A blog about architectural tiles, terra cotta and other ceramic surfaces, architectural glass and ornamentation in and around New York.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


H A P P Y   H O L I D A Y S

A newly discovered architectural ceramic mosaic by Jean Nison and a book review of Un Siècle de Céramique D'Art En Tunise

St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Hillsdale, NJ (2015). (Color photos courtesy of Michael Padwee unless otherwise noted)

While taking photos of Robert Pinart’s 50+ stained glass windows in St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Hillsdale, NJ, I saw a metal sculpture on a mosaic tile base on the far side of the Nave. When I got closer I thought I recognized the mosaic tile pieces as similar to tiles made by Jean Nison, Robert’s ex-wife and close friend. I brought my photos to Robert, and he identified them as Nison’s.

The sculpture is the Tabernacle, where the Eucharist is kept in reserve. The wings are symbols of the cherubim wings on the Ark of the Covenant. The crown is a symbol for the Crown of Thorns, and the fish on the front of the cabinet is a symbol of the food given to those who believe in Jesus Christ. (Conversation with the Parish Secretary)

According to the church dedication booklet, the church architect was Louis J. Mineo, Jr., who lived in Hillsdale and had offices in Emerson, New Jersey, and the Liturgical Designer was Michael F. Segalas. Robert Pinart and Jean Nison both knew Michael Segalas when he worked in the architecture office of Percival Goodman. Pinart said that he obtained some commissions through Michael Segalas. Louis Mineo, Jr. was also the architect of record for other projects in New Jersey where Pinart designed the windows--Pascack Valley Hospital in Westwood (1967) and Temple Beth El in Closter (1968). The sculpture was fabricated by Columbia Art Metal Works, Newark, New Jersey. (Dedication Booklet, Saint John the Baptist Hillsdale, New Jersey, Ecclesiastical Color Publishers, South Hackensack, NJ, 1969)

One of Nison’s trademarks was to drop liquified gold mixed with glaze onto the tiles’ surfaces. The tiles were then fired at low temperatures in a kiln.

Jean Nison's Missing Tiled Table

While digitizing the glass slides of Robert Pinart, I came across a series of photos of a large, abstract dalle de verre window Robert made for his ex-wife, Jean Nison. One of the slides included a section of Nison's living room which showed a tiled table top. Pinart identified the tiling as Jean's, but had no idea what happened to the table after the house was sold.

Jean Nison’s Fireplace Surround for Lever Brothers

Jean Nison, 1950s. (Photo courtesy of the American Crafts Council Library)

In my article about mid-century-modern ceramic tile artist Jean Nison, I mentioned that she was commissioned to create a tile installation in the Lever Brother’s Boardroom in New York City’s landmarked Lever Building.

(Photo taken and edited from: Jean Nison, "Fantasies in Tile", Craft Horizons, Vol. 13, No. 3, May-June 1953, p. 36+)

According to Nison, she visited decorators, left tiles with them and hoped they would call her. This was how, she believed, Raymond Lowey Associates, the industrial design firm, asked her to make a wall decoration for Lever House, at that time the headquarters of Lever Brothers Corporation (now Unilever). I contacted the curator of the Lever House Art Collection, Mr. Richard Marshall, but he had no information about the fate of Nison's tile installation. Unilever Corporation moved out of the building in the 1980s, and may have taken the tiles with them. A request to Unilever for information, however, went unanswered.

Recently, however, the question of the fate of the installation may have been answered.

Two of the tile designs from the Lever Brothers Boardroom fireplace surround illustrating the color scheme of the installation. (Jean Nison, American, born in Egypt of French parents [sic]. Lever House, NYC, (Boardroom Tiles)(framed pair), c. 1952. Ceramic, Size 6 x 6 in. Gift of Eric M. and Joy Hart. G2005.21.13)

After reading my article, the Chief Curator of the Mobile (AL) Museum of Art, Paul Richelson, contacted me. Two tiles from the boardroom fireplace in Lever House had been donated to the Mobile Museum of Art by Eric M. and Joy Hart in 2005. Either these were extra tiles that were not used in the installation, or the installation was removed when Unilever moved from Lever House to Connecticut and tiles were given to some of the executives. If the latter, other tiles from this installation may still exist.

This was probably made for, and sold at Lever House. (Photo from ebay)

To prove my point, a recent ebay auction listed a “replica” boxed tile of the Lever Brothers tile on the left, above. Nison may have made extras to sell in crafts stores and at Lever House, itself.

A Possible New Tile Panel

I was recently contacted by a reader who had purchased a Nison tile depicting a doe on a field of gold bubbles. The tile has writing on the back that says "do again creeping panther", which could mean Nison was considering using the doe tile in a panel setting.

(Photo of 6" tile  painted on a Wheeling Tile Company blank courtesy of Will Cottes)

The Tichenor House Dragon Mural

The full double dragon mural in the master bathroom. (Photo courtesy of the American Craft Council Library)

Built in Long Beach, California in 1904-05 the Tichenor House was one of only three homes constructed in Long Beach by the renowned architectural team of Charles and Henry Greene. In the early 1950s “[the] house was extensively remodeled [...by architect Adrian Wilson and his associate, Alden Becker] with many modern changes to the interior,” (http://articles.latimes.com/1991-05-05/news/hl-2211_1_tichenor-houseincluding the addition of a double dragon tile mural in the master bathroom.

In December of 2011 a fire started in the rear of the house and was extinguished in about twenty minutes. (http://www.presstelegram.com/technology/20111212/fire-strikes-historic-tichenor-house
“The fire in the [bath]room must have been very intense, because the tile was covered with soot that was burned onto the surface of the tile face. The tile also had a crackle glaze, which has many very tiny cracks over the entire surface. This was intentional, and reflects the style of the tile. Unfortunately, the soot permeated the crackle glaze... .” (http://www.justanswer.com/antiques/7ehtb-ra-jpm.html)

Brian Kaiser, a tile conservator and preservationist, was called in and saved the bathroom mural. Kaiser has been restoring the mural ever since, and half of it has been completely restored.

There is a problem, though. Brian lives in a house that was once owned by the ceramicist Rufus Keeler, who, for many years, was the major force behind the Malibu Potteries in Malibu, California. Brian’s house has many interior and exterior tile installations from the 1920s-30s that were designed by Keeler. Nison’s panel from the 1950s does not belong in that setting, and Brian would like to find a new home for Nison’s mural which is approximately 7’ by 7’. If anyone is interested in this mural, they should contact Brian at brian.kaiser'at'ymail.com.


For those of us who have long marveled at the wonderful designs of Jacob Chemla's Tunisian tiles, this book, written by Jacob's grandchildren, Monique Goffard, Jacques Chemla and Lucette Valensi, will be very welcome. In the first third of the twentieth century the "Tunisian Tile Company" and "The African Tile Company" supplied architects like George Washington Smith, Bertram Goodhue and Addison Mizner, among others, with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern-style tiles for resorts, mansions, hotels and other residential and commercial establishments in the United States. Although many of the Tunisian tile installations no longer exist--mainly in New York City and State, many others in California and Florida remain intact.

Detail of a tile panel in the entry hall of the theatre of the President of the Republic in Carthage.

This book details the lives of the Chemla family and their ceramic interests from Haï Chemla through his son, Jacob (1858-1938), and his three sons, Victor, Albert and Mouche and their families. Jacob Chemla is credited with reviving the lost arts of Tunisian ceramics by perfecting a special glaze and blue color that had been thought lost.

Top: vase with a flared neck; bottom: vase with a conical neck. The bottom vase is signed "Awled Chemla Tunis" plus a tulip, an emblem for Ben Ahmed.

There are large sections of photos of architectural tile installations, individual tiles and pottery. Pottery markings and individual signatures of artists are also identified.

Four tile designs.

This is an important book that is not to be missed, especially by tile and pottery enthusiasts, architectural historians and preservationists.

This book is written in French and may be purchased from http://www.amazon.ca/Un-siècle-céramique-dart-Tunisie/dp/2841623777,

https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/home/section/34-214-321140-327006-561000-cat.html, or


I have previously written two articles about the tiles produced by the Chemla potteries:  http://tilesinnewyork.blogspot.com/2014/11/lost-tile-installations-tunisian-tiles.html



Sunday, November 1, 2015

Polychrome Terra Cotta Buildings in Newark, New Jersey

Over the past few years my wife and I have been able to explore areas of Newark, New Jersey with friends, who lived there and are architectural junkies like ourselves. What follows is a forshpeis--an appetizer--of Newark’s architectural past.

Miner's Newark Theatre/The Paramount Theatre
195 Market Street

Miner’s Newark Theatre before a 1917 expansion by Thomas W. Lamb. (Picture post card image courtesy of Cardcow.com

Although parts of downtown Newark and its buildings are being rebuilt and repurposed, this theater at 195 Market Street, a half block from the intersection of Broad and Market Streets, the heart of “downtown”, has been deteriorating for years. "The Paramount Theatre opened on October 11, 1886 as H.C. Miner’s Newark Theatre. It was originally a vaudeville house[, and after...] Miner’s death in 1900, his surviving relatives retained ownership of the theater for several years until its sale in 1916 to Edward Spiegel, the owner of the nearby Strand Theatre. Spiegel also purchased the building next to the theater with the intent to use the space to expand the theater. To accomplish this he hired famed theater architect Thomas W. Lamb* to do the alterations." (http://afterthefinalcurtain.net/2011/09/28/the-newark-paramount-theatre/; Matt Lambros, "The Newark Paramount Theatre" in his blog, After the Final Curtain, September 28, 2011)

"In 1917, ...Lamb remodeled the theatre in an Adam [or Adamesque] style. The former Paramount Theater still boasts the vertical ‘Paramount’ sign, as well as the ‘Newark’ marquee. The Paramount Theater was closed on April 1, 1986. Although a retail store operated out of the former lobby until around April 2011, a store employee confirmed that behind the drop ceilings and walls remains much of the old theater, complete with stage area and balcony seating intact." (http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/4603) 

(Color photos courtesy of Michael Padwee unless otherwise noted)

*[Thomas W.Lamb [1871-1942] was born "...in Dundee, Scotland, [...and] came to the United States at the age of 12. He studied architecture at the Cooper Union school in New York and initially worked for the City of New York as an inspector. His architecture firm, Thomas W. Lamb, Inc., was located at 36 West 40th Street in Manhattan... . Lamb achieved recognition as one of the leading architects of the boom in movie theater construction of the 1910s and 1920s. Particularly associated with the Fox Theatres, Loew's Theatres and Keith-Albee chains of vaudeville and film theaters, Lamb was instrumental in establishing and developing the design and construction of the large, lavishly decorated theaters, known as 'movie palaces', as showcases for the films of the emerging Hollywood studios." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_W._Lamb)  Lamb designed 180 theaters in the early part of the 20th century. I have written about one of Lamb’s “atmospheric” theaters in New York City here.]

The exterior terra cotta frieze. The manufacturer is unknown to me.

Full front facade showing entrance that held small retail stores in 2012.

Science High School
40 Rector Street

The main entrance.

This building was originally designed “by architect Charles H. Nicoll as the Malt House Number 3, [and] it is the oldest and largest surviving remnant of the Peter Ballantine & Sons Ale Brewery, which until c.1912 dominated both sides of Front Street, a predecessor of McCarter Highway, at the foot of Rector Street.” (National Register of Historic Places Continuation Sheet, “Military Park Commons Historic District, Newark, Essex County, NJ”, Section 7, Page 25, May 10, 2004) 

Part of the front elevation above a second door.

In the 1930s the building was remodeled and an art-deco terra-cotta facade was added. The building is also ornamented with some of the best Art Deco mosaic and detailing in the city. The terra-cotta was made by the Atlantic Terra-Cotta Company of Perth Amboy, New Jersey. "[This] building...later became part of the state university system and a library. The city bought the property and opened Science High School in the mid 1980s. It has been empty since 2006."

Detail of terra-cotta over the main entrance.

In 2009 there were plans to convert this building into new housing by a consortium led by basketball star Shaquille O’Neal. “The façade and decorative entryway of the roughly 120-year-old building will be preserved and a 23-story glass-and-steel tower will rise behind it with sweeping views of the Passaic River and downtown Newark.”

A second door.

Close-up of side door lintel.

Terra-cotta ornament.

The development project was put on hold for a few years after a false ground-breaking in 2013, and has only very recently obtained funding. "Following the approval of a 30-year tax abatement and a false ground-breaking in 2013, Boraie Development is now expecting to begin construction on a 26-story, 169-market-rate-unit mixed-use building at 40 Rector Street, in downtown Newark, a few blocks north of Penn Station. 

40 Rector Street, rendering via Boraie Development. (http://newyorkyimby.com/2015/08/26-story-169-unit-mixed-use-project-at-40-rector-street-lands-financing-newark.html)

"The existing six-story building will expand, and 8,500 square feet of retail will be located in the base. According to NJ Advance Media, Goldman Sachs is financing the majority of the project, dubbed One Riverview… ." (Reid Wilson, "26-Story, 169-Unit Mixed-Use Project At 40 Rector Street Lands Financing, Newark",  August 20, 2015, New York YIMBYhttp://newyorkyimby.com/2015/08/26-story-169-unit-mixed-use-project-at-40-rector-street-lands-financing-newark.html

The Griffith Piano Company Building
605-607 Broad Street

(Photo by Peter Greenberg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griffith_Building#/media/File:Griffith_Building_Newark_Entry_Detail.JPG)

“Hardly anyone gives a second thought anymore to the towering old faded hulk of a building on Newark's Broad Street with the word Griffith carved over the entrance, the doors locked and the 17 floors vacant and wrecked. You'd never know that from the late 1920s to the late 1950s it was a high-priced address for professionals, a bustling architectural jewel that was the headquarters for the Griffith family, sellers of pianos, organs and other musical instruments in a time when no home was complete without one. More importantly, it was the beating heart of music and culture in New Jersey, home to the Griffith Music Foundation, the phenomenal creation of one woman who almost single-handedly put the state on the map in the world of classical music...Lena Donaldson Griffith -- more commonly known as Mrs. Parker O. Griffith... .” (JoAnne Sills, “Newark's forgotten music center”, November 23, 2008; 

The Griffith Piano Company Building, 2014. (Photo by Peter Greenberg (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGriffith_Building_Newark.JPG)

In 1926 the Griffith Piano Company signed a contract to build a twelve story building on the site of its current two buildings. “George Elwood Jones*, of Newark, has been selected as architect of the new building, which will be in the Italian renaissance
style with a front of limestone for the first three floors and the remainder of brick and architectural terra cotta.” The new building is expected to be completed in 1927. (The Music Trade Review, May 22, 1926, p. 17) The polychrome terra cotta is found on the thirteenth and fourteenth floor facades which have “three sets of two-story recessed arches... . The recessions, decorated with glazed and colored ornament, have window surrounds with white-ribboned and colored fruit bands, marble spandrels with central medallions containing fleur-de-lis designs, and yellow and green central twisted columns with foliaged and lineaged work of yellow and blue. The center panel retains a central medallion which protrudes to its column’s base. The facade is topped by a band identical to that found at the twelfth floor sill level. Above the band is a parapet [with] central urns.” (National Register of Historic Places--Nomination Form, “Griffith 
Piano Company Building, Newark, New Jersey”, May 24, 1984, Item No. 7, Page 1) 

Polychrome terra cotta ornamentation on the Griffith Piano Company Building. (Photo attribution: Nicholas Dingman, "Cultural Memory", The Archi, 15th August 2012;  http://nicholas-dingman.blogspot.com/2012/08/cultural-memory.html?q=Griffith+Piano. Edited by Michael Padwee.)

*[George Elwood Jones (1886-1952) was known as an architect of large apartment houses. Jones was the “...designer of the Federal Trust Company on Commerce Street and the Academy Building on Academy Street [in Newark], within the [Four Corners Historic District], and the Griffith Piano Company building north of the district.” (http://www.livingplaces.com/NJ/Essex_County/Newark_City/Four_Corners_Historic_District.html)]

457 Frelinghuysen Avenue

Another application of Art Deco terra cotta can be found on an otherwise nondescript building in a manufacturing and warehouse district of Newark.

Even though the facade says “Founded 1893”, I could find no architectural information about this building. It now contains a number of small warehousing and manufacturing businesses.

Among a string of drab buildings, the bold blue coloring of 457 catches the eye.

The Essex County Parks Department Administration Building 
115 Clifton Avenue

The Essex County Parks Dept. Administration Building (photo taken in 2007). The evergreen tree has since been removed.

“In 1895, after witnessing progressive reformers wrest increasingly valuable land from developers in Manhattan for the creation of Central Park, similar forces were leveraged to form the Essex County Park Commission, and make space for Newark’s own Branch Brook Park.  The prolific firm of Fredrick Law Olmsted designed both. [...As] the park system stretched across the county, the repurposed saloon at 60 Clifton Avenue which had been serving as the administration’s headquarters, as well as home to priceless archived documents, soon proved inadequate. Relief came in 1914 with an infusion of $100,000 into the Parks Department’s budget.

“Enter Harold van Buren Magonigle, a New Jersey born Architect...known for designing the [Maine] monument at Columbus Circle in Manhattan as well as the seal of the AIA. ...Magonigle deftly drafted plans for a squat, handsome brick building in the latest style of Second Renaissance Revival. The new space included more and better appointed offices, a garage extending across the entire basement level, a drafting room, as well as a much needed fire protected archive. All of this was topped by a hipped roof with wide eaves of red metal tile. Directly beneath is a band of friezes consisting of allegorical depictions of nature, painted by Magonigle’s wife.” (Nicholas Dingman, “Archi Awareness: 115 Clifton Avenue”, The Archi, 31 July 2013; http://nicholas-dingman.blogspot.com)

O.W. Ketcham ad. (The Architectural Forum, Vol. XXVII, No. 1, July 1917, p. 5)

The building was completed in 1916, and the terra cotta on the facade was made by the O. W. Ketchum Company of Philadelphia.

Terra cotta surrounding the main entrance (above), and the Park Commission terra cotta plaque (below).

Most interesting, however, is the frieze of surrealistic frescoes painted by Edith Day Magonigle that ornament the area just beneath the building’s eaves and over the area of the main entrance. It is amazing that most have survived the past one hundred years.

Architectural drawing showing positions of frescoes under the eaves.

Two frescoes below the eaves.

Three frescoes above the main entrance (above) and a fresco above the main entrance lintel (below).

Fresco above one side of the main entrance.

Frescoes on the front facade under the eaves.

These are only a very few of the polychrome terra cotta buildings to be found in Newark. If you visit Newark, drive around--or take the light rail--to explore the different areas of the city. If you take the light rail, be sure to stop at the old Newark City Subway stations to see the WPA tile murals that celebrate the history of the Morris Canal: http://tilesinnewyork.blogspot.com/2013/05/newarks-wpa-tile-murals-fine-art-is.html


Thanks are due to our friends, Marie Lawrence and Jan Braverman, who would ride around Newark with us to search out interesting architecture, and special thanks to my wife, Susan Ingham Padwee, for researching the Essex County Parks Administration Building for her monograph about the architect, Harold van Buren Magonigle.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


In 1894 Jere T. Smith, the owner of a construction company that built a number of then-famous buildings in New York City, became the sole owner of a tile and terra cotta company in Menlo Park, New Jersey. Since 1888 Smith had been partners with world-renowned ceramic artist Charles Volkmar in the Menlo Park Ceramic Works. By 1894 the partners went their separate ways and Smith retained control of the Ceramic Works.

A Sanborn Map from 1903 showing the Menlo Park Ceramics Works alongside the Pennsylvania Railroad line in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

J.T. Smith was in the construction business with an office on 23rd Street in Manhattan. 

(From an 1893 photo on page 844 of King’s Handbook of New York City …, by Moses King; http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:(King1893NYC)_pg844_JER.T._SMITH_AND_MENLO_PARK_CERAMIC_WORKS,_23D_STREET,_OPPOSITE_MADISON_AVENUE.jpg)

From 1888 on the construction company and the tile and terra cotta showroom shared the same building. Jere Smith advertised that he was the builder of the Equitable Life Insurance Company building on Broadway and Cedar Street in Manhattan 

"The equitable life building was built in 1870 and was the first office building with passenger elevators. The building was destroyed by a fire in 1912." (Photos and quote courtesy of http://www.nyc-architecture.com/GON/GON079.htm)

and the original Metropolitan Life Insurance Company buildings on 23rd and 24th Streets and Madison Avenue in Manhattan (completed in 1893), among others.

"In 1893 The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company made a bold move, erecting its headquarters on 23rd Street and Madison Avenue facing Madison Square – far uptown from the other insurance firms.   
The impressive 11-story structure  invaded a well-to-do residential neighborhood, 
dwarfing the elegant brownstone mansions around the park." 
Picture Post Card courtesy of Museum of the City of New York; 

It is reasonable to conjecture that Smith, being a businessman, handled the business aspects of both his construction company and the ceramic works from his Manhattan office while Volkmar handled the artistic side of the ceramic works from Menlo Park.

(Ads from the Catalogue of the Eleventh Annual Exhibition of the Architectural League of New York, 1896, p. 78a)

In about 1890 Smith built his residence in an area of Oceanport, New Jersey called Port-au-Peck. “Port-au-peck is an unincorporated community located within Oceanport in Monmouth County, New Jersey... . Port-au-peck covers 3.9 square miles (10 km2), approximately half of Oceanport[, ...and it] forms a peninsula jutting into the Shrewsbury River." (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port-au-peck,_New_Jersey

A period engraved advertisment for the Port-Au-Peck community. Jere T. Smith’s house is illustrated at the top, third from the left, and below. (Courtesy of Gerard Carnevale)

While there was no direct rail line between Menlo Park and Port-Au-Peck/Oceanport/Long Branch, New Jersey in the 1890s, there was a direct rail line from Long Branch to Hoboken, with a ferry ride to Manhattan from there. It was more probable that Smith would have commuted from Port-Au-Peck to Manhattan, rather than to Menlo Park and the Ceramic Works.

(William Walton, “Charles Volkmar, Potter”, The International Studio, Vol. XXXVI, No. 143, January 1909)

When Smith built his house in Port-Au-Peck in 1890, he tiled much of the interior with tiles from the Menlo Park Ceramic Works. I assume that most, if not all, of the tile designs were the creation of Charles Volkmar and not Jere T. Smith.

Charles Volkmar (1841-1914) came from Baltimore. Volkmar had “the great advantage of starting as an artist. ...His grandfather was an engraver, and his father, educated in Dresden, a portrait painter and a skilful restorer… . [Charles studied]...under Barye at the Jardin des Plantes, ...and...with Harpignies...in and around Paris. ...while located at a studio...near Fontainebleau,...he became interested in ceramics through the proximity of a small pottery in which he [...tried] his hand at painting underglaze. His first appearance at the Salon had been made in 1875, with two oil paintings, and he became a frequent exhibitor with paintings, etchings and pottery.” (William Walton, “Charles Volkmar, Potter”, The International Studio, Vol. XXXVI, No. 143, January 1909, p. LXXV)

It was at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876 that Volkmar “saw for the first time...French pottery that was decorated with an underglaze ‘slip’. ...Fascinated…, he returned to France...to observe the local potters employing this method. Charles [joined] the Theodore Deck pottery, later taking an apprenticeship at the Haviland factory… .”  
(“The Volkmar Legacy to American Art Pottery”, a booklet published by The Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut, 1985) “[Volkmar] took up the French technique of barbotine—painting on a vase with liquid clay or slip. [He was o]ne of the most skilled practitioners of this technique… .” (http://www.antiquesandfineart.com/articles/article.cfm?request=953) 

Volkmar moved his pottery from place to place during the last part of the Nineteenth century and prior to his death in 1914. “Charles built a kiln at Greenpoint, Long Island, in 1879 where he produced tiles and vases. He was the first potter to use underglaze slip painting in the United States.” (http://siris-archives.si.edu/ipac20/ipac.jsp?uri=full=3100001~!213244!0)

In 1888 Volkmar moved to Menlo Park, New Jersey where he and J.T. Smith started the Menlo Park Ceramic Works. Volkmar “...used opaque glazes and low relief lines to define compositions, instead of the high line relief commonly employed at the time.” (Norman Karlson, The Encyclopedia of American Art Tiles, Volume I, Region 2, Schiffer Publishing Company, Atglen, PA, 2005, p. 127) While they were partners, their tiles were marked “MENLO PARK/CERAMIC WORKS/VOLKMAR TILES” on the reverse. After their partnership dissolved, Smith took over and the last line in the marking, "VOLKMAR TILES", was changed to “J  T  S”. (Michael Padwee, A Field Guide to the Key Patterns on the Backs of United States Ceramic Tiles, 1870s-1930s, 3rd Ed., 2nd Printing, Jan. 2011, Appendix I; http://tilefieldguide.omeka.net/items/show/49

According to the Tile Heritage Foundation, "Charles Volkmar decorated tiles with opaque enamels to tone with onyx, marble etc., or in old gold or old ivory." (Email to Michael Padwee dated 12/11/12 and titled "Fwd: Volkmar and Poor from THF files") 

37-39 Greenpoint Avenue, Brooklyn. Once the site of the Volkmar Keramic Company. (Photo courtesy of Michael Padwee)

“In 1895 Volkmar...opened the VOLKMAR KERAMIC CO. at 39 Greenpoint Avenue, Brooklyn, producing art tiles and household ceramics, primarily in a Delft-inspired style. The same year, he and artist Kate Cory established VOLKMAR & CORY in the Corona section of the Bronx. The designs produced here were similar to those of Volkmar Keramic--Delft-style American scenes in blue underglaze on a white background. […T]hese pieces [had] ...a greater amount of detail and texture than the traditional Dutch [Delftware] ceramics. [This] work ...won a gold medal at the 1895 Atlanta Exposition. By late 1896, however, this partnership was dissolved. Volkmar continued the pottery alone as CROWN POINT POTTERY, and then as VOLKMAR POTTERY.” (Karlson, p. 127)

“[Volkmar's] son, Leon, was an accomplished potter and [in 1903 they] formed a partnership. When the kiln was moved to Metuchen, New Jersey, the name was changed to [Volkmar Kilns and then] Charles Volkmar and Son. In 1911 the partnership dissolved and Leon moved to Bedford, New York[...and] established Durant kilns… .” (http://siris-archives.si.edu/ipac20/ipac.jsp?uri=full=3100001~!213244!0)  Charles Volkmar died in 1914.

The Jere T. Smith house in 2012. (Courtesy of Google maps)

The Jere T. Smith house still stands, but the exterior has been changed over the years. The interior, however, still has its original tile work--walls, floors, and fireplace surrounds. Below are contemporary interior photos of the Jere T. Smith house.

The entry hall has a mosaic floor, and you can see some of the tile work around the radiator. (All color photos courtesy of Gerard Carnevale unless otherwise noted. All interior photos edited by Michael Padwee.)

A view of part of the entry hall with the mosaic floor and tiled walls.

The dining room.

Detail of the dining room wall.

This house interior may be the only remaining structure with significant interior installations of Charles Volkmar’s tiles--the output of the Menlo Park Ceramic Works from 1888-1894 when Volkmar was a partner. The interior is an historic treasure that should be protected by the State of New Jersey.


I would like to thank Gerard Carnevale for informing me about the existence of this house and for the use of the interior photos.