Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works.

This past weekend, I visited one of the most amazing group of buildings I've ever seen. Located in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, these buildings are inventive, quirky and beautiful; I'll start with the Moravian Pottery and Tile works.Known as the home of 'Mercer Tiles', the factory was booming in the early 20th century producing arts and crafts handmade tile for fireplace surrounds, floors and anywhere you could imagine. I blogged about the tiles and you can read some of their interesting history and places they've been used, such as in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, in my post HERE.The founder, Henry Chapman Mercer, was an amateur architect, intellectual and artist obsessed with castles and poured concrete. He created 3 amazing buildings: the tile factory seen here, his home, Fonthill (on the same grounds as the factory that I'll feature later this week), and the Mercer Museum in nearby Doylestown which houses his collection of American tools.Parts of the factory remind me of an ancient cloister, others of a small cathedral and yet from other angles it appears as an ancient aztec villa. Of course, the Moravian tiles are prominently featured throughout on the roof and as decorative features.Notice the random assortment of windows above the wisteria. Some are panes of glass cast directly into the concrete (more on that later this week) while others are more traditional wood windows.
Some closeups of the gorgeous tileswork. So colorful!This tile proclaims Chapman's motto "Plus Ultra", Latin for more beyond. It's seen throughout the estate.

I loved the embedded tiles and random windows. Chapman believed in the architectural forms of the past but used in a more modern vein: a belief I can get behind! He used lots of large windows for natural sunlight, seperating these 'castles' from their dark inspirations. I think this is especially important in a factory where people are working day in and day out.
I hope this whetted your appetite for the next 2 AMAZING tours and hope they inspire you as they have inspired me!
The tile works is still up for business and produces amazing tile for flooring, backsplashes, fireplaces and other installations. I wasn't able to find their website or a catalog online, but as soon as I do I'll make sure to post it here.

20 comments:

Hels said...

Was anyone in the Mercer family from Moravia? If not, what was Mercer's particular interest in Moravian taste? Perhaps there was a large ex-pat community in Pennsylvania and Mercer thought they might be a captive market for his pottery.

The old Moravia is a squishy little "land", bordering Poland, the Czech lands, Slovakia and Austria. The northern mountains eventually become the Carpathians, if you kept moving east. My husband grew up north of Prague, but his mum and dad both came from the Carpathian Mountains. So we inherited a lot of decorative art pieces from that part of the world :)

Dandy said...

I've been there! It's really amazing. I'd love to do a Halloween tour. The place is a tad creepy, but fascinating.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Hels, I'm not sure why he named it the Moravian tile works and not the German tile works. He studied pottery in Germany, the history of it there as well as apprenticing under a german pottist! Anyone else know?
Dandy, I never thought of it as creepy till later in the trip -but thats a blog post I'm working on for later in the week!

Kwana said...

What a gorgeous place. Totally worth a trip. Thanks for sharing.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

That whole area is gorgeous, Kwana -and not too far from where you live! An easy daytrip. Your kids would love the castles!

Terry said...

I really enjoy beautiful industrial buildings. Makes going to work just a bit better.

Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart said...

This is absolutely beautiful architecture. German, Dutch and even a tad of a Gaudy vibe. The arches are wonderful and so unexpected. I may need to go take a look sometime soon. Great post! Merci.

Toby Worthington said...

Extraordinary and totally unexpected~why haven't I
known of this place before now?
Great post, Stefan. Looking forward to parts two
and three!

Debra Healy said...

There was an interesting group of wealthy Americans Like Mr. Mercer and Louis Comfort Tiffany who adapted art, and craft with their various obsessions and interests at the end of the XIX century. They created something uniquely American with echoes of Europe and beyond. I am sorry I missed this place in my Philadelphia years.

Kathy Appel, ASID said...

Hello Stefan -
I have been following your blog for a bit and recently started a blog of my own. I am also a part time docent at Fonthill. Henry named the tile works after the stove plates he collected. He first came across the stove plates at the Young Men's Missionary Society in Bethlehem, PA. Bethlehem was settled by Moravians and they also ran the Young Men's Missionary Society. Henry collected quite a few stove plates because the designs are so varied. The designs in the stove plates influenced some of his early tile designs. One of Henry's earliest tiles was a stylized Pennsylvania Dutch Tulip derived from a stove plate. If you are touring Fonthill take note of the stove plate in the library - placed in the fireplace. That fireplace mantel is decorated with Mercer tiles, and you can clearly see elements in the tiles that were pulled from that particular stove plate. If you are visiting Fonthill again - let me know - I would love to meet you.
Kathy

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Thank you for the clarification, Kathy! I did see the huge collection of the stove plates at the mercer. I spent saturday visiting the Museum, Fonthill and then the factory right before closing. Seriously one of the most unique places I've ever been and I'm so jealous you get to spend so much time there -I was thrilled with my one day! I bought one of the small little Fonthill tiles (the tree and the house behind it) as a remembrance.

Thomas at My Porch said...

Doylestown and the tile works are indeed fantastic. I wish I had known you were going I would have recommended the restaurant Honey. It is one of my favorite restaurants. Now that are friends are moving away from Doylestown, I am not sure when I will get there again. :(

Daniel-Halifax said...

I'm friends with a couple who run the book shop and record shop in Doylestown! Isn't it gorgeous! The long walk through the wood to the Mercer is very spooky in the Wintertime...

VoiceTalk said...

I grew up in Bucks County so have visited the Fonthill quite a few times. And now that I live in NYC, I feel right at home when I go to the gym at the 63rd Street Y on the Upper West Side. Mercer tile is used throughout the building and in the pools!

Bo Mackison said...

What a marvelous photographic tour of a most unusual building!

Debra Healy said...

How was the name "Fonthill" Chosen? Is there any relationship between The choice of this name to William Beckford's legendary Fonthill Abbey, with it ever evolving towering Spire?

Thombeau said...

Pretty awesome. Great post!

The Down East Dilettante said...

Isn't this just amazing? The power of personal fantasy..these are some of the best pictures I've ever seen of the place---really gives a feel.

As I type this, I am looking at a Mercer tile rescued from the ruins of an estate lost in the Bar Harbor Fire of 1947---cracked from its fall through to the basement during the flames---of a knight jousting on horseback...just wonderful

Lesley said...

Fascinating!
And great to have another of your series to follow.
Best Wishes
Robert

Heather said...

Great photos of MPTW. I was an apprentice there several years ago and it was an amazing experience. The website is http://www.buckscounty.org/government/departments/tileworks/

There is also a book (out of print)Henry Chapman Mercer and the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works [Paperback] by Cleota Reed.

If you are ever in that area again, you should check out Grey Towers Castle on Arcadia University's Campus.