Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Terra Cotta Roof Tiles of Alfred

When driving through the village of Alfred it is near impossible to not notice the intricate terra cotta tiles around town. But what clearly stands out and is one of a kind is Alfred’s red-orange terra cotta roof tiles. There is said to be more then 100 house within Alfred and neighboring towns that have this terra cotta roof tiles. Terra cotta is a very popular material in this location of New York state because of the discovery around 1880 of the terra cotta clay with in the hills and valleys of soon to be Alfred. Then in 1889 the Celadon to Terra Cotta Company ( celadon: a word that refers a glaze most seen in ancient Chinese ceramic art work) was established to create and design tiles for wall, roofs and bricks for building. With in the next twenty to thirty Alfred’s terra cotta tile business thrived, clearly because the company was able to make us of local raw materials.

Looking in to the history of how terra cotta was used whether it be for decretive ancient Chinese, Egyptian, Middle Eastern, West African, Central and North American art, for the famous tomb soldiers of 2nd century BCE emperor Qin Shi Huangdi which consist of a total of over 7,000 pottery soldiers, 100 chariots, 4,000-plus pottery horses and as many as over 100,000 weapons all made from terra cotta or terra cotta used as one of the first pipes used in plumbing. In the 19th century there was also this Gothic revival style of architecture which made much use of terra cotta with in design.

Why have terra cotta roof tiles? Many consider terra cotta or really most clay roof tiles to be most ornamental, for they come in many different shapes. textures, patterns and colors ranging from dark browns to light pinks and even by 1900 the range of colors expanded from different glazes that were being used to produce such colors as blues, greens, and a nearly black, purples were also popular colors. The design of a terra cotta a roof is most commonly “a field of plain clay tiles covering the majority of a roof’s flat surface, with decorative tiles used along the peak of the roof”. Terra cotta clay is also known to be good for roof tiles for it’s heat/ fire, water reactance, terra cotta is also lighter then stone and has many durable qualities to it. These roofs are so durable that they claimed to be able to last many centuries the most common life expectancy of roofs constructed with terra cotta tiles is about one hundred year (still pretty impressive).

If we look at the time line of Alfred history we can see that it is getting to a point where these terra cotta roofs maybe coming to their last leg. Since Alfred is a historical town and in large part for their terra cotta roof tiles, it is no surprise when we find out that a local group of the community of Alfred, called the Tile Roofs of Alfred, has come together to help persevere the history Alfred has with terra cotta clay and what an impact it has made in architecture. Another reason as to preserve this history, to promote a sort of design with in new modern architecture. For the terra cotta roofs of alfred say something to what craft and craftsmanship really is. Yes it in a way it can be seen as somewhat forgotten today, the interagency of roof tiles are not taken in to so much consideration today, not to say that it is an awful development to not focus on ever single detail, but I think today artists in general forget that to put a lot of work in to something it shows. These terra cotta roof tiles is a clear demonstration of that idea.

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