A tour of historic buildings fragment by fragment: 'Orphans' exhibit showcases decorative elements of Northland's lost landmarks

The "Orphans" have left Fairlawn, but will find a new home at the Tweed Museum of Art Tuesday. The "Orphans" come from throughout the Twin Ports. From buildings that were long ago lost from the Northland, such as the Spalding Hotel, the Lyceum Th...

The "Orphans" have left Fairlawn, but will find a new home at the Tweed Museum of Art Tuesday.

The "Orphans" come from throughout the Twin Ports. From buildings that were long ago lost from the Northland, such as the Spalding Hotel, the Lyceum Theater, Superior's theaters and others. The orphans also come from coal stoves and other collections of tiles that were once found inside homes.

"Orphans: Tile and Ornamentation from Lost Buildings" was organized in conjunction with a Sept. 10-17 conference of the Handmade Tile Association and the Tile Heritage Foundation. The conference "Tiles on the Northern Plains" was held in both Minneapolis and the Twin Ports. It showcased tiles on the outsides of buildings and in people's homes throughout the Twin Cities, Duluth and Superior.

The "Orphans" exhibit was on display during the conference at Fairlawn Mansion and Museum, 906 E. Second St., which could only house the exhibit for a short time. So organizers decided to move the exhibit to the Tweed, located at the University of Minnesota Duluth campus, where it can be viewed by more people.

The Tweed is extending the life of the show, said Peter Spooner, of the Tweed Museum of Art and organizer of "Orphans."


The pieces are historic artifacts from these lost buildings that have been collected privately. Normally the public doesn't get to see them, Spooner said.

"It's a way to bring those things to people's attention today," he said.

"Orphans" was planned by Karin Kraemer of Duluth Pottery, Superior Division and the Handmade Tile Association.

While planning for the conference, Kraemer thought that people would have fragments of tile ornamentation from long lost buildings, she said.

When the buildings were torn down, people got the salvage rights and saved this ornamentation. Other times, people would be present when the building was knocked down and salvage what they could, she said.

"Some of the pieces came right out of the Harbor," Kraemer said.

The refuge from the Spalding Hotel, Holland Hotel and Lyceum Theater was used as fill in the harbor. And some pieces from these buildings have washed up on shore, Kraemer said.

The pieces from Northland buildings are accompanied in "Orphans" with photos of the building they decorated and a short written piece about where each was located, Kraemer said.


"The interesting thing is chasing down all these stories," Kraemer said. "I just find that intriguing."

The exhibit is as much about history as it is about tiles. The tile was just the means of decoration, she said.

"There was a time when this city ... it was a happening place to be," Kraemer said. "We have a very unique history of architecture here."

Tile was a great material for decoration, it was more durable than other materials.

A lot of the pieces are terra cotta clay tiles, which were cheaper, lighter and more versatile than carved stone, Spooner said.

Other pieces are from stove tiles.

"Coal stoves were a great source of tiles because once again that was the hearth, everybody sat around it," Kraemer said. "It was quite a competition among coal stove makers to make their stoves the most beautiful decorative pieces they could."

The stove makers would order tiles from tile companies to decorate their stoves. Many of the stove tiles are on loan to the exhibit from Dennis Gunsolus, a Northland stove collector, she said.


The exhibit also includes older tiles brought over from Europe, and tiles used in projects inside Northland houses.

The show includes about 60 pieces total. A lot of them are individual tiles, and a lot of them are terra cotta.

This show reminds people of what Duluth was once like. People who visited it at Fairlawn said the show had an element of reality because they remembered seeing the buildings when they were growing up, Spooner said.

"Orphans" opens Tuesday at the Tweed and is on display through Nov. 19.

Several other exhibits of contemporary tile that opened during the conference are still on display and available for viewing at Northland Galleries.

Tile exhibits:

"Orphans: Tile and Ornamentation from Lost Buildings" opens Tuesday at the Tweed Museum of Art at the University of Minnesota Duluth. The exhibit is on display through Nov. 19.

"Tiles of the North: Hand Made Tile Association Members and Local Artists" is on display through Saturday, Sept. 30, at Duluth Pottery, Superior Division/Red Mug Espresso, 9166 Hammond Ave., Superior. A reception for the exhibit will be held from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday.


"Contemporary Women Tilemakers: Clay and Glass" is on display through September at Blue Iris Gallery, 723 Lake Ave. S.

"Building on Tradition: Contemporary Handmade Tiles" is on display through Sunday, Oct. 1 at Sivertson Gallery, 361 Canal Park Drive.

"Un-Grouted: Ceramic Artists Explore the Tile" is on display through Oct. 29 at the Duluth Art Institute, 506 W. Michigan St.

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