Monday, March 10, 2003
There were some very fancy doings in the Queen City of the West as the 1870's wound to an exciting conclusion with 1879's 12th Cincinnati Industrial Exposition followed by 1880 Democratic National Convention nominating General Winfield Scott Hancock for the Presidency. Both events were held in the sprawling Music Hall complex between Elm Street and the old canal. In the newly constructed Art Hall John Gardner Low of Chelsea, Massachusetts and the Low Art Tile Works displayed "plastic sketches" designed by Englishman Arthur Osborne. These were figural and pictoral glazed ceramic tiles executed in relief and intaglio styles. Themes were often pastoral or classical and the classical often mixed elements of the ancient world with elements of recent American history.
One of my personal favorites is a 4 1/2" X 7 1/2" AETCo tile that once decorated an old cast iron living room coal heater. The tile shows a female Roman Centurion (most galleries and texts describe the figure as male) seated on a hill overlooking a valley and a lake. One arm holds a spear while the other arm embraces an angry bear. In the valley one can see a log cabin and a man wielding a pick-axe while on the lake churns an early steam and sail boat. This was not ignorance of history, for designer Herman Mueller was classically trained in Neuremberg, but rather an attempt, similar to today's more pale attempts, at blending then present day American history with that of the ancient Roman Empire. The Low Company exhibit received the Exposition's Silver Medal and the studied attentions of a wide range of factions within Cincinnati's seminal china painting and art pottery scene including Mary Louise McLaughlin, Matt Morgan, T.J. Wheatley, Herman Mueller, Maria Longworth Nichols, Civil War battlefield illustrator Adolph Metzner and Karl Langenbeck.
The weekend Ebay tile auctions I mentioned in another post were the design work of Mueller, the chemistry of Langenbeck and the ceramic knowledge of both produced during their years at the American Encaustic Tiling Company of Zanesville, Ohio between 1887 and 1894. Of the 9, unmatched except for one pair that sold seperately at the highest prices, 6" X 6" relief tiles two sold over $300 each and the remainder over $200 each. I kinda think had the seller sold the matched pair as one lot he would have achieved a higher hammer...but, hey, I ain't Kreskin!
The Cincinnati Art Galleries held a rather important Art Tile auction in March, 2000 and a comparison of this past weekend to the 2000 prices reveals the continuing strength of the art market in a very depressed economy. Similar matched pairs: 2000-$170 the pair while this weekend on Ebay-$650 the pair.
Good resources for this topic:
American Art Tile by Norman Karlson and American Art Pottery by Dick Sigafoos
A terrific book but hard to find used for $20 to $40 is Zanesville Art Tile In Color by Evan and Louise Purviance which contains a photographic record of many of the AETCo art lines.
People at the CAG link might have copies of the 2000 tile catalogue available for sale. This catalogue contains photographic examples of AETCo, Kensington, Hamilton Cambridge, Beaver Falls, California Art Tile, Rookwood and Grueby among others.