Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930) told stories with tiles. In 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.Mercer 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.Before 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.
The 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.