40th annual Pewabic staff & student show

Founded in 1903, the Detroit ceramic design studio Pewabic Pottery earned national acclaim throughout much of the 20th century for its distinctive tiles, vessels, jewelry and architectural ornamentation, which can be seen all over metro-Detroit. (You’ll find it elsewhere in the country, too, including Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and Nebraska’s State Capitol building.) Notable local examples of the Arts and Crafts tilework include the dazzling Guardian Building downtown and the Detroit Public Library’s main building in Midtown. Today, in addition to housing a noted tile shop, Pewabic remains a vibrant studio and education center. It’s currently hosting an exhibition of work by students and staff that’s well worth your attention.

Walk up the satisfyingly creaky stairs of the beautiful 1907 Tudor Revival building on Jefferson to get there. The gallery to your right houses work in a surprising variety of media by Pewabic’s staff. On the left, you’ll find (mostly ceramic) work by a number of adult students who’ve taken classes there in the last year. There is striking, exceptional work in both galleries.

Alice Schneider, a Pewabic employee and student at the College for Creative Studies who has a mixed media jaw-dropper in the show, told me some of Pewabic’s student artists have studied and made art there for decades. Their craftsmanship and imagination are on impressive display in pieces that range from sake sets to wall pieces to fabric decorated with the use of handmade ceramic blocks.

The staff work includes ceramics but also materials as unexpected as MS Paint. (There’s more variety to the materials because the work wasn’t necessarily produced at Pewabic.) Schneider’s piece, an installation called “Silhouette Theatre,” haunts one corner of the room, managing to evoke, at once, a puppet theatre, an entertainment unit and a triptych. Boldly rendered black and white trees and branches draw you inside, but the video work, featuring a solemn, slowly stirring woman covered in paint, will keep you there.

What’s especially remarkable about the staff work is that just about everyone employed at Pewabic has a piece in the show. (I went in with the misunderstanding that it would only be teachers’ work.) It’s a long-lived artist haven there, a storied community that’s been devoted, for more than a century, to the value and pleasure of making.

Pewabic Pottery’s 40th Annual Staff & Student Exhibition is on view until September 18 at 10125 E. Jefferson Ave.; 313-626-2000; Most of the work is for sale. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.