Marsh and Grace Davis return to their native Indiana to find a long-loved home waiting for them.
By Robyn Davis Sekula
Cottages & Bungalows magazine | October/November 2008
Having lived in Indiana most of their lives, Marsh and Grace Davis were well-accustomed to Indianapolis’ historic neighborhoods. In 2006, they were moving back to their home state after a stint in Texas, and hunting for a house for themselves and their two high-school age daughters, Audrey and Jackie.
The couple was staying with friends in the Meridian Park neighborhood and attended a party when one friend mentioned a house down the street from him that was for sale. Intrigued, Marsh thought he knew the house, and the next morning, rose early for a long, cool walk to see if it was the house he had in mind. It was, indeed, and Marsh was lucky enough to catch the homeowner backing out of the driveway, and willing to come back inside and give him an impromptu tour. The Davis family formerly lived in the Meridian Park neighborhood, and Marsh had always noticed the house that is now their home. “It has this look about it,” Marsh explains. “There is a calmness about the style of the house. That has always appealed to me.”
Once inside, Marsh was impressed with the home’s clean, understated lines and details, including built-in bookcases and original mantles, and knew the family’s collection of Mission and Arts & Crafts furniture and accessories would work well in the four-bedroom home. As sometimes happens, he ended up in a bidding war for the house, but the Davis family emerged the victor, and now lives in the Prairie-style house in Indianapolis’ historic Meridian-Kessler neighborhood. Meridian-Kessler is named for two of the city’s main roads, Meridian and Kessler, which mark the boundaries of the neighborhood near downtown Indianapolis.
Marsh’s interest in historic places isn’t just a hobby. He is president of the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana Inc., the largest statewide non-profit preservation organization in the country. The organization was founded in 1960 by civic leaders in Indianapolis who were alarmed to see the city’s historic resources disappearing fast. The organization now has 9,000 members and nine regional offices across the state dedicated to preserving historic buildings of all ages, including those from the Mission and Arts & Crafts period. Marsh’s wife, Grace Davis, is arts partners director of the Young Audiences of Indiana, a program that brings artists and arts programming into the public and private schools. The Davis home is a happy marriage of their mutual interests in art, antiques and historic architecture.
As much as the house has stood the test of time, so has the former business of its original owner. The house was built in 1909 for A.D. Johnson, president of the Diamond Chain Company, which still does business today in downtown Indianapolis. It was designed by Adolph Scherrer, who was born in Switzerland and educated at Vienna's Kunstacadamie. Scherrer took over the commission to design the Indiana State Capitol when architect Edwin May died. The house may reflect the influence of Scherrer's son who was in practice with him at the time the house was built, Marsh says, as for its time, the house was “way out there” in design, a stark contrast against the highly ornamented Victorian style that had been popular up until then.
Luckily for the Davis family, the house had benefited from restoration by the hands of previous owners. Since purchasing it in 2006, the Davis’ have only done some cosmetic improvements and routine maintenance. The only major project has been converting a basement storage room into a family room.
On the exterior, the house is brick with stucco on the second floor, including distinctive, wide stucco eaves. A red, clay tile roof adds a splash of color, and the short columns that line the front porch are capped with an unusual feature Scherrer made part of his signature and used on other buildings he designed: a slanted, triangular limestone cap.
Inside, the foyer and living room flow together. The living room has built-in bookcases surrounding a wide, brick fireplace. The bookcases are a great spot for hiding the family’s stereo, and also for displaying part of the Davis’ large collection of art pottery, including pieces from Muncie, Indiana, and Burley Winter pottery. This, too, is where the family’s art collection is partially camped. Above the fireplace is an oil painting by one of the Davis’ favorite painters, Homer Davisson, an Indiana artist who created impressionistic paintings. The painting is probably about 70 to 80 years old, Marsh says. Another Davisson painting was inherited from his mother, and also hangs in the room.
The Davis family, though, isn’t afraid to mix in pieces of unknown origin; there is another impressionistic painting in the same room that Marsh bought at a flea market just because he liked it. Also, Marsh and Grace both have created oil paintings that hang in the home, and Marsh’s father took up fine carpentry and created an oak, Mission-style coffee table that is featured in the living room.
The dining room contains a few more pieces that are near and dear to the family, including a grandfather-style clock that apparently had a homemade case. Marsh’s parents purchased it for the family as a gift. “Magazines gave instructions back then on how to make mission furniture, and someone apparently made the case,” Marsh says. More art pottery is at home in this room, and a Stickley Brothers dining room table and chairs by a different maker that Marsh and Grace purchased together at auction. The dining room chandelier is believed to be original to the home. A glass-fronted, new Stickley cabinet displays more of the Davis’ art pottery collection.
For the Davis family, this home is a perfect fit, artistic touches meeting function. On the eve of its 100th birthday, the home may have its most fitting owners yet. “This is a very unpretentious house,” Marsh says. “There is a formality about it, but no pretense.”
Collecting art pottery
Art pottery has gained quite a following, particularly among those who favor the Arts & Crafts period. Among the best-known potteries is Rookwood, which was made in Cincinnati, but many more potteries existed around the Midwest.
Marsh and Grace Davis collect art pottery, particularly pottery called Burley Winter, which often has a mottled appearance, and Muncie Pottery, which was made in Muncie, Indiana, and often looks as if the top part was dipped in a different colored glaze. Marsh says he particularly likes pieces that have a more humble, utilitarian look, rather than brands like Roseville, which were often decorated with flowers and similar motifs. “The utilitarian look appeals to us,” Marsh says. “It fits with the Craftsman aesthetic.”
Interested in learning more? You can read up on the Art Pottery blog at http://www.artpotteryblog.com/, which is operated by Justartpottery.com, which sells art pottery. There’s also markbassett.com, which buys and sells art pottery. Bassett is the author of several books on art pottery.
If you’d like to see a pottery in person, visit http://www.pewabic.org/ for information on the Pewabic Pottery in Detroit. Founded in 1903 during the Arts & Crafts Movement, Pewabic is known for its tile and pottery in unique glazes. Today, it is a non-profit ceramic art education center which welcomes 70,000 visitors annually.