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

Friday, January 1, 2016

Herman Carl Mueller in Titusville and Trenton, New Jersey; A Charles Volkmar Discovery in Clifton, New Jersey

Herman Carl Mueller in Titusville and Trenton, New Jersey

I have written before about 19th-early 20th century sculptor and ceramic artist Herman Carl Mueller, who founded the Mueller Mosaic Tile Company in Trenton, New Jersey in 1908. Mueller also had a connection to a small town near Washington’s Crossing to the North of Trenton, Titusville, New Jersey.


Mueller built a summer house for his family at 22 Washington Avenue in Titusville. In 2013 the house was listed for sale and was described as a “charming Stucco Bungalow with Gazebo & huge rocking chair front porch[... . It] was once the summer home of noted tile artist Herman C Mueller. Examples of his distinctive designs abound throughout the home... .” (ReMax of Princeton Listing Flyer — Listing # 6259102; no longer on the Remax website)













Four images from the ReMax of Princeton website listing (no longer operative) that show Mueller Mosaic tiles on the exterior facades. The interior photos we saw showed no Mueller Mosaic tile work.

The Hidden New Jersey blog reported on another Titusville exterior tile installation which was probably built from Mueller Mosaic tiles. This is the George Washington Memorial, which was moved to the back parking lot of the Fire Department. Sue Kaufmann and Ivan Kossak, the writers of the blog, report that “there's no lack of historic markers in Titusville, given the location's status as the site where George Washington and his troops landed after they crossed the Delaware in 1776. ...However, the marker...doesn't explicitly mention Washington's crossing. Rather, it's a large stone with two elements: a brass plaque dedicated to the members of the Union Fire Company and Rescue Squad, dated 1976, and a colorful stone mosaic of someone we're assuming is supposed to be George Washington.” (http://www.hiddennj.com/2014/05/washington-back-across-delaware-piecing.html)

(Photo courtesy of Hidden New Jersey blog)

Kaufmann and Kossak continue the story they were told: the marker “stands not on the road for all to see as they drive down Route 29, but in the parking lot behind the Union Fire Company building. The artwork isn't dated, but it appears to have been completed long before 1976, and certainly well before the newish firehouse was erected. It clearly was moved from another site.

“According to the Sickles descendants[, a family with whom we spoke], that's exactly what happened. The mosaic had originally stood in front of the old Washington Hotel on Route 29, which was a resort of sorts for visitors who came by way of the Delaware-Belvidere Railroad to enjoy a few days in the countryside along the historic river. Apparently created by an experienced German-born tile maker who lived in the community, the mosaic might have been commissioned by the hotel to further honor the hero the inn owners had named their establishment for.

“As the story goes, the stone and mosaic stood proudly in front of the hotel until World War I, when anti-German sentiment prompted vandals to push it off its base and roll it across the road and into the Delaware and Raritan Canal. There it sat until the 1970's, when it was fished out by firefighters and again given a place of honor.” (http://www.hiddennj.com/2014/05/washington-back-across-delaware-piecing.html)

Trenton, New Jersey was actually Mueller’s home base. Besides living there, his company, the Mueller-Mosaic Tile Company, was responsible for many beautiful, polychrome terra cotta and tile sites in the area. “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=1005--this link may now be inoperative) After 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 Indianapolis 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)


"Four groupings of heroic limestone figures line the top front portico of a capitol building [Indianapolis, Indiana. Sculpted by Herman Carl Mueller in ca 1885]. On the left edge of the portico is a figure grouping of an Indian family. A chief stands in the center, to his proper right is a woman with a papoose on her back. On the chief's proper left is a brave wearing a loin cloth. To the right of this grouping is a single male figure of a farmer holding a metal sickle. He has a full beard and wears shirt and trousers. To the right of the farmer is a single figure of a blacksmith. He has a beard and wears a shirt with rolled up sleeves, a protective apron and trousers. He stands with his proper right arm akimbo. On the far right edge of the portico is the figure grouping of a pioneer family. On the proper right is a young boy wearing breeches and a hat. Standing in the center of the grouping is the father, clad in buckskin shirt and trousers. He holds a metal rifle. On the proper left is the mother, wearing a long dress and sunbonnet. Her proper right hand is raised to shield her eyes. Above the figures and over the cornice of the building is a stone eagle with wings outspread." (http://siris-artinventories.si.edu/ipac20/ipac.jsp?&profile=all&source=~!siartinventories&uri=full=3100001~!340010~!0#focus)


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)


A ceramic tile designed by Mueller for the American Encaustic Tiling Company of Zanesville, Ohio. (Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Wing, New York City.)



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)


Mueller Mosaic Company’s pseudo-mosaic tile mural of Columbus on the facade of St. Nicholas Catholic Church, Zanesville, Ohio. (Color photos here and below courtesy of Michael Padwee unless otherwise noted)

“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)

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)


Sanborn map from 1908, the year that the Mueller Mosaic Company replaced the Artistic Porcelain Company in its William and Chambers Street plant. (http://map.princeton.edu/mapviewer/#/vd66w1458) 101 West State Street, Trenton (The Kelsey Building)


"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.” (http://www.ettc.net/njarts/details.cfm?ID=1005After starting his business in Trenton, Mueller’s ceramic products were used in a number of the city’s important buildings. 



Palazzo Strozzi (http://www.britannica.com/place/Palazzo-Strozzi/images-videos/Stringcourses-on-the-facade-of-the-Palazzo-Strozzi-Florence-begun/7606) and the Kelsey Building.


The architect, Cass Gilbert, was hired in 1909 by Henry C. Kelsey, New Jersey’s Secretary of State from 1870-1897, to design a building at 101 W. State Street in Trenton that would house the Trenton School of Industrial Arts. “Gilbert designed the Kelsey Building at the peak of his career. When [he was hired...], he was president of the American Institute of Architects and already a tireless campaigner for greater professional recognition for architects. ...His design was modeled after the Palazzo Strozzi, one of Florence’s most famous palaces, designed by Benedetto da Maiano in 1489.





“Three steps lead from the street into an arched vestibule ornamented with a tilework frieze, designed in the glazed terracotta della Robbia style by Herman C. Mueller... . 



The arched vestibule with Mueller Mosaic panels.

“The design combines the shield of the school, an open book and artist’s palette, with the portrait of a student.” ("A Campus With History...Thomas Edison State College”, a web-booklet published by Thomas Edison State College, 101 N. State Street, Trenton, New Jersey, pp. 5, 7)



“Many of the artisans in Trenton’s ceramics industry were educated in this building when it was the Trenton School of Industrial Arts. The faculty included many of the leading artists and mechanics in the business, such as tile master Herman Carl Mueller, who was a trustee of the school, and Lenox China’s long-time chief designer Frank Holmes.” (“Potteries of Trenton Society Driving Tour, Selected Tile & Terra Cotta Sites in Trenton”, p. 2; http://www.potteriesoftrentonsociety.org/tour.html)



Another building with significant Mueller-Mosaic tile work is the Great Mosque of the Crescent Temple at 50 N. Clinton Avenue, which was designed by Philadelphia architect and theater specialist, Walter Hankin, in association with J. Osborn Hunt in 1928, and was completed in 1929. This building’s neo-Islamic architectural style evolved from the origins of “The Shrine or Order of the Mystic Shrine”, otherwise known as the Shriners. The Order “...was founded in Manhattan in 1872 by a group of Masons who claimed to be a cell of a worldwide secret order of assassins instituted by Mohammedan Kalif Alu as a vigilance committee... . This group also hoped to promote religious tolerance among cultured men of all nations. ...Because of its claimed history, Shriners appropriated symbols, names, and motifs from Islamic nations and the Middle East to define their identity.” (Ellen Paul Denker, “Trenton’s Exotic Clay Building: The Great Mosque of the Crescent Temple”, Trenton Potteries, Newsletter of the Potteries of Trenton Society, Volume 8, Issue 3, September 2007, pp. 2 and 1_


The main entrance to the Crescent Temple.

“...Crescent Temple features decoration in local terra cotta, arch motifs, vast opulent spaces, and high quality modern construction with durable materials.” (http://www.preservationnj.org/site/ExpEng/index.php?/ten_most/archive_by_city_detail/1996/Crescent_Temple)








"Expected to hold 4,000 Shriners, the building was richly constructed with Wurtemburg limestone from Elwood City, Ohio, Italian Travertine marble and American walnut. Vitreous floor tile was supplied by Crescent Tile Co, the face and common brick came from the New Jersey Brick and Supply Co, and the plumbing equipment was Maddock Durock. Although Mueller Mosaic Company is identified as the source of the faience tiles, the maker of the terra cotta ornament remains unidentified." (http://www.potteriesoftrentonsociety.org/tour.html)


A tiled panel with a Middle Eastern flavor.


Detail of the Mueller Mosaic tile panel.








An interior lobby door.





Floor tiles possibly by the Crescent Tile Company of Trenton, New Jersey.





The faience hemi-dome over the main entrance.



One of two roof domes over a window with a cusped opening with side columns and a balcony supported by four brackets.









A side entrance with a circular headed opening and four windows with circular heads and side columns.



Detail of the side entrance terra cotta decoration.

The Crescent Temple building was purchased in 2011 from Edison Learning. A local paper noted that “[the] city’s first Hispanic church is preparing to move into its new home, just across the street, to accommodate a growing congregation and to further its community outreach programs. The Pentecostal Church Assembly of God, or Iglesia Pentecostal Asamblea de Dios, founded in 1952, is moving to 50 N. Clinton Ave., into a 76,100-square-foot building purchased...for $2.1 million. [...Rev. Jose] Rodriguez, the pastor for 31 years, said the church has been at 65 N. Clinton Ave. since 2000, and it has grown to 700 members.” (Samantha Costa, “Trenton church finds new home for growing congregation”, The Times of Trenton (NJ), December 23, 2011; http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2011/12/trenton_church_finds_new_home.html)


65 N. Clinton Avenue


Across North Clinton Avenue and katy-corner from the Crescent Temple is a building that was occupied in partnership by the Shriners and Scottish Rite Masons before the Crescent Temple was built. The building was the former home of a local potter, James Moses. “The front of the building was built in 1852 as a mansion. The back of the building was added in 1915. Original mosaic tile work, which covers part of the interior walls, and grand wooden staircases that zigzag throughout, show the building’s age.” (Samantha Costa, “Trenton church finds new home for growing congregation”, The Times of Trenton (NJ), December 23, 2011; http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2011/12/trenton_church_finds_new_home.html)


The front door of the 1915 addition.



Front door detail



Front door detail



The interior entry hall and lobby tile work.






We do not know what company manufactured the polychrome terra cotta or the faience tiles for the 1915 addition to the mansion, but an educated guess would be the Mueller Mosaic Company for the tiles.

These are, of course, not all of the buildings in Trenton with either Mueller Mosaic Company or other companies’ faience, polychrome terra cotta or tiles. Others can be visited, and are mentioned in the Potteries of Trenton Society “Trenton Driving Tour”. 
(http://www.potteriesoftrentonsociety.org/tour.html)

And, just walking around Trenton--even in the residential areas--can bring you views like this:


103 N. Overbrook Avenue, Trenton



Charles Volkmar Discovery in Clifton, New Jersey

One of the pleasantries of writing this blog is having strangers contact me about something they’ve read. In two recent instances this has led to “new” discoveries about the ceramic artist and painter Charles Volkmar. The first was the discovery of a circa 1890s house with its interior clad with Volkmar tiles. The second resulted in a trip to Montclair and Clifton, New Jersey to see a fireplace with both a Volkmar landscape panel, that surely belongs in an English Victorian dining room, and a mosaic surround (probably glass smalltoe) that could be a family crest.




Photos were taken and published by Michael Padwee with the permission of the owner of the house.


The fireplace is massive--possibly walnut--and is situated in an approximately 14’ x 20’ room completely wood paneled and with a wood-coffered ceiling. The ends of the fireplace are carved lion posts, and the central heraldic field is in high relief. The Volkmar landscape/boar hunt tile panel is two feet high by six feet long and consists of eleven six inch tiles lengthwise by  four six inch tiles in height surrounded by a floral border of 6" x 3" tiles.





Two major influences on Volkmar in the 1870s were the French landscape painters and Frech underglaze decoration on ceramics. Volkmar traveled to France and studied landscape painting under the direction of the artist Henri Harpignies (1819-1916), who had won awards for his landscapes and was influenced by the Barbizon psinters. Harpignies impressed on his students the
 "...necessity of paying attention to detail... . 'If a pupil has two hours at his disposal,' said M. Harpignies...on one occasion, 'I should advise him to devote one and three-quarters of his time to drawing and a quarter of an hour to painting.' He does not, however, recommend his pupils to copy his own methods; on the contrary, he is continually saying, 'Do what I recommend you, not what I do... .' It is only, in M. Harpignies' opinion, by paying attention to exactitude of drawing and by cultivating originality that we can eventually attain to le beau dans le vrai [the beautiful in the real]." (Frederic Lees, "Henri Harpignies", The Studio, Volume 13, 1898, p. 152)

After seeing the French barbotine underglaze porcelain decoration exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, Volkmar became determined to learn French ceramic secrets of underglaze decoration and bring them to the United States. "To do so he had to obtain employment as a common workman [in the Deck and Haviland factories]...concealing his identity and keeping secret [...his] purpose... ." Volkmar's painted decorations are made on completely dry clay so that he can work on his projects in leisure, and there is no threat of shrinkage after the colors are applied. ("Real American Majolica", an unidentified newspaper article about Volkmar and his Tremont pottery)




An upper rail molding under the ceiling contains a number of 19th century pictorial textile weavings. The textile on the left, below, seems to be an enlarged, but abbreviated, version of the textile on the right.


The current owners of this house lived in it with their children for about a year and a half while their house in another town was being built. They kept ownership of this house after they moved, and are now considering selling it. 






We have attempted to discover the architect/builder of the house, the year it was built, and the first owner of the house in order to try to determine if there was any connection to Charles Volkmar. Volkmar did make interior and exterior architectural ornamentation for some of his friends, such as Charles and Ella Condie Lamb and  Frank and Mary Pattison. (http://tilesinnewyork.blogspot.com/2013/07/charles-lamb-and-charles-volkmar.html) 

When we first visited the house we were given an address in Montclair (Essex County), New Jersey. When we wrote to the Montclair Historic Planning Commission, however, we were told that the property was actually in Clifton, New Jersey (Passaic County) even though the house had a Montclair postal address. An email sent to the Clifton Historical Commission was forwarded to Ms. Kathy Grimshaw, the Reference Librarian at the Clifton Public Library, who was able to locate some information about the property. Ms. Grimshaw sent a copy of a portion of an 1887 map of the section of Clifton (then called Acquackanonk Township). 



(Atlas of Passaic County, New-Jersey: topographical, geological, historical, illustrated; from actual surveys of each township and village, New York: E.B. Hyde & Co.)

Ms. Grimshaw wrote: "You’ll notice that in the upper left-hand side, the property in that area is owned by a M.W. Ayers. In the 1880 census record for Acquackanonk (Clifton), there is a Morgan W[ilcox] Ayers [aka Ayres], a physician living in that neighborhood. Comparing this map with later maps and the current Google Maps, I believe one of the houses (the one near where it’s labelled M.W.A) is the [...one that concerns you]. As far as whether Dr. Ayers was the builder of that house, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I was not able to find Dr. Ayers in the city directories for that time period (we’re missing many from that time period), but I have found him in subsequent directories for Montclair (which borders Clifton in that area)." (Email from Kathy Grimshaw, Reference Librarian, Clifton Public Library, to Michael Padwee dated November 25, 2015)


Further investigation of the old block and lot numbers for the property in Clifton at the Passaic County Register of Deeds in Paterson might yield more accurate information about the original owner/builder of the house and when it was built.



Obituary Notice

It is with sadness that we report the death of ceramic tile artist Jean Nison on December 9, 2015. Jean Nison was about ninety-three years old. She had been suffering from Alzheimer's Disease for a number of years, and is now at peace.