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WSHP Historical Society to Visit Batchelder Tile Exhibit

screen shot of Batchelder tile images from a Google search
Batchelder’s distinctive tiles remain exceeding popular. Image is a screen shot of Batchelder tile images from a Google search

Ernest A. Batchelder was an author, designer, educator, artist, and tilemaker who settled in Pasadena in the early 20th century. His distinctive Arts and Crafts-style handmade tiles were hugely popular on the 1920s and are featured in many of our local homes. The Pasadena Museum of History has just opened the exhibit “Batchelder: Tilemaker,” which celebrates its recent acquisition of the collection of Robert Winter, PhD, the leading authority and and collector of Batchelder products and information. In addition to donating the tiles and archives, Dr. Winter served as exhibition curator.

The Windsor Square-Hancock Park Historical Society will be touring  the exhibit at the Pasadena Museum of History next Friday morning, October 7 at 10:30 a.m. with the museum’s director of collections, Laura Verlaque, and curator Elizabeth Smalley. The society’s tour is open to members and non-members. This is a rare opportunity to learn more about these wonderful works of art that many of us are fortunate to have decorating our fireplaces, kitchens and baths.

Ernest A. Batchelder was born in New Hampshire circa 1875. He earned an arts education back east before moving to California. Batchelder became Head of the Art Department at Throop Polytechnic Institute in Pasadena, CA (now California Institute of Technology / CalTech), after having served as an instructor in metalwork, pottery, and tile-making for several years, according to the Pasadena Museum of History’s website.

According to Winter, Batchelder wrote two books on design and illustrated them with his own drawings. Winter notes that Batchelder was an expert in design and probably used his ideas in the tiles he first produced starting about 1910, after obtaining a permit to build a shed and kiln behind his house. There, he set up a shop and school, where he fired his own tiles, including some for local architects, including Charles and Henry Greene.

As his business expanded, he employed other designers – usually his students – who worked under his close supervision. “As a result,” says Winter, “there is a harmony of style throughout the history of his company. All his tiles reflect Batchelder’s interest in a broad range of subjects – nature, music, architecture, and folklore.

“Batchelder tiles also have a unity of texture,” Winter continues. “Apparently he [Batchelder] hated the high glosses that many of his contemporaries used in their work. He preferred a soft finish, called engobe, which makes his products harmonize with the muted beauty of Arts and Crafts interiors. His earliest tiles, those made in the ‘teens, were in earth tones touched with traces of blue-green. In the twenties, when American taste turned to various architectural revivals, Batchelder’s palette broadened to colorful production and even Mayan imagery – but the finish remained muted, soft.”

“Batchelder: Tilemaker” will be on display at the Pasadena Museum of History now through February 12, 2017.  If you are interested in joining the WSHP Historical Society tour, contact them at [email protected] or visit them on Facebook. Tickets are $20 for members; $25 for non-members. The WSHP Historical Society welcomes new members.


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Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.

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