For collectors and aficionados of American art tile, this thoroughgoing, historically detailed book of more than 2,000 tiles from 149 potteries, studios, and factories will prove indispensable. And for casual readers who happen on its amazing array of delectable color photographs, it will be a seductive invitation to join the club. Author Norman Karlson was a photographer who shot some hand-painted Florentine tiles for a Ladies' Home Journal article in 1962. After 500 readers asked where to find them, Karlson started a European tile store in the basement of his home, branching into American art tiles in the 1980s. Here he has written brief, fascinating histories of each manufacturer, starting in New England and ending in California, with many down-to-earth details. Discussing Mississippi's Newcomb pottery, at the Southern women's college, Karlson mentions George Ohr, whose turn-of-the-century pots are now highly prized. "It is assumed that Newcomb asked Ohr to leave because his bawdy character was unsuited for the refined young ladies," Karlson notes dryly, next to photos of ceramic brothel tokens with ribald pictograms that Ohr sold as souvenirs at his own studio. Karlson provides pictures of scores of tile-clad surfaces, from cozy Arts and Crafts mantelpieces to the New York subway system. He also includes photos of potteries' identifying marks, biographical sketches of six leaders of the American art-tile movement, a glossary, and a detailed bibliography. --Margaret Moorman
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