ERNEST BATCHELDER (1875-1957)
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Ernest Batchelder (1875-1957)
Originally from New Hampshire, Batchelder moved to California in 1901, shortly after completing a degree from the Massachusetts Normal College of Art. He spent most of the next decade teaching art classes at Pasadena’s Throop Polytechnic Institute (now Caltech) and traveling around Europe in his spare time.
Batchelder's life took a turn in 1909 when, behind his house overlooking the Arroyo Seco, he built a kiln and entered the business of creating hand-crafted art tiles. The tiles were hugely popular, and by the 1920s, Batchelder's tiles could be found in homes and buildings across the United States. Batchelder's prominence in Southern California's art community included his involvement in the founding of the Pasadena Art Institute and his membership in the Pasadena Society of Artists. Batchelder was also the third Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Pasadena Playhouse, to which he contributed an original tile fireplace and fountain (recently restored).
The style in which Batchelder worked was highly distinctive. First, he used a single-fire process known as engobe- in which a primary wash of colored clay slip (usually pale blue) was applied to the surface of the tile before being fired, pooling in the recesses of the design, with excess being wiped off. Then the tile was fired. A typical glazed tile is fired twice–once before glaze, and once after, thereby sealing in the added color. Batchelder's designs often drew on Medieval themes but also included flowers, vines, and California oaks; birds, particularly peacocks; Mayan patterns; Byzantine themes; and geometric shapes.
The elegant simplicity of the tiles made them well-suited to homes built in the Arts and Crafts style, which was driven largely by nostalgia for a preindustrial era in which the skill of individual artisans was valued over the efficiency of mass production.
The business folded during the Great Depression, but not before Batchelder and his workers had produced countless tiles and designed ornate installations for buildings and homes across North America.
Batchelder eventually returned to the ceramics business, opening a smaller workshop where he manufactured pottery and simple tableware throughout the 1940s.
Batchelder’s work is especially common in Pasadena, where he spent most of his life and eventually passed away in 1957.