PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — No pottery spot is quite like the living museum that is the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown.
The old factory was founded by tile maker Henry Chapman Mercer in the late 1800s. It’s now a working museum where modern-day potters are still using Mercer’s original Arts and Craft techniques. Word gets around.
“I live in the area and I’ve never been here,” said Amy Comber of Maple Glen. Her friend Katherine Gehris of Harrisburg had tipped her off, so they were making a trip together.
They are not the only ones who are surprised by this stone gem in their own backyard. Charles Yeske, who manages this historic property for the Bucks County Parks and Recreation Department, has worked at Moravian Pottery and Tile Works for more than 40 years and has met thousands of visitors.
“They’re sort of shocked by seeing a Spanish mission in the middle of Bucks County, completely made of hand-mixed concrete,” Charles said.
Then there are the hundreds of tiles. “These tiles were for ornamental purposes: of decorating backsplashes, fireplaces, flooring,” Charles said.
“Your eye goes to all these different places,” Meisha said. “Every time you look at something new, it’s like a different story.”
And this art lives on, Charles said. “Ninety-nine percent of what we’re doing is authentic to the ways they were making a hundred years ago.”
Eric Boynton demonstrated the technique, pounding a heavy slab of clay onto his work table into a rough block.
“I’ll form it into a new block to cut my sheets of clay from,” Eric said.
After slicing off a generous sheet of clay, he carefully set a mold on top and slid the clay under a press.
“We put the mold, which is made out of plaster, face down into the clay sheet and impress it into the clay,” Eric said.
Eric carefully separated the clay from the mold and rounded out the edges, tapping them gently with a trowel until smooth. From there, the clay goes through the same general processes Mercer used to fire his creations.
Mercer’s original designs have ended up in some high places, including some designs recovered from the floor of the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg.
“They depict vegetation and animal life of the commonwealth,” Charles said.
A special set of Moravian tiles was designed for Pope Francis when he visited the Philadelphia region in 2015, and replicas are for sale.
Large medallion mosaics “can either be installed as flooring or as wall hanging ornamentation,” Charles said.
The tiles tell a story, even if it’s not obvious right away. Meisha took a look at a mosaic and thought she spotted something familiar. “What is back here?”
“You got me on that,” Charles chuckled. He took a closer look and declared, “City of Jerusalem.”
Meisha said, “That’s exactly was going to be my guess. That’s what I like about these.”
Charles agreed. “Even for me being here for many years, there are new discoveries. Just now you asking me, that was a discovery for me.”
If you missed the original era of Moravian tiles, you can buy them here, design your own, or even take a class.
“That actually seems like something that would be so much fun,” Meisha said. “Looking around here, your imagination and artistic side are immediately exposed.
“So if me and a couple girlfriends came, can we have wine in there?”
Charles and Meisha laughed.
(Nope, no wine.)
Moravian Pottery and Tile Works is at 130 E Swamp Rd, Doylestown, PA 18901. It is open daily from 10:00 AM until 4:45 PM except on selected holidays.