“What Dreams We Have”
One of the coolest people I know has her own public relations firm, Bella Figura Communications. I met JoAnn Locktov last year at the Kitchen and Bath International Show in Las Vegas. I was actually there to visit with one of her clients, but along with that I was able to spend a little time with her. I’ve heard of pen pals and the like, but never tile buddies, which is really the best way to describe us, I suppose. The primary difference between us in that regard is that JoAnn has really gone at this tile thing, up to and including writing a number of books on the subject! A while back she sent me one of her books entitled, “Mosaic Art and Style: Designs for Living Environments,” which she inscribed, “For a fellow who may like tile even as much as I do!” I won’t speak for JoAnn, but I will say that tile making is something I could quite easily have gotten into, had I not discovered it so very late in life. It is only these last four years, with the many blogs I have written for this site (over 800 and counting) that I have come to really develop an appreciation for it. But now as I approach my dotage, I am left with only a wonderful enthusiasm for the art itself and a bit of envy for JoAnn, because she has gotten much closer to the subject than I have, with her clients, her books, and her many trips to Italy.
All of this, though, is but preface to the chef-d’oeuvre, the subject of today’s blog, namely, the Hearst Castle Collection by Tilevera. It has been well over thirty years since we visited Hearst Castle, but as Californians, my wife and I certainly had to make that trip at least once. What we saw there was nothing short of paradise, the mansion of a man who had an incredible fortune and seemingly a desire for all the riches of the world to be placed in his own home. For those who may care to pursue his life and times, I cannot possibly rate “Citizen Hearst” by W. A. Swanberg too highly. The work is an incredibly riveting read. I have since read two other biographies by Swanberg, but neither could hold a candle to what he accomplished with the book on Hearst. His writer’s talent was evident in all three books, but in Hearst he had a subject that comes along but rarely.
One of the things Hearst did with his mansion was to enlist the services of American architect Julia Morgan and then to pay close attention to her views. He had inherited a large piece of land in California, which he eventually expanded to some 250,000 acres. For a long time, it was just a place to camp out with friends, but when he solicited the services of Ms. Morgan in 1915, he said, “I would like to build something upon the hill at San Simeon. I get tired of going up there and camping in tents. I’m getting a little too old for that. I’d like to get something that would be a little more comfortable.” The original thought was a bungalow of some sort, but within a month, it had become a vision of incredible grandeur, one that would occupy Hearst for the rest of his life. They broke ground in 1919 on what became for Julia Morgan the ultimate commission: a virtually unlimited budget and a freedom of design that most closely approximated carte blanche.
In such a setting tile may have may seem something of a minor detail, but really, just the opposite was the case because it was Hearst Castle. And because it was tile. The whole idea of making something as exquisite as that building is that no detail is too insignificant for close attention. It’s worth noting that Julia Morgan was not, despite the times in which she worked, a designer; she was an architect and designed some 700 buildings in her career. But, even so, her hand is present in every detail of Hearst Castle, including the tile that were used, many of which she designed herself! I’ve included her drawing of one of the tile designs used at San Simeon.
I talk about tile a lot in these blogs, and JoAnn, as I said, has written considerably more on the subject with her many books. It seems, at first blush, an afterthought for architecture, and especially so when we consider something with the size and grandeur of Hearst Castle. But the many tiles used in its creation provide an incredible adornment, making it even more spectacular than would have otherwise been the case. An obvious case in point is the outdoor swimming pool. Given its size and shape and accouterments, it was bound to be, as it is, spectacular, but imagine, if you will, that in some kind of misplaced cost-saving move, they had elected not to face the concrete of that pool with the stunning blue tile that helps make such an architectural statement. It would still be large, still be spectacular, but surely a great deal of the effervescent beauty of that pool would be gone.
The thing with tile is that it really is the supreme embellishment for a house, and that’s true even with an edifice like Hearst Castle; its tile is the ultimate ornament. So that, at some length, gets us to the meat of this blog, namely the Hearst Castle Collection by Tilevera. They have been invited to make available to the public a truly stunning collection of some of the many tiles used in the construction of Hearst Castle in stone, wood and glass, reflecting the sumptuous materials chosen by Julia Morgan. Each tile in the collection is, in a sense, a kind of time machine, a trip back to the days when Morgan first created them.
One of the problems I sometimes have with tile is that I fall in love with something that is available only in Europe, although that part of things is getting better by the day, believe me. Even so, it is fun to be able to talk about something that is not only available in the USA but is made and manufactured here, using the original designs of one of the icons in American architecture. The color palette for their hand-painted tiles is derived directly from Hearst Castle buildings and landscapes, along with the architectural sketches by Morgan. And the designs themselves range from ornate florals to classical Roman statuary, to name just two motifs in a veritable plethora of tile concepts. They come in several sizes, and they also have a number of murals, using as many as twenty different tiles to create a stand-alone installation. There are Mediterranean carved pattern tiles and a glass collection offered in smalti (an opaque hand crafted glass), 24k gold mosaics and mercury glass.
To faithfully reproduce the work of such a master as Julia Morgan, Tilevera chose a modern master, painter Jacqueline Moore to create the first Hearst Castle Master Series. Her Hearst Celestial Series is created on Baltic birch, and Moore actually hand paints between twelve and twenty layers of glazes, gold and silver leaf, oil paints, and washes in an antiquing method that pretty much has to be seen to be believed. The tiles are then sealed with a durable protective coat.
Every time the lottery gets big, people like you and me dream a little, but it’s not happening, man. And we’re not likely to amass anywhere near the fortune of one like Hearst. But with tiles like these from Tilevera, it might be possible to adorn a portion of our homes with the same artistry that graces Hearst Castle. That’s not too big a dream, is it?
Drawings & Photographs Copyright 2012 Hearst Castle (registered trademark) California State Parks-Hearst Castle Collection (registered trademark).
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