The Moravian Pottery – and Tile Festival!

( This post was originally published on the Art Elements blog – by yours truly.)

It was a temperate day in May and the clouds were fluffy…

Snapped as I was unloading. Great place to spend the weekend!

Last month I was thrilled to return to the Tile Festival at the Moravian Pottery and Tile works in Doylestown, PA. The historic pottery/tile works has been in operation since 1898, and hosts a spectacular artist’s exhibit and show each Spring. Artists from as far as Canada, Alaska, even Russia were represented this year. ( More on that in my companion post.)

The Tile works is a unique building – cast in place, in concrete, and studded from top to bottom with mosaics and inset tiles. Henry Chapman Mercer worked with this style of construction for not only the Tile Works, but also his “home” ( mansion? castle?) named Fonthill. Both are located in parkland owned and maintained by Bucks Co. PA.

Kraken mosaic in situ.

Henry Chapman Mercer was from this area, and after school ( Harvard and U Penn Law) and extensive travel in Europe – he settled down in the area. He served as the Curator of American and Prehistoric Archaeology for University of Pennsylvania in the early 1890s. This lead to his love of and research in American artifacts, and later pottery; he apprenticed with a local German American potter. He was heavily influenced by the American Arts and Crafts Movement – and founded the MPTW in 1898.

Courtyard, with chimneys. And yes, the chimneys have mosaic bands of decoration!

The gift shop, tucked into a Medieval style barrel vault.

The tiles made at the MPTW are diverse – and range from impressed terra cotta pavers to sculptural tiles designed for mosaic use. There are flora and fauna, ships, ancient cities, Colonial era occupations… and many Classical and literary references. They tile employ both glazes and colored slips – playing with the contrast of matte and glossy. Inspirations run the gamut from Medieval and Byzantine eras, the Celtic Revival, and the Arts and Crafts Movement.

Original designs still in production!

I take this picture every time I visit. There is something so evocative about the idea of working in that space…

There are literally tiles everywhere, every surface. Shown here: “The Quarrel”, castle, triton, and a vignette from “The New World” fireplace.

“Bookplate” Mosaic panel – designed by Mercer for his friend Dr. R. Bell. Based on an actual book plate.

The clays used were originally locally sourced, and today the MPTW uses similar. comparable clay bodies. As seen in the picture above – at times color is NOT applied – but the tiles are “cindered”. The term is what I would call a sagger firing: tiles are placed inside a ceramic container, with sawdust. They are them fired in the kiln – created a reduction atmosphere in the saggar/container. This results in the clay absorbing carbon from the combustible sawdust – which darkens the clay body itself. ( Ceramicists: simple definition for the lay people, forgive me) The mosaic catalog on the MPTW website showcases the New World series and has many examples of these “cindered” tiles used in mosaics. The New World Series? It ranges from Vikings,Atlantis, and  Aztecs, to Raleigh and Powhatan!

A polychrome zodiac!

I find this place to be infinitely inspiring. It makes me love terra cotta all over again. And I will admit to ideas and plans for some smallish mosaics of my own. There are classes and apprenticeships available. An tours, of course. So if you are in the area – please take a look. It’s truly living history.

As to the show? The tile festival itself? More on that – Stay tuned.

Magic in mosaics

So – earlier this week I mentioned “art camp” as Lesley and I had taken to calling it. And how we went to the AVAM. ( My first time!). So the week of our vacation held another local/art/field trip first for me. Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Garden in Philly.

I knew Zagar was a tile/mosaic master and eccentric visionary type artist. ( He even taught a work show earlier this year at Hacienda Mosaico in Mexico) I knew he had many public works around the South St. section of the city. I was prepared to be delighted. I was in actuality inspired and blown away.

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Full scale wall mural installation on the same block as the Gardens. Note: dogs! 

There is a sense of freedom and chaos in the murals – yet they are all designed to have composition and flow. There are commercial tiles integrated amidst fragmented industrial tiles and artists OOAK tiles. There are mirrors in abundance to play with light and reflection; incorporating the viewer into the piece… and a chance for random mosaic selfies, I will admit.

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I was completely enchanted with other ceramic pieces incorporated into mosaics in such a non traditional way. 

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The inner courtyard at the PMG is simply… epic. 

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Art is the center of the real world. 

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This sanctuary to be inhabited by my ides and my fantasies. 

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The garden is excavated down and interlocking pathways are built of concrete, flotsam & jetsam, found objects… 

The gardens were a personal piece that Zagar worked on  – the space was his studio – for app. 8 years. When the land owner wanted to sell/demolish the installation, a grassroots community organization saved the PMG, and it now functions as a non profit organization. I would recommend it to anyone, tourist or not, artist or not. Its a momentous undertaking that is impressive, inspirational, fun yet gritty, filled with joie d’ vivre.

I’ll just sit and watch the clouds roll by and ponder the meaning of life… and how mosaics may feature in new work this fall…

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Inner visions, Inner Harbor

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The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. 

Why had I never been here before? 

Last week my friend and blog colleague Lesley Watt was visiting. We had planned our vacation art camp with a mix of field trips and artwork projects. The weather was so insanely cooperative – very unlike late August/early September usually is… So our first adventure was the AVAM in Baltimore, on a glorious temperate, blue-skied day…

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Mosaic bluebird of happiness. 

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A museum is covered in installations.

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Bunny! On the “Magic Bus”

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This mosaic Cosmic Galaxy  egg was breath taking. It even incorporated images from the Hubble telescope. ( Artist: Andrew Logan)

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The Museum grounds are outstanding. Sculpture, installations, fountains, gardens. I felt completely enchanted before we even entered the museum.

 

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A sense of fun, a tranquil enclosure… 

There are many instances where words or a quote stop you in your tracks. I did manage to capture a few heartfelt phrases.

There is no photography allowed in the museum, so you are seeing pieces from the grounds, and in the mirror below a stealth pix of Lesley in a mirrored mosaic. The blue sculpture above? Entirely beaded, representing John Waters and Divine as a folk art weather house – you know – where figures emerge and disappear depending on the weather readings?

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No pictures allowed IN the museum, but the bathrooms were fair game! 

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In the gardens between the buildings. A true oasis in the city. 

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Need I say more? 

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Amazing views from the AVAM Bird’s nest balcony

After the museum we headed to the Inner Harbor for a tourist browse and then dinner. Crab cakes, naturally.

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The Inner Harbor – then off for crab cakes! 

Lesley has posted regarding the adventures over at Art Jewelry Elements. Take a look at her pix! And stay tuned for more here, later this week!

Sailor’s Valentines

Valentine’s Day in Blog Land: I have seen vintage candy boxes, hearts made of wire and gemstones, hand-stitched sentiments, steam punk hearts, Tarot cards… and many more. I confess, I am an avid blog reader…

So my entry into the eclectic mix for Valentine’s Day – Sailor’s Valentines.

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Sailors valentine

From my ever faithful love Wikipedia: 

sailor’s valentine is a type of antique souvenir, or sentimental gift, originally brought home from a sailor’s voyage at sea for his loved one between 1830 and 1890.[1]Sailor valentines are typically octagonal, glass fronted, hinged wooden boxes ranging from 8″ to 15″ in width, displaying intricate symmetrical designs composed entirely of small sea shells of various colors glued onto a backing. Patterns often feature a centerpiece such as a compass rose or a heart design, hence the name, and in some cases the small shells are used to spell out a sentimental message.

So today I was teaching a class at the Brandywine Hundred library – what better to thing do than be inspired by these gorgeos pieces! Here are the students Valentines – completed and ready to take home…

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