Monday, November 27, 2006
I’m happy to announce the reunion of a long lost pair of male and female portrait tiles manufactured by the Hamilton Tile Works of Hamilton, Ohio sometime within the company’s various manifestations between 1883 and 1901.
What makes this reunion exciting is that it corrects the sexual identity of the only previously known tile.
The green glazed image on the left appears on page 87 of Norman Karlson’s excellent American Art Tile 1876-1941 in what appears to be a dark brown glaze.
The same image, this time with an orange-red glaze and identified as “Woman, modern, 6in.”, also appears on the upper right corner of page 81 in Volume 3 of Karlson’s superb Encyclopedia of American Art Tiles as image "058-018".
In the above image of the soon to be rejoined pair, one can clearly see the high-collared image is that of a male…A rather fancy and well-coifed male at that for 105 to 123 years ago but one beautifully paired with a seemingly very demure and lovely female.
This female image with its light brown glaze appears for the very first time on any media here on the right side of her green male companion.
Interestingly and contrarily, the male is averting his eyes downward and to the right while the female gazes straightforwardly to the left.
The background design and the low relief sculpture of the images add further confirming details to the two tiles rightful pairing.
Misidentification of sex in these ancient American tiles is quite common.
Our own modern misperceptions and preconceptions of people removed from us by nearly a century and a half can quite frequently mislead collectors and historical researchers.
Uncommon time may separate us but common human habits hold us tight and only recently have revealed ancients near and far to be far more complex than previously imagined by us media-dulled moderns.
According to Norman Karlson’s scholarship, Adolph Metzner, the likely maker or initial modeler of the molds which cast the above tiles, immigrated to the United States in the 1830’s, traveled westward over the next 25 years and joined the 32nd Indiana Volunteers serving as a Union officer at the bloody battles of Chickamauga, Shiloh and Missionary Ridge during the Civil War.
According to Karlson, Metzner, also, made over 100 drawings and watercolors of these battles.
This was a man, who had seen a fair chunk of the world and humanity at its extremes now, in the relative peace of his later years, indulging a dream and a technical marvel (dust-pressed ceramic tile) and utilizing his German and new American heritage along with mentoring the future promise of that heritage, his sons.
These two tiles, newly male, female and perhaps modern, may represent, as is often the case with artists and edge-pushing proto-technicians, anything from personal memory to a flight of post war fancy.
Study and further collecting can give us hints.
Close examination of the green tile and its back mark should prove interesting.
Image: Ebay, sean