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

Friday, February 1, 2019

New Discoveries III: A Children's Tile Mural in New Jersey

I received an email from Maddy Fraioli (1) of Zanesville, Ohio in April 2018. Maddy had just revisited her elementary school in Essex Fells, New Jersey (2) and sent photos of the tile-mural fireplace surround that, she thought, had been part of the school since it was built. Maddy asked if I could tell her anything about the mural. I crowd-sourced Maddy’s query with members of the Tile Heritage Foundation and Friends of Terra Cotta.

The Library in the Essex Fells Elementary School, 2017/18. (All photos by Maddy Fraioli unless otherwise noted; Maddy's photos were edited by the author, and any errors are my responsibility)

Although I had grown up in New Jersey and attended Rutgers University for six years, I had never heard of Essex Fells. After a brief internet search, however, I discovered that Essex Fells was part of the western area of Essex County, New Jersey. I was more familiar with the Eastern part of Essex County--Newark, New Jersey.

(l to r) New Jersey with Essex County in red, and Essex County with Essex Fells in red. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essex_Fells,_New_Jersey)

In the late 19th/early 20th centuries this area was made up of several small towns and unincorporated communities, some of which had been in existence since the late 1600s. “In the late 1800s, Philadelphia developer Anthony S. Drexel realized the impact of train travel on residential development and sent Charles W. Leavitt to the northern New Jersey area near the end of the Caldwell line. Leavitt, Drexel and Drexel's son-in-law John F. Fell formed the Suburban Land Company and purchased 1,000 acres of land from the estate of Revolutionary War General(3) William J. Gould. In order to create their residential development the group commissioned noted architect Ernest W. Bowditch. The community's name was derived by taking ‘Essex’ from the name of the county and adding ‘Fells’ from the name of John F. Fell which also means hill or down. Essex Fells, “was incorporated as a borough by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature on March 31, 1902, from portions of Caldwell Township (now Fairfield Township).”(4)  Presently, “...the wealthy 1.3-square-mile Borough of Essex Fells has no apartment buildings, town houses, condominiums, office towers, malls, restaurants, traffic lights or even stores. Because of an ordinance passed by the Borough Council in 1928, commercial activity is confined to one three-story office building that looks like a house and to two tiny workshops at the very end of Manheim Road, a dead-end street.”(5) 

Facade of the Essex Fells, New Jersey elementary school. 

In 1904 Essex Fells’ only public school began to operate, and in 1911/12 the 
Henry G. Morse

Essex Fells elementary school moved into a new building designed by the architect Henry G. Morse. Henry G. Morse (1884 - 1934) “...studied at the Episcopal Academy near Philadelphia and then studied architecture at the    Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and established himself in Manhattan, New York City before the age of 20. As an associate, he collaborated with Boston architect Herbert D. Hale on the Camden Free Public Library Main Building (1903–05) in Camden, New Jersey; the Norfolk Public Library (1903–06) in Norfolk, Virginia; and the United Engineering Societies Building (1904–07) in New York City. These were all projects funded by Andrew Carnegie[… .] [As] associates, Hale and Morse both collaborated with architects Parker & Thomas on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Building (1904–06) in Baltimore, Maryland. ...On his own, [Morse] designed a laboratory building at Yale University, and Tudor-style houses in New Rochelle, New York for mural artist Frederick Dana Marsh and cartoonist Clare Briggs.

“He worked as a partner in the firm of Hawes & Morse for a number of years. ...He was noted in particular for his work on Virginia House in Richmond, Virginia (6), which is partly a reconstruction of a Tudor manor shipped over from Warwickshire, England. [Morse] died on May 28, 1934, at his home in Essex Fells, New Jersey leaving behind his wife, Harriet K. Morse, author of 1939 gardening classic ‘Gardening in the Shade’.”(7)

A group of Mueller-Mosaic glaze-sample tiles. (Courtesy of Susan Tunick/Friends of Terra Cotta)

My crowd-sourcing of the identification of the tiles that made up the elementary school mural brought unanimous agreement that the tiles were made by Herman Mueller’s Mueller-Mosaic Art Tile Company in Trenton, New Jersey. A number of the tile experts compared the glazes in the photo close-up views with known Mueller-Mosaic glazes and tile friezes. 

Could the mark on the cow's flank be an artist's cipher or just a brand?

Detailed views of the border around the mural and the post design

Another said that she had seen a similar Mueller-Mosaic children’s school mural in Trenton, New Jersey. In addition, Bill Sheshko, a ceramics and tile expert and dealer (dba “Bungalow Bill”), pointed out that the ceramic corbels under the mural were pictured in a Mueller-Mosaic catalog, and the columns on each side were also similar to columns pictured in the catalog.

One of two mantel brackets under the school mural and a page of mantel brackets from a Mueller-Mosaic catalog. (Photo credit: Maddy Fraioli; catalog photo courtesy of Bill Sheshko)

The pillars on each side of the fountain have the same design as the pillars flanking the mural. (Courtesy of Bill Sheshko)

Herman Carl Mueller with a faience tile panel. (E. Stanley Wires, "Decorative Tiles", New England Architect and Builder Illustrated, Number 16, 1960)

In 1908 Herman Carl Mueller, a well-known tile modeler and inventor, who had been a founder of the Mosaic Tile Company of Zanesville, Ohio in 1895, organized the Mueller Mosaic Art Tile Company in Trenton, New Jersey.(8)  Mueller’s polychrome tiles and ceramic faience were used in many architectural projects in New Jersey and elsewhere from 1908/09 until Mueller died in 1941.

Frank Gerard Godlewski (9), who is an architect and ceramic artist living in Essex Fells, is a member of the Essex Fells History Committee. Mr. Godlewski had researched the mural, and in his “...opinion...Herman Mueller was the tile manufacturer...but the drawing or painting[, he felt,] was by Frederick Dana Marsh or one of Marsh’s sons. The Marshes summered in Essex Fells. Son Reginald Marsh is the famous American painter and James Marsh is the famous iron smith of Essex Fells whose foundry is a few hundred feet from where the windmill was in the [Grover Cleveland P]ark.”(10)  [“The windmill is found on the 1901 maps, before the park was redesigned into a naturalistic preserved landscape by the Olmsted firm that created Central Park in NYC.”] (11) The windmill is also pictured prominently on the mural.

In the absence of any written material connecting Fred Dana Marsh to the mural (12), I looked at some possible connections between Morse, Marsh and Mueller. One major connection mentioned above was that Morse designed the Marsh home in New Rochelle, New York at about the same time that Marsh was painting six tile murals for the Marine Grill in the Hotel McAlpin. Morse, as an architect, must also have known about Herman Mueller, who was making architectural ceramics for buildings from New York City to Philadelphia. It could have been Morse who brought Mueller and Marsh together for this project. 

In later years Morse designed restorations for, and Fred Dana Marsh created an over-the-mantel mural for Virginia House in Richmond.

There still is no direct evidence pointing to Fred Dana Marsh as the artist of the Essex Fells School mural, just assumptions based on what is known of the people involved.


1. “Maddy Fraioli is best [known] as the artist behind Fioriware, the [ceramic] dinnerware and tabletop manufacturing studio she and her husband, [artist] Howard Peller, operated in downtown Zanesville for 20 years [1986-2006]. In the years since she and her family have been far from idle, living and working from the historic Stokely Farm just outside of Roseville, in the heart of the area’s ceramic tradition.” (Lori Law, “Maddy Fraioli and family support arts in the community,” [The Zanesville, OH] Times-Recorder, November 4, 2015; https://www.zanesvilletimesrecorder.com/story/entertainment/2015/11/04/maddy-fraioli-family-support-arts-community/75053804/; also see http://rosehilldesign.com/pottery-story/). My thanks to Maddy for bringing this mural to my attention and for sending me her photos of the fireplace and mural. 

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essex_Fells,_New_Jersey 

3.  After this article was published I received a correction from Beverly Crifasi of the Historical Society of West Caldwell, NJ about General William Gould. I quote from Ms. Crifasi's email: "...I am concerned that in your text on William Gould you did not have as much information as is available. Specifically, he was not a General in the Revolution... . I and others have worked on the Gould genealogy and also Caldwell area history for a long time and I have posted much of the available information at a free website:

"The military history of William Gould (1757-1847) indicates he served with the rank of Major during [the] Pennsylvania Insurrection under President George Washington. He still had the rank of Major at the beginning of the War of 1812, and was assigned the responsibility for planning the defense of Essex County. He was a Brevet General during this period, which means he performed the duties of a General, but did not officially have that rank. I have more about him, but suspect he is not the focus of your excellent work on the Essex Fells mural!"

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essex_Fells,_New_Jersey    
5. Jerry Cheslow, “If You're Thinking of Living In Essex Fells, N.J.; No Stores and No Apartments, by Law,” The New York Times, May 28, 2000; https://www.nytimes.com/2000/05/28/realestate/if-you-re-thinking-living-essex-fells-nj-no-stores-no-apartments-law.html

6. https://www.virginiahistory.org/collections-and-resources/virginia-history-explorer/virginia-house/house 

7. https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Henry_G._Morse  

8. See https://tilesinnewyork.blogspot.com/2012/12/henry-carl-mueller-and-church-of-st.html and https://tilesinnewyork.blogspot.com/2016/01/herman-carl-mueller-in-titusville-and.html.

9. For more information about Frank Gerard Godlewski, who very kindly shared his knowledge about the mural with me, and to see some of his own ceramic artwork check out his architectural, design and ceramic website:  https://fellsbridgestudio.com/home.html. My thanks to Frank Godlewski for his help.

10. Email from Frank Godlewski to the author dated April 22, 2018.

11. Frank Gerard Godlewski’s notes, “THE WINDMILL FORMERLY AT GROVER CLEVELAND PARK,” sent to the author.

12. I wrote to the Rensselaer Institute Archives and Special Collections, which holds the Frederick Dana Marsh Papers, as well as to other local libraries and historic societies asking if they had any papers and/or drawings linking Marsh to the Essex Fells mural. All answered in the negative. I was hoping to find drawings of models for the Essex Fells mural, as had been found for other Fred Dana Marsh murals.


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