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Earnest A. Batchelder

American
(1875–1957)

Tile
1910

Earthenware
4 x 4 x 0.75 in.
Gift of George R. and Lorna Wanlass
1987.218

Earnest Batchelder drew his design inspirations from the Middle Ages, Mayan patterns, Byzantine themes, animals, birds, and flora and fauna. These animal tiles are excellent examples of Batchelder’s work, and the themes depicted in them set them apart from the dozens of other tilemakers in Southern California at the time. Batchelder’s single-fire process used engobes, rather than glaze with two firings. Engobes are a colored clay slip pooled in the recesses of the relief design, while the raised surface was wiped clean to be in contrast to the earthenware clay color. At Batchelder’s factory, 175 employees hand molded tiles, and he boasted: “No two tiles the same.” The tiles were hugely popular, and by the 1920s they could be found on walls, floors, and fireplaces in countless homes, hotels, chapels, apartments, shops, restaurants, swimming pools, and businesses from New York City to California.

Born 1875 in New Hampshire, Earnest Batchelder completed his art education at the Massachusetts Normal Art School, now Massachusetts College of Art and Design. He moved to Pasadena, California, in the early 1890s to teach metalwork, pottery, and tile making at Throop Polytechnic Institute in Pasadena (now California Institute of Technology), where he later served as the director of art until 1909. That year he built a kiln behind his Pasadena home and entered the business of making handcrafted art tiles. He became the first manufacturer for quality decorative tile in the region, and many Southern California architects used them in their buildings. He ushered in the golden age of California tile making with Arts and Crafts–inspired tiles. Batchelder’s distinctive earthenware relief examples were highly influenced by his 1905 European tour, where he studied in Birmingham and the English Cotswolds. His training in the Arts and Crafts movement there laid the groundwork for his later style.

Billie Sessions, PhD.


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