The desire to go home is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love.
~ Rebecca Solnit, Storming the Gates of Paradise
These ceramic tiles are based on the botanical watercolors done by Albert Robert Valentien between 1898 and 1918. You can find most of these flowers at the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens in Mission Canyon. Valentien painted 1094 California botanicals on a commission by Ellen Browning Scripps between 1908 and 1918. The first ten of the original watercolors were introduced on exhibit in summer 2016 at the library of the San Diego Natural History Museum, with other watercolors rotated seasonally.
Coast manzanita, Bi-color (miniature) lupine, California golden poppy
California is home to more than 7000 native species, of which one-fourth are endemic, not found elsewhere. The flowers represented in this collection are California native species found in and around Ventura and Santa Barbara County, but some are found throughout the state. Some, such as the Matilija Poppy is a Santa Barbara variant of the California native species.
Sky lupine, Santa Barbara Matilija poppy, Wooly leaf mountain lilac, California wild rose
AR Valentien spent most of his life working in ceramics. Born in Cincinnati in 1862, he became interested in pottery at 16, affiliating himself with Coultry and Wheatley potters. A testament to his skill even then, Wheatley himself taught him underglaze. In underglaze, a clear glaze is applied over the decorator's painting, giving the image a reflective quality reminiscent of an oil painting. By 1881, at age 19, Valentien was the first decorative staff hired by Rockwood Pottery and worked for more than 20 years. He developed many of the techniques that made Rockwood famous for its distinctive style of underglaze.
A vase made at Rockwood has the individuality of a fine painting. It is designed, decorated and signed by the artist just as a canvas is.
~Rockwood Pottery adverisement
Such an advertisement would have warmed the hearts of Morris and his Pre-Raphaelite friends.
At Rockwood, Valentien strongly favored the famous Sea Green and Iris ware. In the Iris ware, vases and pots were decorated with flowers and foliage only, focusing in the classical botanical fashion without any background detail.
Valentien met Anna Marie Bookprinter, also a student at Cincinnati Art Academy. In 1884, she joined him at Rockwood and three years later they were married. Although she worked as a decorator at Rockwood for 21 years, sculpture was her true love, however. She exhibited a life-sized Ariadne at the Chicago Expo in 1893 and won a gold medal for her Hero Waiting for Leander at the Atlanta Expo in 1895.
At the same time, Albert was making a name for himself and Rockwood: "I was the the first regularly employed decorator -- and served in the capacity of chief decorator for the period of 24 years during which time I originated and eveloped many of the cxhief effects which have made that institution famous throughout the world." Many of the decorators at Rockwood were trained at the Cincinnati School of design as painters and artists. The school offered classes in decorative design that emphasized plant anatomy. Albert himself began sketching in 1900 in the Black Forest, while traveling for Rockwood. In 1901, he shifted his attention more to flower painting than pottery.
Blue flax, Chaparral mallow, Tidy tips
In 1903, Albert and Anna Marie traveled to San Diego to visit her brother, Charles, and with the stated purpose of seeing the California wildflowers they'd heard so much about. During his eight-month visit, he painted 150 local species, including manzanita, lilac, and matilija poppy. His paintings were exhibited at the State Normal School in San Diego, where he first met Ellen Browning Scripps, who would later commission his plant portraits of California. The Valentiens returned to Cincinnati and Rockwood, but by now, California was in their hearts. They resigned their positions at Rockwood in 1905 and moved to San Diego in 1908. It was then that Ellen Browning Scripps commissioned an artistic compendium of the flora of California.
Between 1908 and 1918, Valentien traveled throughout California and into southern Oregon, sketching and collecting native plants. California has several distinctive habitats which include: coastal scrub, chapparral, high and low deserts, oak woodlands, vernal pools, riparian, mountain meadows and fresh water marshes, and so on. Nearly all of these are represented in Valentiens watercolors. Albert painted the flowers exactly as he found them, in sunlight and with natural flaws such as broken twigs, broken leaves, missing petals or holes due to insect damage. Of the 1094 known plant portraits, several small species may be combined on a single 20 x 13 inch page.
Splendid mariposa lily, Shooting stars, California tickseed, Fire poppy
In the off season, when he was not traveling and painting, Valentien returned to San Diego. The soils surrounding San Diego are rich in minerals (pegmatite and feldspar) necessary for porcelain and the Valentiens wished to start a pottery works. Working with his friend and fellow potter, Albert Solon, who had moved to California at the same time as the Valentiens, Various problems with the kiln and employees plagued the early endeavours, and eventually Valentien decided to focus on tile-making. Some of the tiles in the dome of the California Building in Balboa Park may be Valentien tiles, but no documentation exists for this. Envisioned as a west coast center for arts and crafts pottery, the story of the Valentien pottery is one of misfortunes and betrayals that ended badly: "More than $20,000 have already been expended on the pottery, and nothing to show for it...." (AR Valentien to Albert Solon, September 1913).
Island mallow, Thimbleberry, Calystegia morning glory, Wild pea
Title: California Native Wildflowers
Complete Set: 18 individual tiles
Size: 6 inch square tiles
Ceramic: Background color can be changed on ceramic. Shown are Island Mallow and Bi-Color Lupine on bisque, white, parchment, and wheat backgrounds.
4.25 inch square tiles: $44
6 inch square tiles: $55
8 inch square tiles: $73
4 inch square tiles: $62
6 inch square tiles: $77
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Copyright information: Images of tile products on this website are ©William Morris Tile, LLC. They are derivative works requiring considerable creative effort. You are welcome to use the images for any non-commercial purpose, including displaying them on your blog or personal website. You may not use them for any commercial purpose without written permission, including but not limited to creating counted cross-stitch patterns, calendars, or any other commercial purpose. Contact me for images.