Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Moravian Tile Works

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.


The Bumbles said...

That's very cool. You are right - the structure itself from outside looks like - a prison? Just goes to show you can't ever judge a book by it's cover. Look at those wonderful tiles. A backslash from those would be incredible!

Your post reminds me of the recently restored Minton Tile ceiling in the Bethesda Terrace at Central Park - near Tavern on the Green. Such a jewel tucked away underneath a busy area of the park. I wonder how many people walk right over it every day without knowing what they're missing? We discovered them on a recent visit to NYC just wandering around before a concert one afternoon.

Margaret said...

Thanks for the comment, The Bumbles! Next time I'm in Central Park I'll check out the Bethesda Terrace. Sounds cool.