All across the urban glory of Milwaukee and its neighbors are brick buildings from the 1920s embellished with mosaics. There are all kinds of tile designs, and among them, there are many made up of shards. Trencadís, a Catalan term meaning "broken tile mosaics," was a style of design that appeared on many brick buildings here. "Pique assiette" and "bits and pieces" are other terms meaning the same thing.(1)
The practice of trencadís occurred primarily between 1925 to 1931. The buildings may not be like Gaudí's Casa Battló, but the mosaics they feature add color and beauty to otherwise plain facades. While I have much exploring in the metropolis to do yet, I have located fifty buildings with this design (as of 7/9/2018). Of all these buildings, I have only been able to find one newspaper article listing a company for the installation of these "bits and pieces" tiles.
The Palace Apartments, located at 2061 W Atkinson St, features two arch insets with these mosaics. They are located inside balconets. One of them has lost the tile shards, but the western one remains intact. Once upon a time, I believe the space above the second-story windows in the center had trencadís as well. The architects were George Zagel & Bro. The tile work was done by the Midwest Tile Art Company.(2)
The office and showroom of the Midwest Tile Art Company were located at 1624 W Fond Du Lac Ave (later 1646). J. R. Kessenich was most likely the owner. The company was a tile contractor. They did not manufacture tiles. However, there were times the newspapers indicated who they hired to produce tiles.(3)
Unfortunately, the building they operated in is now demolished. There is very little published about this company in the Milwaukee Journal or the the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.(4) So far in my research, if their name is listed in an article for a new building, the tile work is for the interior.
Pictured below are several more buildings with trecadís. Are all these tile installations the work of the Midwest Tile Art Company? That cannot be said. With only one confirmed example, it is not enough to say. There were many other companies in Milwaukee that installed tile too, and they all could have practiced trencadís. Therefore, if anyone has information on the Midwest Tile Art Co., or information on this type of mosaic in Milwaukee, please respond in a comment. You can also email me (email@example.com).
(1) Jacobsen, Reham Aarti. Mosaics for the First Time. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2005, Page 18
(2) "Palace Apartments," Milwaukee Journal, March 23, 1930, Page 47
(3) "Model Rooms at Home Show," Milwaukee Journal, February 22, 1931, Page 43
(4) Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, September 3, 1926, Page 79
Adventures and reflections on the ornament and craft of architectural terra cotta in the majestic Midwest by Ben Tyjeski.