Tile Tales

Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930) told stories with tiles.  Mercer tileIn  Doylestown, PA. you can find three museums: The Mercer Museum, Fonthill (Mercer’s house) and the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works (founded by Mercer and still in operation). I’ve been visiting these places for all of my life, most recently in December. Pile in for a quick tour of the Moravian Tile Works.moravian tile worksMercer was a scholar, an artist, an archaelogist, and a world traveler. He seemed curious about all things, and he built curious and unique places.  The Moravian Tile Works was made of poured concrete and built in the style of a Spanish mission; somehow it fits right into Bucks County, Pennsylvania.Moravian Tile WorksBefore founding the tile works Mercer apprenticed with a German-American potter. He used local clay. With this local clay and from this specific place he told tales that ranged the world and dipped into all his areas of knowledge and interest.IMG_0812

IMG_0813Many of his original designs were based on Moravian cast iron stove designs – thus the name of the tile works.dance stoveplate

dance mercer tileHe was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement in England. His tiles are decorative and rich with pattern.IMG_0835

mercer tileThey often include words.Moravian Tile Works

Mercer tile

Most of all they tell stories. There are stories of workers and craftspeople.Mercer TileMercer TileMercer TileOf seasonal workMercer Tile

Mercer Tileof journeysMercer Tileof playMercer Tileand quarrels.Mercer TileThey tell old storiesMercer Tile

Mercer Tileand of new(ish) discoveries:Mercer tileThe tiles tell their stories on every available surface of Fonthill, and on many walls of the Moravian Tile Works and the Mercer Museum.Moravian Tile Works


IMG_0826The tiles are still being produced today.

Here is a quick peak outside and inside the Mercer Museum.Mercer Museum

Mercer MuseumThe museum is a treasure trove of tools and objects from America’s past. It is also a peek into the mind of Henry Chapman Mercer. His interests, passions and point of view are all evident in the structure and contents of the museum. All of these things also go into the designs of the tiles: the tiles are the specific expression and compression of who Mercer was.

What does this have to do with children’s books? Children’s books tell stories. A book tells one specific story, but all of the experiences and knowledge of the author and illustrator contribute to the depth of what is created. Mercer told stories with tiles. His travels and studies, his eye for beauty, his respect for work and workers, his love of history and his humor bring the stories alive. He used his head, hands and heart.

Thanks to Henry Chapman Mercer for letting us sip from his cup of knowledge.mercer tile sip


15 responses to “Tile Tales

  1. I love that place!!! I bought three tiles there and used them in the mosaic I made on my coffee table.

  2. Splendid! I’m so glad to learn about this!!

  3. I never knew about Mercer or this museum. Thanks for the glimpse!

  4. Isn’t the family quarrel packed with personality? Those wicked imps egging on the quarrelsome parents. Funny yet poignant as the little children are powerless. Part of the pleasure, it seems to me, is to appreciate what an artist can do with defined constraints of size and shape. Like the pleasure of a picture book, or a poem.

  5. Thanks for introducing this gifted artist and sharing such an interesting museum. I loved your tour!

  6. Thanks for the tour Julie. I love that place and those tiles. I have one of the scenes you showed–“the oil never fails” in my kitchen. 🙂

  7. The interior of the Museum looks like an old room-size curiosity cabinet! Love it. And I’m thinking seriously of trying to find someplace that teaches a simple one-tile tilemaking class….

  8. great post about an amazing place. thanks, julie

  9. I’ll have to visit next time I visit my parents! Thanks!

  10. Oh, Julie, thank you for this. I’m full and that feels good.

  11. Pingback: Quilt Music | Mooshka

  12. Treats for the eye! Thank you, Julie. I hope to visit there again some day…

  13. Andrea Doherty

    I just read Summer Birds to my kids yesterday and then visited the Moravian Tile Museum today. It was free admission today. I was telling my husband that someone should make a children’s book about his life, using illustrations that look like his tiles. For some reason I was thinking of the book, Summer Birds. Then I googled Henry Mercer children’s books and here I am on this page of yours. Could you please do a book about Henry Mercer? We really enjoyed Summer Birds!

  14. Julie Paschkis

    What a great idea! I would really like to do that. Thank you for the suggestion. It might take years from inception to existence but I am going to try to make that book. If I am able to pull it off I will let you know.

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