Sampler Tour of Art Tiles from Catalina Island

Photo Essay by John Hazeltine

May 20 - 21, 2007


On two overcast days in May, 2007, TFAO volunteers visited Avalon, on Catalina Island near Los Angeles, CA, to photograph a sampler of the ceramic art tiles embedded in the walls of its buildings, fountains and other structures.

The original inspiration for these colorful tiles found throughout Avalon was William Wrigley, Jr., who built a tile, brick and pottery factory on the island in the early 1900s, both to produce a supply for his building projects on the island and as a source of employment for people living there. Between 1927 and 1937 Wrigley's famed Catalina Clay Products Tile and Pottery Plant made distinctive handmade glazed tiles for his own use and for sale to others.

Julie Gause, writing for says: "Tiles manufactured by a company on the island bring vivid and colorful designs to steps, fountains, buildings and planters along Crescent Avenue, the city's most picturesque street. Crescent is a bay-front pedestrian promenade that was developed by Wrigley's son, Phillip K. Wrigley, in the 1930s to give people a place to relax and sit along the beach." Most of the photographs in this photo essay were taken along Crescent Avenue. (right: Fountain along Crescent Avenue)

According to Rebecca Twiss in an article for "From 1927 to 1932, Catalina Clay Products Tile and Pottery Plant used the abundant rich red clay found naturally on the island to create unique - you guessed it - pottery and tile. By 1932, the makers found through trial and error that the red clay was just too brittle, and so began importing white clay from off Island sources. Production continued until 1937, at which time the entire business was sold and moved off the Island... What is so special about that? you might ask. Let me tempt the enthusiast that lurks inside you - the one who watches The Antiques Road Show on the sly... Popularity. From practical things like bookends and dinnerware to hand painted plates and nick-nack novelties, during the time Catalina Pottery was being made, it became so popular that it was sold across the nation... Artistry. The potters and tile makers were allowed a lot of freedom as far as color, style and glazing techniques were concerned. With distinctive hues and creative designs, the diversity of pieces can make a collector swoon... Rarity. Because the production of "original" pottery and tile lasted for a short ten year period, finding it becomes an adventure. Most desirable are the pieces that were made from the local dark clay. Treasure!" (left: Niche containing tiles along Crescent Avenue)

Select pieces of historic tile and pottery can be found at the Catalina Island Museum, located at the Casino Building.

Collectors of Catalina Island tile and pottery may be interested in attending the Annual Catalina Pottery and Tile Extravaganza sponsored by the Catalina Island Museum and the Annual Catalina Festival of Art produced by the Catalina Art Association.

All photographs in this photo essay are Copyright 2007 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc.

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