Ernest Batchelder’s ceramic tile-making enterprise began as a modest backyard venture in rural Pasadena, California but quickly grew to a place of prominence far beyond. New York, Minneapolis and Vancouver would soon become host to major Batchelder architectural ceramic installations. His clients ranged from restaurants to churches to highrise office buildings but perhaps the most striking installations remain the many fireplaces gracing modest American bungalows throughout the country.
In 1908 this enterprising young man left a prestigious teaching position to start his own school and factory with the goal of establishing a West Coast guild of craftsmen joined by the Arts and Crafts ideal of dignity in hand labor. Although an artistic idealist, Batchelder did not neglect the financial affairs of his business. By1930, the Batchelder-Wilson Company had showrooms in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco as well as representation in virtually every major city in the United States. Batchelder remained the preeminent leader of handmade tiles in the West until the Depression forced the closure of his operations in 1932.
Those among us who appreciate fine craftsmanship can imagine the glow of a crackling fire on mellow earthenware tiles while we reflect upon the principles that guided this man’s remarkable life.