Object of the Week: Monumental Vase by Mary Chase Perry Stratton

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Mary Chase Perry Stratton (1867-1961) was born in Hancock, Michigan. Her family moved to Ann Arbor in 1877 after her father’s tragic death, and relocated to Detroit a few years later. She attended art classes at the Detroit Museum of Art’s art school as a teenager and continued her studies at the Art Academy of Cincinnati in Ohio from 1887 to 1889. Initially interested in sculpture, Stratton quickly turned her talents to china painting, a popular pastime—and livelihood—for women in the United States in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Stratton eventually returned to her family in Detroit and began to collaborate with her neighbor Horace James Caulkins, a ceramist and kiln expert. In 1903, the pair founded Pewabic Pottery. Under Stratton’s creative direction, Pewabic produced hand-thrown pitchers, vases, teapots, mugs, candlesticks, lamps, and tiles. The wares were finished with a variety of richly colored gloss, matte, luster, and iridescent glazes inspired by Persian ceramics popular in America at the turn of the century. Stratton experimented endlessly to develop iridescent glazes, for which she and Pewabic Pottery became famous. Tile production ultimately became Pewabic’s major source of income, and the company received commissions from architects all over the country. Stratton drew inspiration from several sources for her designs, including tiles made by Henry Chapman Mercer at his Moravian Pottery and Tile Works; she used his catalogs as a direct source for several designs. Pewabic tiles were used in domestic houses and public buildings alike throughout Detroit and around the country. Locations such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Public Library, and the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. all boast Pewabic tile installations designed by Stratton. Stratton continued her work at Pewabic Pottery into her early nineties, and she died in 1961 at age 94. In 1966, the pottery was donated to Michigan State University. In 1981, the university turned ownership over to the Pewabic Society, a non-profit organization that continues today as an active pottery, museum, gallery, and ceramic learning center. Stratton used one of her signature iridescent glazes to decorate Monumental Vase, creating a shimmering and lustrous effect that extends from mouth to base. Its large size and bold shape, paired with a shining glaze, make Monumental Vase a standout example of Stratton’s work. The vase is currently on view in Renegades and Reformers: American Art Pottery through October 18, 2020.

-Steffi Chappell, Assistant Curator

Sources:1. Detroit Historical Society, Encyclopedia of Detroit, “Stratton, Mary Chase Perry,” https://detroithistorical.org/learn/encyclopedia-o…2. Jenny Nolan, “Pewabic tile, Detroit’s art treasure,” The Detroit News, February 13, 2000, https://archive.vn/20130121110309/http://info.detn…3. Barbara Perry, American Art Pottery from the Collection of Everson Museum of Art, New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, 1997.

Mary Chase Perry Stratton for Pewabic Pottery, Monumental Vase, after 1903, earthenware, 25 x 14½ inches, Everson Museum of Art Collection