Pair of San Jose Mission tile bookends still set in their original wrought iron frames, ca 1935. The tile motif is that of a young nun reading, the walls of historic Mission San José behind her in the background. Both tiles are in excellent condition, as shown. The wrought iron frames with hammered horseshoe shaped support and rosettes at the upper corners were originally painted black and there are a few small areas where the paint chipped off, allowing the underlying iron surface to consequently rust over time. Some tiny flecks of white paint on the tops of each. There are two copper tabs that hold each tile in the frame from the rear and the black paint also is worn on the tabs. These are minor condition issues and cosmetically insignificant. Tiles measure 6 inches square without the frame and 6 1/4 x 6 1/8 with the wrought iron frame, and the pair of bookends together weigh a little over 4 pounds.
The 'Mexican Arts and Crafts' workshop founded in San Antonio, Texas by Ethel Wilson Harris operated under that name between 1931-1941. The workshop had used the old Nat Lewis barn on the San Antonio river, but closed at that location in 1941 and moved onto the grounds of the restored Mission San José, with the workshop's name changing to Mission Crafts at that time. I lifted the old green felt backing on the tiles to check for marks and one is faintly marked "Mexican Arts and Crafts" in a straight line with "San Antonio Texas" just beneath it (shown). I could not see a mark on the other. I left the felt unattached so the buyer could examine the backs of the tiles, as well. The marking helps date the tiles to creation at the original pottery during the 10 year period noted. I did not remove the tiles from the wrought iron frames as they are probably don't have an artist's mark, the application of which which was discouraged by Wilson.
Molded by hand, not machine, decoration on the two tiles was executed by the cuerda seca (dry line) method, which likewise involves considerable work by hand. As a result, though the same original design was used, each one has unique characteristics. For example, one tile has a bit of stray blue glaze in the white on the nun's habit and the other has a blue mark in the sky that seems to suggest a soaring bird, though that touch wasn't included on the other. The 'bird' could actually be the initial(s) of the artisan who made the tile, slipped in under the guise of a freehand artistic touch. 'Miz Harrie' as Harris was known, did not permit pottery employees to sign their work, not even her top artist Fernando Ramos, who created hundreds of the workshop's original designs.
Although much attention in later years has been given to the tile work produced at Mexican Arts and Crafts, the workshop also promoted and helped to preserve the traditional Mexican craft of wrought iron work. Ethel Wilson Harris collaborated with Theodore Voss, owner of Voss Metalworks in San Antonio, for the production of some wrought iron tile frameworks.
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