Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Crazy Castle in Doylestown, PA

Henry Chapman Mercer, a tile maker and archaeologist built his home Fonthill in Doylestown, PA. He use poured concrete and unskilled laborers to build the castle, which he intended to use as both a residence and a museum of tile. While Fonthill has some lovely tile, the place feels like a madhouse. We visited at the end of January.


Mercer created two other concrete structures - a museum and a tile works - in Doylestown, his home town north of Philadelphia. From a distance, the castle's quite cute. As you get closer, imperfections become clearer. The concrete looks like a wasp's nest and the lines are not quite parallel:

Fonthill Tower

Inside, many surfaces are filled with low relief tile which is quite often beautiful:

Wall tile

Mercer embedded his own tile in many of the ceilings:

Ceiling Tile insets

Chapman also displayed tile which he had collected:

Tile at Fonthill

Because he wanted his home to be a museum, Mercer created tile legends to identify some of the exhibited tile. In the following, Mercer has created the framing tile and the legend in the center of this display:

Tile Display at Fonthill

A display of tile explained in tile, the lettering itself reminds me of toy magnetic letters which I used to play with. The effect is weirdly juvenile in its unevenness. Most open surfaces are heavily decorated in this manner.

Some rooms contain wooden furniture which appears poorly constructed. Because the walls and floors are not even and level, the furniture bends and sways with uneven gaps and angles that just aren't right.

The house is also frequently very dark and claustrophobic. Halls and stairways are narrow and large structural pieces jut out through the ceiling.

By the end of the tour, I was glad to leave the house. While it is fascinating, it is also insane. I imagined a homeless person chewing wads of toilet paper to line the walls of his refrigerator box home, adorned with tin foil ornaments. It feels like outsider art, like the product of obsession.

It's totally fascinating, but less than homey. I am glad that I visited, but left the home feeling disturbed.

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