19th Century Glazed Terracotta artichoke Architectural Finial

19th Century Glazed Terracotta artichoke Architectural Finial

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24H” x 12.5W” x 12.5D”

Rare Terracotta Artichoke ornament on its own base. Some chips in the protruding ‘leaves’, acceptable during demolition removal. Great architectural piece .

Terracotta is made of a clay or silt matrix, a fluxing agent, and grog or bits of previously fired clay. Clays are the remnants of weathered rocks that are smaller than 2 microns. They are composted of silica and alumina. Kaolinite, halloysite, montmorillonite, illite and mica are all good types of clays for ceramic production. When mixed with water they create hydrous aluminum silica that is plastic and moldable. During the firing process the clays lose their water and become a hardened ceramic body.

Fluxes add oxygen when they burn to create more uniform melting of the silica particles throughout the body of the ceramic. This increases the strength of the material. Common fluxing materials are calcium carbonate, alkaline feldspars, manganese, and iron oxides. Grog is used to prevent shrinking and provide structure for the fine clay matrix.[2]

Terracotta was made by the ancient GreeksBabyloniansancient EgyptiansRomansChinese, and the Indus River Valley and Native American cultures. It was used for roof tiles, medallions, statues, capitals and other small architectural details.[3]


Reactions to the Chicago fire in 1871 spurred interest in terracotta as a fireproof building material. In the age of skyscraper construction, the cast iron frame needed to be protected. Terracotta was a lightweight, moldable, fire and pollution resistant material that could be mass-produced. Architects such as Burnham and RootH.H. RichardsonLouis Sullivan, and McKim, Mead & White became interested in using terracotta as a building material rather than just as imitation stone.[12]

Issues with installation, water penetration, and corroding interior metal caused the industry to organize the National Terracotta Society. They published two widely used standards, in 1914 and 1924, that detailed construction methods, anchoring systems, waterproofing, and maintenance standards.[13]

Economic interest in terracotta plummeted in the 1930s but the industry did not die out. Terracotta could not compete with newer massed produced materials such as plate glass, new metal alloys, and cement block construction. Changing fashions towards more minimalist, modern styles such as the Bauhaus School and International Style did not help the waning industry.

Post-World War II the industry had to face the decline of buildings built during the heyday of the material, 1910–1940. Structural problems resulting from incomplete waterproofing, improper installation, poor maintenance, and interior corroding mild steel made the material unpopular in newer constructions.

To combat this accusation against quality, several other industry publications were produced between 1945 and the 1960s. They did not succeed in reviving the artistic architectural terracotta but they were able to turn their attention to public buildings. Advances in machine extruded terracotta made it competitive with other hollow clay tile alternatives at the time. In tiles form, terracotta had a renewal as a hallmark of mid-century public buildings.

It lost steam in the 1960s with the introduction of more synthetic materials on the mass market. The industry was sustained by the need for replacement blocks for old buildings, hollow clay tile, and now rainscreen.[14]

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