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Beyond Cars, Find Detroit’s Ceramic Culture

By Kait Kisel, student writer

It might come as a surprise that both a National Historic Landmark and a quaint artisan haven reside in the heart of Detroit. Since its establishment in 1903, Pewabic has unleashed artists’ passion in the Motor City through its mission to “enrich the human spirit through clay” while celebrating Detroit’s unique heritage.

Located at 10125 East Jefferson Avenue since 1903, Pewabic’s studio was named a National Historic Landmark in 1991.

Pewabic, globally known for its unique ceramic art, has also made a lasting impact on the Detroit community through its on-site ceramic art programs for adults and its outreach youth programs around the city. And at the financial heart of Pewabic sits Heather Simmet, Broad College of Business alumna (BA Accounting ’88) and Pewabic’s senior director of abundance and happiness.

Simmet joined Pewabic as senior director of abundance and happiness – using her business acumen for a meaningful cause.

“Senior director of abundance and happiness” surely isn’t a job title many Broad alumni have on their resumes, but Simmet’s role is as just as critical to the organization as a corporate executive. She oversees the finances for Pewabic, which ensures the organization’s abilities to serve employees, its historic building, and most importantly, its mission. In addition, Simmet oversees human resources, where she says she “has the mission of creating a happy environment for all employees.”

“Art has the ability to touch our souls, enrich our lives, and connect us in ways we never dreamed possible,” Simmet said. “It is bringing people together in Detroit which is helping foster revitalization efforts. This artistic movement gives Detroit an exciting vibe and helps draw people to work, play, and live in the city,” she said.

Many Detroit companies have struggled in a challenging economic climate over the last 100 years, yet Pewabic has stayed strong while consistently finding new ways to innovate. Founder Mary Perry Stratton established the company’s signature iridescent glaze, which is unique to Pewabic and is still seen on many of the company’s pieces of work. Today, Pewabic operates as a community staple and nonprofit aimed at cultivating creativity, and ceramic art and education.

While she had a passion for the “Detroit gem” for years, Simmet’s career prior to Pewabic was a far cry from an artistic non-profit: she launched her career at Deloitte as a CPA, and then served in auditing and financial leadership roles at Ameritech Advertising. She took time to raise a family and welcomed the opportunity to join Pewabic once her children were in school (as of now, Simmet has two Spartans of her own and one hopeful Spartan-to-be).

Pewabic pottery is found throughout the city of Detroit – and around the world.

With Simmet on board since 2009, Pewabic is financially stronger than ever before, and she has helped develop a larger vision for their future. In 2018 the company will expand, building a 2,500-square-foot fabrication expansion.

Financial growth aside, Pewabic will always remain connected to the community surrounding it. The organization recently launched its Street Team, a mobile museum with educational, hands-on clay experiences funded by Knight and Quicken Loans. Through collaborations with many foundations and individual donors, Pewabic has brought ceramic arts education to Detroit youth, while establishing a safe place for creativity, art, and education.

“Pewabic is part of Detroit’s artistic movement. We have been tiling the city – homes, museums, churches, schools, public buildings – since 1903 and are thrilled to continue creating beautiful ceramic installations in Detroit. In 2017, Pewabic created ceramic installations for the new Little Caesars Arena and the 20 new QLine stations on Woodward Avenue,” Simmet said.

With a strong leadership team – and Broad business acumen – guiding it to the future, Simmet believes Pewabic’s impact in Detroit will only strengthen as the city continues its resurgence.

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