The treatment and reinstallation of a ceramic tile fireplace

Shelley Reisman Paine


This article documents the process required to prepare a ceramic tile fireplace surround made in 1911 for John J. Meacham by Frederick and Agnes Rhead. The tiles were treated and mounted for the University City Ceramics: Art Pottery of the American Woman’s League exhibition at the Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, MO, in June 2004.

The surround was constructed from 280 blue-green glazed earthenware tiles with a landscape frieze of large square incised tiles with multicolor glazes. In 2003, the tiles were removed from the Meacham house and brought to the St. Louis Art Museum. During this process, each tile was numbered and a scale drawing was made of the original installation. The tiles varied in size and weight, but most problematically for the treatment, in thickness.

To prepare the tiles for exhibition, multiple decisions involving the curator, conservator, designer, preparator, fabricators and manufacturers were required to create a safe, stable, removable and aesthetically pleasing installation. This report documents the process required to stabilize, clean, compensate for losses and mount the tiles. The mounting process included applying isolation layers of B-72, developing a process to level each tile, attaching the tiles to a custom honeycomb panel with epoxy, and grouting the surround with custom mortar.

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2005 | Minneapolis | Volume 12