The Art of Handmade Tiles
Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, Doylestown
August 15, 2011 - March 4, 2012
The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works is a National Historic Landmark and a working history museum where handmade tiles are still produced using similar techniques developed by its founder, Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930), who lived and worked in Doylestown, PA.
Mercer was a well-educated man who initially studied law. But his interest in travel and history eventually led him to a career in archaeology. And it was “archaeology” Mercer recalled that “turned me into a potter.” As an historian and archaeologist, Mercer realized in the late 1890’s that because of the Industrial Revolution many American craftsmen and their specialized hand tools were being replaced by machinery and machine-made goods. Mercer recognized the need to collect and preserve commonly used objects of the pre-industrial era and eventually he amassed nearly 40,000 items. Additionally, Mercer was especially concerned about the sustainability of Pennsylvania German redware pottery local to Eastern Pennsylvania. He feared that the traditions of this form of pottery would “perish before our eyes.” So, in 1897, Mercer trained hands-on as an apprentice to a nearby redware potter. That invaluable experience led him to establish his own pottery and tile works in 1898 with the founding principle that tiles should be made by hand and not by machinery.
Vance A. Koehler, Curator of Historic Properties at Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, wrote that Mercer’s tiles met with immediate success. “By the turn of the century, he was recognized as a premiere maker of ‘artistic’ tiles, and for the next thirty years, his work was sought out by leading architects and tastemakers to decorate public and private buildings all across the country. Mercer’s pioneering influence was far-reaching and still affects many tile makers even today.” After more than 100 years, Moravian Pottery and Tile Works continues to produce handmade tiles – reissues of tiles and mosaics designed by Henry Mercer.
Since 1969, the Bucks County Department of Parks and Recreation has maintained the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works as a museum. Visitors may purchase tiles and tour the historic museum to see original tile and mosaic installations, educational displays, and aspects of current tile production. The museum also offers hands-on workshops and apprenticeship programs as a living legacy to its founder Henry Mercer.