Grueby Tiles at the Dreamwold Estate

Cantankerous and controversial businessman and author Thomas W. Lawson amassed an enormous fortune in the 19th century as a stock promoter. He spent $6,000,000 of it, the equivalent today of about $180,000,000, to build a sprawling 210-acre estate in Scituate, Massachusetts. Christened “Dreamwold,” it was designed by Boston architectural firm Coolidge and Carlson, who contracted Grueby to provide ceramic tile for several bathrooms, the conservatory, and no fewer than eight fireplaces. 

Map of Thomas Lawson's Dreamwold Estate, courtesy of The Scituate Historical Society

Addison Le Boutillier succeeded George Kendrick as Director of Design at Grueby in 1902 and designed many of the tiles at Dreamwold. He was an experienced draughtsman and masterful illustrator who had traveled the world, studying a variety of periods and styles from Etruscan to Celtic. Of the many tiles at the estate, including pond lilies and turtles, scholarship suggests that he was responsible for the present design, which depicts a procession of horses reminiscent of those from archaic Greek friezes. It is a deftly executed composition of a single tile that can be endlessly repeated, while still remaining graceful and suggestive of motion and depth. These tiles are rare, the beginning and end cap tiles even more so. Le Boutillier remained at Grueby until at least 1911 and would produce over one hundred tile designs during his tenure.

Lawson died penniless in 1925 and the estate, its furnishings, and even its tiles, were split up and sold off to cover his losses. Little remains of the original estate beyond the main house, dubbed “The Nest” by Lawson and his wife, and the massive European-style Lawson Tower he had built to enclose a steel water tank. 

Thomas W. Lawson
Lawson Tower, Scituate, MA

Grueby Faience Company

Grueby is a name synonymous with the American Arts & Crafts Movement and a marker of exceptional quality.

Grueby Faience Company was established in 1894 by William Henry Grueby. A great admirer of the matte glazes of French pottery and the refined simplicity of Japanese ceramics, Grueby founded his company with the intent of creating works of ceramic art that folded these two influences into a singular design philosophy that was wholly American. The bulk of Grueby’s creations were works of art pottery, though the company was also highly regarded for their production of some of the best architectural tiles in America.

The aesthetic of Grueby pottery has been described as ‘organic naturalism’ and can be identified by two defining characteristics; form and glaze. Most Grueby pottery features vegetal shaped forms, often bulbous and gourd-like, adorned with stylized foliate designs that were either placed above or carved into the vessel’s surface. The majority of these pieces were glazed in a matte cucumber green that would come to be the company’s hallmark. Other Grueby glazes exist, including light blue, soft yellow and a handful of other earthen hues, though none of these are as quintessentially “Grueby” as the deep woods green seen on most of the manufacturer’s pieces.

Grueby pottery and tiles enjoyed great popularity in the late 19th and early 20th century and were sold in fine design shops from Paris to New York. Grueby even landed a partnership with Tiffany Studios, producing lamp bases for the renowned lighting and glass manufacturer. Before long, Grueby became a victim of its own success, inciting mass-market competition that led the company to declare bankruptcy in 1909. Grueby emerged from bankruptcy but was shut down shortly after due to a fire in their manufacturing wing. Grueby was able to rebuild, but the weight of tragedy had begun to take its toll. The company closed its doors for the last time in 1920.

In the modern secondary art market, pottery and architectural tiles by Grueby are highly collectible and sought after. Innovative in design, delightful in form, and steeped in history; Grueby pottery and tiles are true American treasures.

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