Attending high school at Cranbrook Kingswood and spending late afternoons at her father's office in Birmingham, Cara Catallo wasn't aware the artistic Pewabic Pottery installations that surrounded her on campus would one day be the subject of her own book.
“It's throughout many of the buildings at Cranbrook,” said Catallo, who published her second book in 2017, titled “Pewabic Pottery: A History Handcrafted in Detroit.” “For historic Pewabic installations, you can't beat Cranbrook. It's really prevalent throughout the school and woven into the community.”
Initially from Birmingham before moving with her family to Davisburg, and eventually to the village of Clarkston, Catallo attended Cranbrook Kingswood before leaving after her sophomore year and moving out east to attend Bard College at Simon's Rock, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. She then earned her master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She embarked on a career in writing, starting first at the Detroit Free Press before taking a position as an arts writer and columnist with the News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina.
It was during her time at Bard College that Catallo's interest in history was sparked.
“My very start was in undergraduate school where I worked for a weekly where I went to school in Massachusetts, called the Berkshire Courier. It probably doesn't exist anymore,” she said of the paper that was founded in 1848 and incorporated into The Berkshire Record in 1995. “History, I feel like it beckoned to me, and features were a natural way to explore history more.”
After the birth of her daughter, who now attends Cranbrook Kingswood herself, Catallo decided freelance writing would better fit her life as a parent. That also allowed her to get involved in larger projects of her own choosing.
The first such project came while Catallo was serving as chair of the Clarkston Historic District Commission. The book, “Images of America: Clarkston,” examines the history and architecture of the village, from its founding as a mill town to industrial influences of the 20th century.
“I studied comparative literature in undergraduate school. I didn't understand my interest in history until being a full-fledged adult,” she said. “With my experience in journalism, I'm able to research and understand stories in a way that is more approachable than through a text book. By experiencing the people and places I wrote about, it helped me find a love for history that I could share with others. I hope that I have.”
Catallo said the idea for a book about Pewabic Pottery came about by happenstance, simply recognizing the name “Pewabic” when a friend suggested they get tickets in 2015 to Pewabic's annual Raku Party. After visiting the historic location on East Jefferson in Detroit, Catallo was interested in learning more about its history, but couldn't find a book to suit her interest. It was then that she set out to write one herself.
“I approached them to see if they would be interested, and they were,” she said about Pewabic and the origins of the book. “Then I approached a publisher.”
The entire process of writing the book took about two years, with the work being done between freelance projects and parenting. After completing the book, Catallo noticed a job opening at the pottery, where she now works as the communications coordinator.
“I felt connected and frankly wasn't ready to leave,” she said. “I didn't feel done telling Mary Chase Perry Stratton's story, and Pewabic's story is far from over,” she said.
Photo: Laurie Tennent