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It's About Time

Timely Tiles
Maw & Company, Ltd<br>Broseley, England<br><i>“July” and “August” tiles</i>, 1880<br>Glazed ceramic<br>Minneapolis Institute of Arts<br>Gift of Lucy Rogers and Larry Grant
  Maw & Company, Ltd
Broseley, England
“July” and “August” tiles, 1880
Glazed ceramic
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Gift of Lucy Rogers and Larry Grant


Crafted in 1880 by a tile-making company in England, these ceramic tiles eventually ended up in the small town of Afton, Minnesota. In 1895 a railroad worker named Tom Cooney installed them, along with others he had collected, around the fireplace in his rural Minnesota home.

Decorative wall tiles like these were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Enjoyed for their beauty and appreciated for their cleanliness, they were used in home kitchens, bathrooms, entryways, and fireplace surrounds, and also in hospitals, churches, and shops. Traditionally, picture tiles were individually hand-painted by skilled workers and purchased as luxury items by the wealthy. But their growing popularity led companies to find faster, less expensive ways to produce them. With a technique called transfer printing, an artist’s meticulously created original design could be quickly printed in a factory onto one tile after another. First the artist engraved (carved) the design on a tile-sized piece of copper. Next the copper engraving was printed on thin paper, which was then pressed onto a tile to transfer the design. Finally, the decorated tiles were coated with a clear glaze and heated in a kiln (oven). Sold inexpensively, these mass-produced tiles could be bought by almost everyone.

Wall tiles were sometimes decorated with images of the seasons, times of day, or months of the year. This set of twelve calendar tiles has genre (everyday) scenes of country life related to the twelve months. People are shown performing daily chores and joining in seasonal activities. The July tile pictures someone letting horses drink at a pool, suggesting summer’s warm weather and the animals’ hard work. August’s image is two men working in a field. While one labors at cutting the wheat, the other pauses to drink from a wooden barrel. Each tile is labeled with the name of the month and the number of days in that month.

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1. This set of twelve calendar tiles has scenes of everyday life in the 19th century.
2. The scenes on the May and June tiles relate to those months. The May tile shows a man crowning a woman with a wreath of flowers while dancers circle a Maypole. On the June tile, two men using tools called scythes are cutting a crop in a field.
3. The January and February tiles are labeled “JANry” and “FEBry” and give the number of days in the month.


December 2007