There are tiles and there are tiles! We visited Henry Mercer's Moravian Tile Works in Doylestown, Bucks County, PA, on Sunday. I had passed this strange looking building (built in 1910-1912) many times on Route 313, but never stopped to check it out until now. From the road it looks kind of spooky, but the opposite side is actually the front. the design is based on California missions with a courtyard and covered walks, lots of arches, and a tile roof. The many chimneys are copied from those at San Juan Capistrano. The entire building is made out of concrete with various materials stuck to the walls on the inside: burlap, sheet metal, and other unidentifiable substances.
Back to the tiles: Henry Mercer studied to be a lawyer and switched to archeology, but he's remembered most for his collection of tools and artifacts and the Moravian Tile Works. Originally he was inspired by Pennsylvania German designs, but through his travels he was exposed to other styles that he would use for his tiles: Aztec, Inca, English, European medieval, Native American, folk, nature, and Bible motives. The Arts and Crafts Movement and Spanish-influenced architecture were both popular when the Tile Works was making tiles, and tile fits into both. There was a large market in Pennsylvania and beyond for mercer's tiles. The state capitol in Harrisburg features an original Henry Mercer tile mosaic that tells the history of Pennsylvania.
Tiles are still made at the Moravian Tile Works, and craftspeople were at work Sunday making tiles from the original Mercer molds. The gift shop has an extensive collection of tiles in the various styles and sizes made through the years at the Moravian Tile Works. Although I dream of a new kitchen backsplash made from these beautifully crafted tiles, I settled for a golden cut-out bee and a square relief of The Flying Dutchman ghost ship.