Tiles and towers...

by - Monday, June 18, 2018

The list is long. Each time I happen upon an interesting magazine article, post or advertisement, the location is noted. Some places are a leisurely car ride away, those involving my passport will obviously need a bit more planning. But I eventually go, either with a companion or solo. I have always been this way.

When Brenna needed a ride to Ewing Township, the thought of an immediate about-face two-hour trip home did not appeal to me, especially on such a glorious day. After mapping a forty-minute drive to Pennsylvania, with a stop at a local diner for a late breakfast, it would be the perfect impromptu trip. To scout such ideal inspiration, how could there be a second thought?


A national historic landmark, the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works was on that list, so I simply started there. Maintained as a working history museum by Bucks County Department of Parks and Recreation, the horseshoe-shaped factory still produces handmade tiles in a manner similar to that developed by the pottery's founder and builder, Henry Chapman Mercer. 

 

Archaeologist, anthropologist, ceramist, scholar and antiquarian, Mercer was a major proponent of the Arts & Crafts Movement in America. He directed the work at the pottery from 1898 until his death in 1930.


As the second stop of my excursion, Fonthill Castle was a short walk, Mercer's home and showplace built for his collection of tiles and prints. It is truly a castle, complete with tower, terraces and elaborately decorated rooms. The building was completely designed by Mercer himself, sculpting a miniature model out of clay rather than electing a drafted plan by a professional architect.


Though he traveled extensively during his life, Mercer was loyal to his Pennsylvania roots remaining in his native Doylestown where all this endowment lives on. He was considered a Renaissance man and extremely cultured. The castle also houses thousands of books, all of which he read!


The castle is an eclectic mix of Medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine architectural styles, and is significant as an early example of poured reinforced concrete. Tiles were inserted in the concrete during the pouring process becoming part of the original surface, unlike the common practice of cementing and grouting after structures are created.


Fonthill was built between 1908-1912, the first of three Mercer buildings in Doylestown, serving as a showplace for his Moravian tiles and catalog of inspirational tiles he collected from around the world. During my tour of the castle, we were told he meticulously maintained details of each acquisition on index cards, noting their origins which corresponded to numbers hand written on many of the individual pieces. 




Mercer's legacy lives on amid beauty he created inside the tiles and towers... xoxo-Sonya

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