A blog about architectural tiles, terra cotta and other ceramic surfaces, architectural glass and ornamentation in and around New York.

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Mueller Mosaic Altar Mural, c. 1910

St. Thomas the Apostle Church was founded over 100 years ago in the Woodhaven neighborhood in Queens. 

The original altar mural was made by the Mueller Mosaic Tile Company of Trenton, New Jersey.
Herman Carl Mueller with a faience tile panel. (E. Stanley Wires, "Decorative Tiles", New England Architect and Builder Illustrated, Number 16, 1960)
“Herman Mueller founded the Mueller Mosaic Tile Company in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1908. According to one source, "Herman Carl Mueller was born in Germany in 1854. As a teenager he wanted to be a professional singer because he had a rich baritone voice. His parents recognized early that young Herman was artistically talented so they encouraged him at age 14 to enter the Nuremberg School of Industrial Arts instead of pursuing professional singing. There he discovered his talent and interest in sculpture, and at age 16 began his formal training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. When he finished school, he worked as an apprentice with different sculptors throughout Germany. In 1878, at the age of 24, he decided to emigrate to the United States of America because he heard it was a land of opportunity." (http://www.ettc.net/njarts/details.cfm?ID=1005After Mueller emigrated to the U.S., he “settled in Cincinnati and worked for Matt Morgan Art Pottery 1882-1884 and then Kensington Art Tile Co. [of Newport, Kentucky.] In 1885 he did sculptures for the Indiananapolis State House in Indiana.” (Lisa F. Taft, “H.C.M., Friend of H.C.M.: A Discussion of Herman Carl Mueller”, Flash Point, Vol. 5, No. 1, January-March 1992, p. 1)

(From Edwin Atlee Barber, The Pottery and Porcelain of the United States, 3rd Edition, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1909, p. 358)
Mueller worked as a modeler for the American Encaustic Tiling Company (AET) in Zanesville, Ohio from 1887-1894. “American Encaustic’s products were at least the equal of any other manufacturer’s, except in the field of art tiles. To rectify this, [...AET] hired the talented, sculptor-mechanic, Herman Mueller in 1887. The artistic quality of the company’s tiles improved dramatically. Mueller’s fireplace surrounds and classical figure panels are among the finest art tiles ever produced. He [Mueller] also demonstrated to architects the virtues of using decorative tiles in such things as fountains and radiator grilles.” (Michael Sims, “The Tiles of Zanesville, Ohio: America’s Tile Manufacturing Center”, Flash Point, Vol. 6, No. 3, July-September 1993, p. 19)
(From Edwin Atlee Barber, The Pottery and Porcelain of the United States, 3rd Edition, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1909, p. 357)
In 1894, Mueller formed a partnership with the chemist Karl Langenbeck, William Shinnick, Jr. and others and organized the Mosaic Tile Company in Zanesville, Ohio. “Mueller and Langenbeck were responsible for the successful beginning of Mosaic. In the earliest years...they directed all phases of the operation.” In 1895 “they turned their attention to perfecting Mueller’s idea for a new system of manufacturing dust-pressed encaustic tiles [U.S. Patent No. 537703]. Mueller’s idea was to use a standard cell frame, made of rows of interlocking brass strips set at right angles to each other, with 2601 one-eighth inch square cells. The cell frame would replace the expensive separate copper die or mold required for each color in a tile. ...The significance of Mueller’s process was that panels consisting of any number of different tiles, particularly original designs used only once or twice, could be manufactured at a relatively low cost.” (Michael Sims, “The Tiles of Zanesville, Ohio: America’s Tile Manufacturing Center”, Flash Point, Vol. 6, No. 3, July-September 1993, p. 20)
A "mural over the main door of St. Nicholas [RC Church, Zanesville, Ohio] showing Christopher Columbus bringing Christianity to the New World." (Catholic Times, Vol. 58:11, December 14, 2008, p. 10) The tiles were made by Mueller's patented "pseudo-encaustic-mosaic" process in 1898. (Photo courtesy of Michael Padwee)
“This process received a great deal of attention and was used on several major buildings such as the California State Capitol, Sacramento; St. Nicholas Catholic Church, Zanesville, Ohio; and the Moerlein Brewery, Cincinnati. Edwin Atlee Barber cited three advantages [of Mueller’s process]: artistic appearance, great hardness and durability and moderate cost.” (Lisa F. Taft, “H.C.M., Friend of H.C.M.: A Discussion of Herman Carl Mueller”, Flash Point, Vol. 5, No. 1, January-March 1992, p. 15)

Tiles in the California State Capitol, Sacramento
"The present tile floor coverings are reproductions of tiles that were originally purchased from the Mosaic Tile Company of Zanesville, Ohio and installed in 1896. Visitors can see an example of the original Eureka tile grouping in the Eureka Room, located in the basement of the Capitol... ." (http://capitolmuseum.ca.gov/VirtualTour.aspx?content1=1278&Content2=1374&Content3=1294)
By 1903 “Langenbeck and Mueller became increasingly upset by the [Mosaic Tile C]ompany’s emphasis on commercial considerations at the expense of artistic integrity, and...they left their jobs at Mosaic. Mueller became manager of the designing...department at the Robertson [Art Tile Company] Art Branch in Morrisville, Pennsylvania.” (Michael Sims, “The Tiles of Zanesville, Ohio: America’s Tile Manufacturing Center”, Flash Point, Vol. 6, No. 3, July-September 1993, p. 21)
A Robertson Art Tile Company tile "rug" (lower left) designed while Herman Mueller was the manager of this company's Design Department. The swimming pool is also lined with Robertson tiles according to tile historians Scott Anderson and Judi Wells, who have researched this company's history extensively. (Post card courtesy of http://www.Cardcow.com)
"In 1908 he moved to Trenton, New Jersey and started operation of the Mueller Mosaic Company, at the former location of the Artistic Porcelain Company on Chambers Street and Cedar Lane. The company did well and Mueller, the successful businessman, became acquainted with J.V.B. Wicoff while campaigning for Woodrow Wilson's successful attempt to become President of the United States. Years later, Wicoff asked him to design and install the tiles in the sun porch [of his house in Plainsboro, New Jersey]. In addition, Mueller received an extensive commission from J.V.B.s friend and business associate, Henry W. Jeffers, to design and install the ceramic tile and decorations in the Rotolactor of the famous Walker-Gordon Dairy..." in Plainsboro.* (http://www.ettc.net/njarts/details.cfm?ID=1005)
Tiled Rotolactor Room at the Walker-Gordon Dairy, 1937. (Photo post card courtesy of http://www.cardcow.com)
*["Walker-Gordon Farms of Plainsboro, New Jersey, a subsidiary of the Borden Company, are one of the oldest and largest milk producing farms in the world. The new Rotary Combine Milking System was conceived by Henry W. Jeffers, president of Walker-Gordon, after many years of research, while the milking equipment was developed and installed by the DeLaval Separator Company of New York City. ...The new milking system consists of a revolving platform upon which are placed 50 stanchions. The platform revolves slowly, completing a revolution in 12-1/2 minutes. The platform is housed in a beautiful new building which not only contains the milking system but a complete set of offices and laboratories. The interior of the building is beautifully tiled and in the center of the platform is a large glassed-in observation room, where visitors may observe the milking operation. ...The cows are brought to the Rotary Combine Milker and are conducted to the revolving platform through a tiled passageway. As the cow comes to the end of this passageway, she steps onto the revolving platform and one after another does so until all the stanchions are filled. ...Milking is completed as each cow nears the end of a complete revolution... . The milked cow walks off the platform through a passageway... ." (From http://www.farmcollector.com/looking-back/the-rotolactor.aspx; originally from the December 15, 1930 issue of Farm Machinery and Equipment magazine.) "By June of 1971, the dairy business was no longer profitable and the farm began to raise beef cattle and grow and sell general field crops. Today the Walker-Gordon Farm on Plainsboro Road is a group of 355 single family homes... ." (From James Shackleford, "The Legacy of Walker-Gordon Farms in Central Jersey", January 13, 2011 in http://southbrunswick.patch.com/articles/the-legacy-of-walker-gordon-farms-in-central-jersey)]

"Even with the vast choices in tile at that time, Mueller still felt there was a need for more artistic tiles executed in the Arts and Crafts tradirion of aesthetic beauty joined with high craftsmanship. Some of Mueller's numerous historic installations include the Kelsey Memorial Building and the Crescent Temple in Trenton; the Garden Pier and the Blatt Building in Atlantic City; the Ceramic Building at Rutgers University, New Brunswick; ...all in New Jersey; the YMCA in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan." (Norman Karlson, "Mueller Mosaic Company", The Encyclopedia of American Art Tiles, Volume I, Section 2, Schiffer Publishing Company, Atglen, PA, p. 149)

Mueller Mosaic Tile Inserts. (From E. Stanley Wires' "Decorative Tiles")
Mueller was hired to create a children's mural in the New Jersey State Capitol Building in Trenton. The ceramic State Seal is also attributed to the Mueller Mosaic Company.

One assessment of Mueller's work claimed he "made some of the most beautiful faience tile ever produced in this country. [His]...products consisted of Frost-proof Faience, Flemish Tile Mosaic, Decorated Inserts, Grilles, Fountains and Polychrome Faience Panels." (E. Stanley Wires, "Decorative Tiles", New England Architect and Builder Illustrated, Number 16, 1960)
A Mueller Mosaic faience tile and metal panel. (From  E. Stanley Wires' "Decorative Tiles")
"As a prominent citizen of Trenton who believed strongly in education, Mueller was appointed president of the Trenton Board of Education. While in the position from 1914 until 1919, he was instrumental in establishing this country's first Junior High School." (http://www.ettc.net/njarts/details.cfm?ID=1005)

A page from a reprint of an undated Mueller Mosaic Company catalog, Mueller Tile: Polychrome Faience Tile Emblems, &c. (A reprint by the Tile Heritage Foundation, 1990s)

A fireplace surround (Christopher Columbus) found near Atlantic City, NJ about 2001 and attributed to the Mueller Mosaic Company by Sandie Fowler and Wendy Harvey, the owners of Antique Articles, and the authors of Art Nouveau Tiles c 1890-1914.
The Mueller Mosaic Tile Company produced tiles for many building exteriors and interiors throughout the country. A number no longer exist, such as J.J. Gafney's office building in Louisville, Kentucky. When this building was being built in 1909, though, the tiling was considered cutting edge in architectural ornamentation. Clay Record wrote that Mueller Mosaic "...is making a specialty of an entirely new application of faience enamels, and the interior of the same office building in Louisville is to be partially walled with some exceptionally artistic designs... . These enamels are of Roman mosaic of small tesserae, principally representing mediaeval coats of arms. They are also produced in similar panel work of Florentine mosaic, representing classical subjects of numerous types and periods. One of each of these panels is now on exhibition in the windows of Thomas Trapp, jeweler, in the Commonwealth Building, on East State Street [in Trenton]. ...The Mueller Co.'s Louisville order will require many thousand feet of tiling, inasmuch as the building to be decorated is an office building of several stories and the interior is spacious." (Clay Record, Vol. XXXV, No. 4, August 30, 1909, p. 31)
(From https://sites.google.com/site/tileinstallationdb/where-are-they-now)
Other buildings--some in Atlantic City, New Jersey--also had Mueller Mosaic exterior ornamentation. For instance, the Garden Pier was built in 1913, and the side pavillions were decorated with Mueller's "Faience Art Tile", where "...the various colored parts of the design are cut according to the outline, and the various pieces thus formed are covered separately with the enamels. This is based on the style of the Florentine mosaics and is very effective, especially for exterior decorative work." Also, "...[Keith's] Garden Pier Theater...has walls of [Mueller Mosaic] flemish tile and faience, with floor of flemish herringbone tile." ("Fine Ceramic Manufacture", Brick and Clay Record, Vol. 56, No. 10, May 4, 1920, p. 933) The original Garden Pier structures were damaged in a hurricane in 1944 and no longer exist.
The Knights of Columbus building at 1408 Pacific Avenue, Atlantic City was adorned with Mueller Mosaic faience tiles, but in 2003 the deserted building was voted the greatest eyesore in the city, and it remained deserted and boarded-up into 2010. However, Seth Gaines took some excellent color photos of the tile work in 2009.
In 1922 Mueller Mosaic ran a series of ads in Architectural periodicals showing some of the company's faience storefronts.
(From Pencil Points, Vol. III, No. 3, March 1922, p. 47)
Herman Mueller was also called upon to decorate the interiors of private residences. One of these--that of Schuyler Schieffelin in Monroe, New York, designed by architect Bowen Bancroft Smith, and built with cement--was described in the January 1917 issue of Concrete: "...but the principal motif in the decoration of these [interior] cement surfaces is a very original treatment by inserts of special tile. ...It was intended to recall by these tile the foliage of the surrounding hills and Mr. Smith selected oak and maple leaves as suitable for the purpose and designed borders for the several rooms consisting of groups of leaves connected by conventional stems or borders. ...The tile themselves are real works of art... ." (Concrete, Vol. 10, No. 1, January 1917, pp. 11-13)

"It would be impossible to exaggerate the beautiful color of these tiles or the truthful representation and remarkable vitality of their outlines, equalling the most skillful carving. The stems are of exquisite glazed blues and bluish purples, while the leaves themselves have green centers, mottled and speckled as if by fungi, with yellow tips, resembling leaves in the first turning of autumn foliage." (John Taylor Boyd, Jr., "The House of Schuyler Schieffelin", The Architectural Record, Vol. XL, No. 1, July 1916, p. 41) 

"Complete full size details were made [by the architect] showing each individual piece of tile, leaf or stem, and the tile were glued, face downward, to these details, which were...cut into sections...and each indexed and marked for location [in the house]." (Concrete, Vol. 10, No. 1, January 1917, pp. 11-13)
(John Taylor Boyd, Jr., "The House of Schuyler Schieffelin", The Architectural Record, Vol. XL, No. 1, July 1916, pp. 38-39) 
"The hexagonal tiling in the halls, dining room, entrance hall and sun parlor are three inch pieces of leathery reddish color, porous in texture, relieved by frequent but irregularly spaced figured tiles." (John Taylor Boyd, Jr., p. 41)

In a future post I plan to discuss some of the Mueller Mosaic tile installations still existing in New Jersey--Domenico Mortellito's WPA murals in the Newark Subway System; Columbia High School in Maplewood; and Hepburn Hall, in New Jersey City University, Jersey City, among others.

Mueller also created other ceramic ecclesiastic sculptures. I discovered a Mueller Mosaic Company catalog page with an illustration of the faience Shrine of the Little Flower, St. Dominic's Church at 7625 Linwood, Detroit, Michigan.
 I have tried, unsuccessfully, to find out what happened to this Shrine when the Catholic Diocese gave up this building about four years ago. Ren Farley writes on his website, Detroit1701.org: "In 1925, Brewster Congregational sold the church...to the Roman Catholic diocese.  The next year the Catholics opened St. Dominic’s Catholic Church with the Dominican Fathers staffing and managing the parish.  The Catholics extensively remodeled this 1919 church... . The Dominican fathers operated this church until 1999 when they gave up their control.  Priests from the diocese of Detroit took over.  In the fall of 2005, the diocese of Detroit announced that St. Dominic’s parish would be closed and the final Mass was said in this church on November 11 of that year." Hopefully, the fate of this faience Shrine at the hands of the Detroit Diocese will be different than the fate of the Cambridge-Wheatley ecclesiastic faience in Philadelphia's Church of the Transfiguration at the hands of the Philadelphia Diocese.

Mueller also supplied the tiles used in the First Plymouth Congregational Church in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Mueller Mosaic tiles on the front facade of the First Plymouth Congregational Church. Photo courtesy of Michael Padwee.
I've now come full circle back to Woodhaven, Queens. St. Thomas the Apostle Church is located at 87-19 88th Avenue, Woodhaven, NY 11421.
Map courtesy of Google Maps.
The Church of Saint Thomas the Apostle has been an integral part of Woodhaven and surrounding communities since 1910 and has recently had a needed restoration

for its Centennial Celebration. St. Thomas' Pastor and the Director of Liturgy for the Diocese, Reverend Frank C. Tumino, was very helpful locating a photo of the original altar mosaic, as well as a 6" square, relief tile of the "Madonna and Child" that was rescued when the new mural was installed in the 1950s.

The exterior tile work on the church facade has been restored. According to Reverend Tumino the Church did not have enough funds to reglaze the worn exterior tiling, but they did paint the tiles so they matched the original glazes as closely as possible. The 1950s altar mosaic was cleaned and polished, and a horizontal crack was repaired. But, there is even more than the exterior tiles and the altar tile mosaic. There are twelve "Stations of the Cross" mosaic tile murals that were added at the same time as the new altar mosaic:
(The photography in the video is by Mario Brienza.)

The original Mueller Mosaic altar from a photo taken after a first alteration in which two murals to each side of the altar were removed and the two statues seen here were added. Photo courtesy of St. Thomas the Apostle Church.
A tile from the altar area which was rescued during the 1950s when the new altar mosaic took the place of the original.
Mueller Mosaic created a series of relief ecclesiastical ceramics with similar borders and advertised them as "polychrome mural tiling".
(From Pencil Points, Vol. III, No. 8, August 1922, p. 52)
"The economic depression of the 1930s, Mueller's advanced age, and also the switch in popular decorative tastes to sleeker, less expensive, and industrial produced materials, all contributed to the firm's decline in sales in the mid-1930s. To the end, Mueller stuck by his decision to produce art tiles in the Arts and Crafts tradition. Mueller died in 1941, and the company closed the following year." (Norman Karlson, "Mueller Mosaic Company", The Encyclopedia of American Art Tiles, Volume I, Section 2, Schiffer Publishing Company, Atglen, PA, p. 149)