Speaker: Olivia Armandroff
Henry Chapman Mercer founded the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. His Arts and Crafts tiles appeared at public sites from the Pennsylvania State Capitol to the California designs of Bertram Goodhue. While Mercer argued for a broader application of tilework beyond the confines of the kitchen or bathroom, he also applied his work to his own domestic environment. Between 1908 and 1912, Mercer constructed a new home for himself, Fonthill Castle, which stood alongside his factory. The large, forty-four room space utilized a bright, colorful paint scheme and decorative tiles, in many ways serving as a showpiece for Mercer’s production. In addition, Mercer was an avid collector of many objects—from ancient artifacts, to tools, to tilework—and some of his Persian, Chinese, Spanish, and Dutch ceramics were inset into the concrete composing the house. Mercer’s evocation of a Gothic castle in the overall design is in keeping with his antiquarian interests. At the same time the building was modern, utilizing poured concrete. The home served as a tourist attraction from the earliest days of its construction, exemplifying how, at the turn of the century, artists’ carefully crafted public personas shaped the valuation of their art.
Olivia Armandroff is a second year Ph.D. student in the Department of Art History. She works on twentieth-century American art, with research interests that include the proliferation of imagery through printed materials, instances of collaborative production, and questions of space and the built environment. She holds a B.A. in the History of Art and History from Yale University and an M.A. in American Material Culture from the Winterthur Program. She has worked on exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum, and the Yale University Art Gallery, among other institutions, and has published in Winterthur Portfolio, Journal of Design History, Italian Modern Art, and Woman’s Art Journal.