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Minton Tiles c. 1865 -1867

Bethesda Terrace, Central Park NYC (USA)

Manufactured in Stoke-on-Trent, England

Bethesda Terrace was designed as the formal centrepiece of Central Park, New York City. It’s affectionately known as ‘the heart of the park’. The majestic Arcade is famed for its unique Minton Tile Ceiling created with nearly 16,000 encaustic tiles made in The Potteries (Stoke-on-Trent, England) over 150 years ago.

Less well known is the ‘lost floor’ also commissioned from Minton & installed at the same time in the mid 1860s; but sadly replaced by 1911 after suffering from serious water damage & subsidence. Its intricate & distinctive pattern was formed using an estimated 45,000 bespoke encaustic & (smaller) geometric tiles.

A small consignment of the original ceiling & floor tiles will make a unique return journey from Manhattan - via Liverpool - to their ‘birthplace’ in Stoke-on-Trent as part of a transatlantic cultural (re)connection project led by Danny Callaghan (UK) & Matt Reiley (USA).

The two artists will undertake a month-long odyssey - guided by the original transit route - which aims to celebrate the historic commission & promote a contemporary conversation about the wider cultural significance & value of this magnificent ceramic masterpiece.

#OurBeth #NYC #SoT #SharedStories

Danny Callaghan

Artist & Co-Director of Ceramic City Stories C.I.C. (UK Non Profit)

Matt Reiley

Artist & Associate Director of Conservation/Senior Conservator for Central Park Conservancy

Matt Reiley of New York City is Associate Director of Conservation/Senior Conservator for the Central Park Conservancy, where he & his team are responsible for the stewardship of the Park’s historic built environment. Since 2003, He has played a key role in projects including the Bethesda Terrace Arcade ceiling restoration, the Osborn Gates, the New York Obelisk (aka Cleopatra’s Needle) & the General Sherman Memorial. Matt is adjunct faculty of the Graduate School of Architecture Planning Preservation (GSAPP) at Columbia University & a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works (AIC). He is Director of Excelsior Art Services LLC, a conservation practice & multi-disciplinary studio providing custom design and production of artwork, restoration craft & conservation treatment for cultural resources. A dedicated sculptor, he founded AbOminOg Intl. Arts Collective in a historic foundry in Trenton, New Jersey in 1999.

Danny Callaghan is an activist & cultural entrepreneur. He works as an independent artist, public historian & creative producer. His work is focussed on engagement, identity & local distinctiveness. He is the co-founder & Director of Ceramic City Stories CIC; a small UK based non profit organisation with a focus on local, national & international shared stories related to the historic ceramic industry of Stoke-on-Trent, England. Although the focus is ceramics; it’s all about local people, community & neighbourhood. In 2017, he established CLAYHEAD Secret Museum in an historical ceramic tile works that still uses uses traditional techniques & dust presses c.1900. This unusual pop up space houses an exhibition programme of community-sourced ceramics. Danny has worked in many locations across the UK (& occasionally abroad). However, he grew up in The Potteries (Stoke-on-Trent, England) and is passionate about the history & contemporary renewal of his home city. His primary artistic & research practice reflects this (relative) obsession.

‘Log’ posts will aim to provide a simple record of key activities. If a subject lends itself to more detail it may become a post in its own right & could be presented in a different form i.e. audio interviews, video, etc. We won’t post every day but will share daily details we think are relevant & might be of interest to you. It may take a couple of days to catch up with log posts. The log will require a little more ‘discipline’ & provide a thread to remember, track & map progress. The content might also provide a useful starting point for linking thoughts, random themes & seemingly disparate narratives. Some of the forays described may seem somewhat ‘off piste’ to begin with; please bare with us.* Although these ‘meanders’ might turn out to be blind alleys they may also provide a rich seam or useful cross reference to pursue. Hey, we’ve decided to do it anyway so here goes…

*Please use ‘tags’ to search, filter & focus on your interests.

Development of the Tile Industry in America

Development of the Tile Industry in America

Although plain, undecorated ceramic tiles were traditionally a common flooring material in many parts of the Americas, especially in Latin and South America, ceramic floor and roof tiles were probably not made in the North American Colonies until the late-16th or early-17th century. It was, however, in the Victorian era that ceramic tile flooring first became so prevalent in the United States. The production of decorative tiles in America began about 1870 and flourished until about 1930.

Like so many architectural fashions of the day, the popularity of ceramic tile floors in America was greatly influenced by the noted architect and critic, Andrew Jackson Downing. In his book The Architecture of Country Houses, published in 1850, Downing recommended encaustic floor tiles for residential use because of their practicality, especially in vestibules and entrance halls.

The 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, with its European and even a few American exhibits of decorative floor tile, was a major factor in popularizing ceramic tile floors in the U.S. Initially, most ceramic tiles-other than purely utilitarian floor tiles-were imported from England, and their relatively high cost meant that only wealthy Americans could afford them. However, when English tile companies realized the potential for profitable export, they soon established agents in major U.S. cities to handle their American business. The English near monopoly actually stimulated the growth of the U.S. tile industry in the 1870s resulting in sharply decreased English imports by 1890.

The location of potteries and ceramic tile factories is dependent upon the ready availability of suitable ball clay (clay that balled or held together), kaolin (a white clay used as a filler or extender), and feldspar (a crystalline mineral), and an accessible market. Since the cost of shipping the manufactured products tended to restrict profitable sales to limited areas, this usually determined whether a factory would succeed. Although the United States Pottery in Bennington, Vermont, is known to have made encaustic tiles as early as 1853, the Pittsburgh Encaustic Tile Company (later the Star Encaustic Tiling Company), was the first successful American tile company, and is generally considered the first to manufacture ceramic tile in the U.S. on a commercial basis beginning in 1876.

At least 25 ceramic tile companies were founded in the United States between 1876 and 1894. In the East, several notable tile firms that were established in this period flourished in the Boston area, such as the Chelsea Keramic Art Works, the Low Art Tile Works, and the Grueby Faience Company. Other East Coast companies organized in the late-19th and early-20th century included the International Tile & Trim Company, in Brooklyn, New York; the Trent Tile Company, Providential Tile Company, Mueller Mosaic Tile Company, and the Maywood Tile Company, all in New Jersey; and the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

Many factories were also established in the Midwest-in Indiana, Michigan, and, especially, in Ohio. In the last quarter of the 19th century, the town of Zanesville, Ohio, was the largest center for pottery and tile-making in the world. Some of the factories in Zanesville included: Ohio Encaustic Tile Company; Mosaic Tile Company; Zanesville Majolica Company; and J.B. Owens Pottery, later to become the Empire Floor and Wall Tile Company. The American Encaustic Tiling Company, established in 1876, was one of the first, and most successful manufacturers in Zanesville. In the early 1930s it was the largest tile company in the world, producing large quantities of floor tile, plain and ornamental wall tile, and art tile until it closed about 1935, as a result of the Depression. The United States Encaustic Tile Company, Indianapolis, Indiana; Rookwood Pottery, Cincinnati, Ohio; Cambridge Art Tile Works, Covington, Kentucky; and Pewabic Pottery, Detroit, Michigan, were some of the other well-known potteries in the Midwest.

Around the turn of the century, the industry began to expand as tilemakers moved West and established potteries there. Joseph Kirkham started the ceramic tile industry on the West Coast in 1900 when he set up the Pacific Art Tile Company in Tropico, California, after his company in Ohio was destroyed by fire. In 1904 the company became the Western Art Tile Company, surviving for five years until it went out of business in 1909. During the early-20th century, other companies were founded in Southern California, in and around Los Angeles. Batchelder & Brown, in particular, of Pasadena (later Batchelder-Wilson in Los Angeles), was well-known for its Arts and Crafts-style tiles in the teens and 1920s. By the early 1940s California had become one of the leading producers of tile, especially faience, in the U.S.

Ceramic engineers, potters and artists not only moved frequently from one pottery to another, but often struck out on their own and established new factories when dissatisfied with a former employer. Also, it was not uncommon for one company to reuse a defunct factory or purchase another pottery business, change the name and increase the product line. As a result, many of the companies in existence today are descendants of the early pioneering firms.

Image source: Ephemeral New York