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African American Tile Collection
300 YEARS OF AFRICAN AMERICAN CULTURE AND IMAGES OMITTED FROM THE ARCHITECTURAL TILE RECORD
This collection of handmade stoneware tiles portrays people of black African origin and culture.

The tiles fall into a category generally described as architectural art. For centuries people have adorned their residences and public buildings with permanent architectural tile which reveals the faces and cultures of people during or before the time of building construction. Tiles which depict history, myths, nature, literature, performing arts and more tell the stories of people from the past. This historical record is preserved in stone, ceramics, steel, wood, copper and other durable components of architecture.

Fired clay tiles and stone mosaic have always played an integral role in the celebration of culture and docu-mentation of human achievement. Recent research has revealed a startling 300 year racial gap in this otherwise universal tradition.

Prior to the recent arts and crafts revival experienced in the United States, African Americans were left out of this architectural tile record. Tile manu-facturers, large and small, omitted African Americans from their portfolios, and African Americans were therefore not visible on residential and commercial buildings.

A historical review of over 10,000 images in over three centuries of American tile manufacturing history reveals but one positive tile image. A 6”x6”ceramic tile titled 'Negro Child' was produced by the Mosaic Tile Company of Zanesville, Ohio 1894-1972. The Flint Faience and Tile Company, Flint Michigan 1921-1933 produced 10 tiles depicting the story of 'Little Black Sambo', unfortunately a reinforcement of a negative stereotype.

Pewabic Pottery, Detroit Michigan 1903 to present, produced a single 'Black Sambo Tile' 6”x9”. A “one of a kind” custom commission was designed by Mr. John Wareham of Rookwood Pottery. The tile frieze featuring black and white infants in water was designed for a Seattle residence built in 1903, (a singular custom commission). It should be noted that the 10,000 plus images reviewed are from tile history books which focus on the manufacturers in the business of producing tile for archi-tectural use. It is likely that obscure “studio art” one-of-a kind pieces might be uncovered if it were possible to find them.

Given the history in America of segregation and racial hostility, the exclusion of African American people and culture from architectural tile art comes as no surprise, however a “gap” of this magnitude is alarming and significant to African Americans as well as all students of architectural history. The images in this series of African culture stand on their own as artistically compelling, and are crafted to achieve positive artistic expression.

A mid 1980's art/craft revival in the United States brought about a new and more inclusive phase of minority group representation and participation in tile manufacturing.  Small scale studios in the business of art tile have not confined their artistic representations to a single culture.  Most large scale tile manufacturers continue to lag behind and produce what they perceive as "safe" images which mostly reflect the life and times of the dominant Anglo culture.
The African/African American Tile Series is in progress and is a collaboration of text and carving by Eric Rattan and African American artist, Maurice.

Historical research by Eric Rattan
Eric Rattan, Tile Maker, Mosaicist
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STONE & TILE MOSAICS
Artist Eric Rattan
AFRICAN/
AMERICAN
AMERICAN ART TILE

African Art Tile

Mother With Child, Border Frame 

 African Art Tile

Woman at Well, Border Frame

African ArtTile

Nina Simone, Border Frame

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