moravian pottery and tileworks

The Moravian Pottery and Tile Works, a National Historic Landmark, is maintained as a “working history” museum by Pennsylvania’s County of Bucks, Department of Parks and Recreation. Handmade tiles are still produced in a manner similar to that developed by the pottery’s founder and builder, Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930). Mercer was a major proponent of the Arts & Crafts Movement in America. He directed the work at the pottery from 1898 until his death in 1930.

Visitors may still purchase handmade re-issues of tiles and mosaics made in the American Arts & Crafts tradition. Check their website to see the many tiles available for gifts and installations such as kitchens, fireplaces, floors and walls.Tours are offered every half-hour and consist of a 17-minute video and a self-guided walk through the facility. Visitors will see original installations, various displays, and selected aspects of current tile production.

I drive by the Tile Works often, and have been wanting to share the fascinating architecture, especially since Scott Carino, owner of Round House Café in Cambridge, NY, mentioned Henry Mercer when I was having lunch there with author Jon Katz and his wife Maria. When Scott heard I was from Bucks County, he immediately started talking about Mercer Museum, another famous site, which is in the borough of Doylestown.

The Tile Works is made from reinforced hand-mixed concrete for which Mercer was famous.


The Tile Works construction reflects the Spanish influence on mission architecture.


A close up of one of the tiles produced here. What story do you think is behind this ship and sea serpent?


Did Mercer have a chimney fetish? I didn’t count them, but there must be over thirty chimneys! This one was particularly ornate.


Lots of chimneys!


The inner courtyard showing the protected walkway.


The walkway on the right side of the building. I like the interplay of light and shadow in this photograph.


A close-up of the concrete walls visible in the walk way.


So when you visit Bucks County, be certain to put the Mercer sites on your list of things to experience. Tile Works, Mercer Museum in Doylestown which is directly across from Michener Museum, and Fonthill, Mercer’s home located behind the Tile Works.

waiting for brambo

The big white truck makes a hell of a racket. It can be heard at least two blocks away. The sign on it reads BRAMBO’S COMPLETE CARPENTRY – Windows, Kitchens, Baths, Decks, Tile . . .

I stand at the storm door waiting, ears perked for the rattle and whine. Anticipation fills the foyer as car after car passes by. My body is tense with excitement as I await the arrival of Brambo.

Brambo is the contractor/carpenter who comes to do work on my house. Three years ago he, his daughter Michelle, and their crew demolished the kitchen and main bathroom. Over the next two and a half months, the truck chugged down my street and pulled into the driveway. At first they were professionals, but by the end of the job they had become good friends.

Brambo is Brian Brandley. He acquired the name when he and a friend were working on a job one very hot summer day in the late 1980’s. Brian had tied a bandana around his head to help soak up the sweat. His friend looked at him and told him he looked like Rambo, only for him it was Brambo. And the name stuck. Brian answers to both.

Brambo and Michelle are contractors/carpenters with old time values. They take pride in their work and charge reasonably. They are dependable and work hard while on the job. When you hire the Brambo team you know the job will be done professionally and to their high standards.

But unexpectedly, I found they had wonderful energy too. They were a pleasure to have in the house, and after the job was completed, there was a definite void. So, each day became an adventure as the work progressed. I would often sit on the floor or stand by the door and watch what was going on. Brambo and Michelle always took time to talk to me.

So waiting for Brambo became a daily morning routine. After finishing breakfast I would go to the front door and watch and wait, watch and wait . . . soon my ears would catch the faint rattle and whine, and my excitement would build. When the truck pulled into the driveway I would bolt out the front door and eagerly go to greet him. A big smile would break out on his face, and he would envelope me in a big good morning hug. I would be so happy that I would jump up and down.

But once work ensued, Brambo was all business. I stayed out of the way but kept an eye on progress. At the end of the day, he would give me another hug before leaving.

In the evenings I would dream of Brambo – of waiting for Brambo – my feet would twitch as I dreamed of running out to greet him, and my tail would thump the floor. . .

Postscript: Written from the viewpoint of a dog.
Hannah loves Brian Brandley. If Michelle and Brian come in separate vehicles to work, Hannah will greet Michelle, but then she looks for Brian. If he has not yet arrived, Hannah will sit and watch the street until he pulls up. At that point she can hardly contain herself. She takes off running with her butt tucked under and then collapses at his feet. Is that carpenter worship or what? Brian and Michelle have been working here this week, installing a new front door, and Hannah has been going out in the morning to wait for Brambo.

happy birthday dottie

Dottie portrait

May 9 is my mother’s birthday. I miss her, but in a warm, good way — far from debilitating grief. She had a long, healthy, and fascinating life. It’s almost four years now that she died at the age of 97. I think this portrait was taken in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s when she was working for Walden Book Company in Harrisburg, PA.

She and my father met at WKBO radio station in Harrisburg in 1939 when my father was adapting and producing Shakespeare plays for the radio. (I still have these adaptations stored away safely in my basement.)

She and my Dad married in 1939 and moved from Harrisburg to Shippensburg in 1947 when he was offered a job at Shippensburg State Teachers College, as it was known then. I was born in 1948.

Her name was Dorothy, and she studied music (voice and piano) in NYC. Music was an important part of her life wherever she went, whether it was singing in the Bach Choir, playing a church organ, accompanying vocalists on the piano, or teaching piano lessons. She was highly regarded as a piano teacher in Shippensburg and had many students. Teaching piano enabled her to be a stay at home mom and also supplemented my father’s meager teaching salary.

Dottie was a woman’s libber before it became vogue. She became involved with United Presbyterian Women on the national level because she believed strongly in social action. She did workshops nationally in peace, justice, and the environment.

She also ran for mayor in Shippensburg; she did not win, but she did make a statement!

Most of all she was an amazing mother. We were friends as well as mother and daughter. She believed in nurturing independence, and then lived long enough to regret it!

I wrote this tongue in cheek poem about her in 2001.

She calls herself the Crone who cannot be cloned,
but I see her as the mother who cannot be cloned.
Her DNA string is very twisted —
just like her sense of humor
and ability to look at issues askance.
Just give her a martini, (don’t forget the olives)
and watch the alcohol convert into
table-pounding aphorisms.
The only way to silence her is with a swift kick —
(under the table, mind you!)
Her daily NYTimes and weekly New Yorker
sate her crone-ish appetite and give fuel to her pen.
She complains loudly that NYTimes crossword puzzle editor,
Will Shortz, has no scruples.
This woman,
my mother,
and crone,
knows everything about anything,
and anything about everything.
Her ceaseless appetite for the written word
has left her sneezing amidst printer’s ink!
Dottie leaves a paper trail, which, she claims,
is well organized.
But just ask her for something,
and she will find it. . . . by accident,
at a future moment.
She is mechanically challenged — and proud of it!
It is a crone-omedy of errors to watch her operate
the microwave oven, her TV clicker,
and thermostat — not to mention using the car radio
controls to work the air conditioning.
Her style is unique.
As my mother,
she liberated me at an early age,
and has lived long enough to regret it!
She frets and worries about “her only chick,”
She is a true crone;
a wise woman who has earned her berth
by living the stages, preceding cronehood,
to the ultimate.
As my friend, I know she is my protector, supporter, and champion.
Long Live Crone Dottie!