories, so beautifully painted in words.

    1. sherri,

      I’m glad I was able to “take you there”, since that experience was fully as beautiful as any of the tiles I’ve pictured. Grandma was the prototypical Swede – reserved, not given to expressing emotion, occasionally dour – but she was capable of great love, as I learned on this day.

      She hated having her photo taken, and in fact I remember her refusing it on many occasions. But I do have a single photo of she and Grandpa on my third birthday – at least, I think it was my third, given the number of candles on the cake. I treasure the photo beyond words – but I treasure the cheese board and the experience it represents more.


  30. I just read somewhere recently that blue is the new neutral color (think blue as the new black). Your blue and white tile seems to have this staying power.

    1. Rosemary,

      Blue is neutral? Who decides these things? Somehow the phrase “little blue dress” just doesn’t have the same ring as Chanel’s “little black dress” – but that could just be me and my age speaking.

      Blue and white surely has had staying power, though. The Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese and the various Scandinavian counties especially have made use of the colors in their tiles. It’s funny – I say I don’t like blue, but I do like turquoise, cobalt, aquamarine, teal, etc. Some day I’ll have to figure that out. ;)


  31. What an incredible and gorgeous collection you’ve amassed! Thanks for another wonderful post / article. Art tiles are one of my *favorite* artistic expressions, and I can’t imagine finding one, a treasure today. Such detailed, loving work in each and every piece….

    1. FeyGirl,

      Some of the most beautiful tiles being produced today are of wildlife, particularly birds. Do an image search for something like “art tile heron”, and begin to drool! Of course the quality of some is “tourist trade mediocre”, but there seem to be plenty of folks interpreting the beauty of the world around them in clay as in pixels.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Keep your eyes open – who knows what you’ll discover!


  32. Catalina! Boyfriend and I (hopefully parents too) will be celebrating New Year’s there! I believe I know the location of that fountain (that yellow building in the background might be the hotel we always stay at!)and will think of you when I hear it’s pretty little waterfalls.

    The best place to find Catalina pottery? The museum, tucked into a pocket at the base of the Casino. There used to be a little table there, it’s surface a sunny vision of those bright, expressive tiles. I’d be surprised if holding one in your hand wouldn’t feel as if you were holding a memory of a bright, favorite afternoon.

    1. aubrey,

      I thought about you while I was writing this. It seems to me I remember you telling us about another New Year’s eve at the Casino Ballroom – I had the feeling it might be a tradition of sorts. If not, it would be a lovely one.

      I went over to the Museum’s website and found it fascinating, particularly the groundbreaking for the new Ada Blanche Wrigley Schreiner addition. I wish I’d visited while I was there – but of course my mind was on all things boatish at that point. Perhaps I’ll have another chance. In the meantime – I’ll let you make memories there to share.


  33. Of course my eyes/soul savored and appreciated every image! thank you for a wonderful detour from the flora and fauna of mindo ecuador!

    Online tonight then on the road w/a tour group til Sunday, then offline for another week. Sigh, thanks for your support even when i am silent!


    1. Lisa,

      Interesting, isn’t it? We love coming to your blog for the romance, the color, the unusual customs of your place in the world – and yet you enjoy the occasional peek into our worlds!

      Travel safely – and enjoy it all. We’re just happy to see you whenever you can make contact. And I’m glad you enjoyed the post!


  34. I love this post for a lot of reasons, Linda, not the least of which is that it reflects arts and crafts period and Mission. And of course I love pottery and tiles. Your research is outstanding and so are the photos. I am wondering if you have ever become familiar with Michigan’s Pewabic Pottery (founded 1903 — here is a link to the history page of their website: They are still actively producing pottery.

    I’m so glad you treasure your own collection — and I am also glad you shared the beautiful piece of your grandmother’s. I can just “see” you standing there, holding it and then having realization hit — “What if I drop it!” You have such a marvelous way of making the story extremely personal as well as informative.

    1. Jeanie,

      I loved the article about Pewabic Pottery. I’d never heard of them, and it’s a special treat that they’re still in business. Have you seen their cat tiles and paperweights? One is a reproduction of a tile made for a Detroit grade school. It’s just wonderful.

      I think some of the best (read: most amusing, terrifying, etc) memories of childhood often are those where we suddenly realized we were out of our depth. When it came to that cheese board, I was so accustomed to being told I couldn’t hold, touch, and so on that when the “yes” came – well, it was something.

      Have you ever done pottery work? You’re so talented it would surprise me if you haven’t. These Altoid tins really intrigued me. I think perhaps the good Mr. Morris might approve of some of them.


  35. Tiles! They are so wonderful. Would like to see the collection sometime. You are quite an authority.
    I let some of my mother’s collected tiles go – they weren’t old and really didn’t appeal to me. But while in Spain, Portugal and Morocco you could find tiles in gutters and being thrown away as building fell or were replaced. Everyone thought I was nuts grabbing them out of the mud.The bag I dragged back home was heavy with little glazed treasures. You are right, holding them in your hand and think of all they have seen.
    One of my favorite posts yet.

    1. Phil,

      Georgette (up above) mentioned the same experience – being in Spain and Portugal and bringing home tiles from buildings that were being demolished, renovated, and so on. Too bad that when the Astrodome goes (if it does) there won’t be such bits of beauty to pick up. The architectural salvage firms are helping to sensitize people to the need to save fixtures, fireplaces and such – though it’s painful to think of how much has been lost.

      I had a friend in Kerrville, now gone, who was born and raised in Mississippi. He began buying up old barns and salvaging the cypress. He built some of the most beautiful furniture from it, and sold a good bit to a fellow who built the equivalent of shotgun houses. My, I’d love to have one of those!

      Glad you liked the post. It surely was fun to write.


  36. What a fascinating collection, Linda, thank you for sharing them with us and weaving their history in and out, like the lines on the Batchelder.
    My first experience of tiles was in my grandma’s dairy. They were delft blue and white, and had to be washed down each day for cleanliness. I do remember how cool they were to the touch, and used to love to lay my forehead on the tiles if I was hot. Most unhygienic, I am sure!

    I laughed out loud at “made in my garage last weekend”. My thoughts, exactly!

    1. Sandi,

      I hadn’t even thought of it, but I wonder now if the Dutch town very near my childhood home might have been manufacturing tiles partly for their dairies. I went looking and see that dairying still is a good part of their economy, and though they’re mechanized now, with all the stainless steel that implies, I suspect in the 30s and 40’s – or even later – that wasn’t yet true.

      The feel of tiles in summer heat is wonderful. I wonder if NumberWise had tiles in her milking barns? They’re yet another great example of Morris’s love of beautiful useful objects.

      You may have missed my reader jeanie’s wonderful alternative description for so many home-grown projects: “arts and craphts”.


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