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!
You may remember an apartment I featured awhile back that belonged to my friend Henry, HERE. Henry is interested in the age of enlightenment and in the arts of the time period; remember his visit to Versailles where he shared some of his pictures of the beautiful woodwork? He was kind enough to put together a post for me about a recent piece he saw that he thought we would all enjoy. Here is a delightful Louis XVI writing table I discovered at the National Gallery of Art. Superstar cabinetmaker Jean Henri Riesener made the table for Marie Antoinette in 1785. The table was at the Tuileries Palace, where the royal couple lived three years until their guillotine visit in 1793. The table is a perfect example of the Louis XVI style. It is symmetrical and rectilinear; and outlined in gilt bronze rope beading. A parquetry trellis pattern covers the tabletop, fenced three-quarters by a gilt bronze gallery.On the table’s sides, gilt bronze bas-relief putti play musical instruments in the clouds, flanked by “grills” of alternating palmettes and fluting. Two-toned parquetry echoing the tabletop edge lends depth to the tapered legs, which terminate in gilt bronze leaf-cast sabots. In a candlelit palace, the elegant table would shimmer in delicate golden outline. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette idealized virtue, simplicity and reason. They associated these ideals with the ancient Romans. In furniture design, Roman motifs like fluting, putti and acanthus leaves symbolized these ideals. The symbolism was ironic in the context of the controversially lavish royal lifestyle. Marie Antoinette’s writing table (Widener Collection 1942.9.407) is on display in Basement Gallery 11 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
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.