Gray ceramic tile from the 19th century: New York City’s earliest collection to reopen
Posted On July 2, 2021
The ceramic tile of the 19s is being returned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the first time since it was discovered by New York photographer and collector Charles R. Johnson in 1909.
The museum is planning to show the tile, which was painted on in the early 1800s, at its upcoming “Art for People” exhibition in July.
It is the earliest known example of ceramic tile in the United States.
Johnson’s discovery of the tile has sparked a long-running debate about the origins of ceramic tiles in the Americas, with scholars debating whether the tile came from a native American tribe or an imported tile manufacturer.
The Metropolitan Museum is offering to sell the tile for $250,000 to the artist’s descendants, who will make it available for public display.
In the mid-1800s, the New York State Museum of Natural History and the New Jersey Historical Society held public auctions for samples of ceramic and slate tiles from New York’s neighborhoods.
In the end, Johnson and a handful of others collected more than 30,000 samples from a collection of more than 7,000, but the Metropolitan museum’s collection is the oldest in the country.
The tile was discovered in a warehouse at the end of the 1850s by an American engineer named James B. Clark, who later moved to Brooklyn and built his own brick-and-mortar shop.
His wife, Mary, was also a seamstress.
The tiles were found on the floors of the warehouse, and the museum says it is unclear why they were placed there.
The artifacts were later donated to the museum.
The ceramic tile that Johnson brought home in 1909 is one of three known examples of ceramic in New York that dates to the 1790s.
The other two are from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and were brought to New York by American collector and philanthropist Frederick B. McAllister, who owned a farm in Pennsylvania.
The third is from New Jersey, where the ceramic tile was found.
In recent years, researchers have been trying to trace the origins and use of the ceramic tiles, as well as their relationship to Native American culture and art.
One recent effort, called the “Celery Project,” began with the construction of a large collection of ceramic samples at the New Museum in 2000.
The goal of the project is to identify the origins, culture and significance of these tiles.
In an interview with the New Yorker last month, Johnson said he hoped the tile’s return would open the doors to a new conversation about the history of the tiles, particularly its use in early American life.
“There are two ways to interpret this, and I think that both are true, is to interpret it as an American tradition and that the Native Americans are just using it as a material to make things, or as a sign of the sacredness of their culture,” Johnson said.
“I think we need to look at it through a different lens.”
He added: “It is the last piece of evidence that these tiles are Native American.”