Wednesday, October 8, 2008

the principles of design

what you probably don't know is that a great many houses in my neighborhood, built as a working-class neighborhood in the early 20s, have a 'batchelder fireplace.' as i said, these were not built for rich folk, and they don't look like they were, but the variety and beauty of the decorative tiles on mantles around here make as least the hearths priceless.

this was all i knew or ever even thought of batchelder, ernest batchelder. until yesterday. i was browsing around as i am wont to do and i came across a design instruction book he wrote, where i found this page.

since he had been kind enough to give us a hint, i was quickly able to find the image to which he referred .

it didn't look anything like the style in his tiles, but it certainly did look like the nicholson (look in the background).

a little more poking around under the name of batchelder, coming across additional samples of his tiles, when i made a connection that made my jaw drop and a giggle come up my throat. as i further perused his book i came across this illustration which, since i had just been dealing with this stuff a couple of days earlier, looked very familiar.

i was amazed at the coin- cidence. at the same time, there was one other of the shunboku images that looked familiar.

i went poking through my back files and found the dow image i was looking for.

(i turned the japanese image sideways and flopped to make it even more obvious, but in any case i think it's clear.)

it turns out, i learn, that batchelder went to study art in boston when he was a young man. there he studied with denman waldo ross, who was a trustee at the MFA in boston dealing with the new and rapidly growing japanese art collection. at his side, though rather his competitor, but also a 'keeper of the japanese art' there at that time was arthur wesley dow. and there in their hands was the treasure from the 1730s: shunboku's book.

there are many sites which feature original or reproduction batchelder tiles; most of them can be found through the links page at the batchelder site. what began as a sort of 'sears catalogue' of fireplace tiles has, as interest in the design from this era grows, become a treasured commodity.


  1. I have some Batchelder tiles that were salvaged from the Northridge earthquake and sold on eBay. I lived in Laramie, Wyoming for 20 years and the Ivinson Old Ladies Home (it probably has a different official name) was chock full of Batchelder - two large fireplaces, a fountain and random tiles along a hallway. Made my mouth water to see them. So I shared a book I have on Batchelder tiles with the administrator and she was most grateful to discover what a treasure they have.

  2. Oh now that is very cool, Karen. You really have me wondering now.... how did Batchelder get to Wyoming??? Must have been a California connection in there somewhere....