Friday, April 23, 2010

The fantastic Mercer

Nestled in adorable Doylestown, PA is an enchanted castle. Ok, maybe thats only the first impression, but this fabulously eccentric building in the heart of a small town feels as if it was picked up from the German countryside and dropped into Bucks County.Henry Chapman Mercer completed the museum in 1915 to house his collection of pre-industrial tools and relics which were largely disposed of in the whirl of early 20th century technology. Many pieces were rescued from the trash or bought for pennies at auction. In essence, Mercer created a museum to show how life was lived in the 18th & 19th centuries before industrialization took over.
This interest of Mercer's made sense: while a renaissance man of epic proportions, he was by trade an arts and crafts tile master who founded the Moravian Tile and Pottery Company. These tiles were (and are) made by hand -a craft that the industrial revolution was quickly stamping out.
Examples of Mercer's tilework are found throughout the museum. I loved this 2 story fireplace (above) in a sacred feeling space devoted to his hundreds of beloved stove plates.
Why concrete? Besides the fact that it was fireproof (a great concern of the time period) it was incredibly inexpensive and able to be formed into any shape or form imaginable. Mercer developed many interesting concrete techniques in his experimentations in building that amaze to this day. Above - his signature high on the exterior walls.
Admittedly, I came for the building. Can you blame me? Most of the interior is open to an incredible atrium, flooded with natural light and full to the brim with all nature of antique objects.Objects as diverse as a whaling boat hung from a railing (seen above on the right), baby cradles attached to the ceiling and pre-industrial tools in stalls surrounding the walkways educate the viewer in 'how did they used to do that?'.
The building is essentially a fascinating maze. I'm not sure if Chapman was a madman or a genius, but I like the results. He built without formal plans and the spaces are higgly piggly with little rhyme or reason. This shows in the exterior, which in many ways, ties it back to the ancient castles Mercer so loved. Above - dormers (yes - EVERYTHING is concrete!) were completed, then another roof built over them enclosing the space. Tim Burton would LOVE these buildings.
A view over the roof shows the extensive use of concrete. The very window frames were poured concrete which were built from forms molded on traditional wood windows. These were inexpensive, fireproof and low maintenance. There isn't a single piece of flamable material in the entire building except for the collections.
Please visit and support this fantastic museum, heralded as a masterpiece from its opening. As a side note, one of the quirks that Mercer loved to include in his buildings were the pawprints of his beloved dogs. Rollo was around while building his 2 castles (Fonthill and this museum) and his prints are proudly displayed. One of many inventive and ingenius ideas to be found!

Visit the Mercer Museum website.


pve design said...

Immediately, I am drawn in by the little random quirks.
I think life is so much more pleasant when quirks are embraced, where ever one travels.
Love to visit there.

Kathy said...

Great Post! Probably my fav since following. You have made me want to know more (googling now) with thoughts of a drive by.......thanks K

enrique said...

Promoting museums is a great cause. Sadly, in Toronto, our older buildings are torn down to make condos. the municipality has done very little to conserve pieces of our history.

Laura [What I Like] said...

This extensive use of concrete is so limited of us today to think of it only for sleek countertops! Those tiles are absolutely to die for as well...may have to make a trip to PA...

home before dark said...

I'd love to see this. I am drawn to people who have the vision and the perseverance to create their own worlds.

Karena said...

Stefan, so fascinating, the concrete buildings, the tiles are amazing!! I will go look at the website now! Your explorations uncover such treasures.

Art by Karena

The Architectural Arbiter said...

Wow! The craftsmanship that went in to the design of this building is amazing. My favorite part of the whole design is how some of the windows are even constructed out of concrete! Concrete is such an undervalued building material; people just need to see it molded into all these fine shapes!

Terry said...

Thanks so much. Otherwise I'd never know. I love that someone's personality comes though even after 100 years.

LiveLikeYou said...

Few things fascinate me more than visiting old castles.

VictoriaArt said...

Such a wonderful intersting place! Put it on my must - see - soon list!!!

I love the spirit of a renaissance man! To be ablle to build such a house and to fill it with your own creations, what a dream!
And those tile are fabulous!

Thank you for showing this gem!


Velvet and Linen said...

I must find a client who will let me use that atrium as inspiration. This is definitely going into my inspiration file!


24 Corners said...

Thank you once again for bringing us all on a journey to another amazing and enchanting place. Just wonderful!

La Petite Gallery said...

Thanks, nice.


Janet said...

Oh is on my list! Just one of those fabulous cabinets of curiosity. Too much to resist.