Joseph A. Taylor
Tile Heritage Foundation
About a hundred years ago, clay was being extracted from the banks of the Nemadji River in northern Minnesota by the Nemadji Tile Company. The Ojibway Tribe had so named the river and the town at its head waters, “nemadji,” or "left hand." According to legend, an "old brickmaker" from the area presented some uncommonly colored brick to the company's owners. Some tile samples were then made from the clay that subsequently impressed architects in Duluth, and the result was the founding in 1923 of the Nemadji Tile and Pottery Company in Moose Lake. Produced exclusively for fireplace mantels and floors, the handmade products were described as "the most beautiful of unglazed tiles" and were distributed nationwide.
The beauty came from the exquisite colors produced by the blending and firing of Moose Lake clays that fell into five separate ranges of color: red, brown, tan, gray and yellow. Each range of color enjoyed a wide variation that blended well with the others. The large number and variety of shapes and sizes, especially when used in combination, added to the visual appeal of the surface.
According to historian Michelle Lee, the Nemadji factory was moved to Kettle River in 1972-73, where the new owner updated the facility. The plant was sold again in 1980,
and within a year the tile-making end of the business was closed down. Perhaps they
knew not their left hand from their right.
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