A few years ago I was working on a job where a patio was being torn up and thrown in a dumpster. There was an empty flower planter sitting on it that I suspected was being thrashed too, so I asked the homeowner about it. He said that if I wanted it I could have it and he’d help me load it in my van.
Once I brought it home and took my first good look at it, I realized I had something very special. The planter was made out of concrete and looked very old. It was made in the style of the Arts and Crafts Movement and was decorated with familiar looking tile that I had seen years ago at a museum in Doylestown, Pa.
That museum is the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works and it is a working museum operating in the original restored factory. In one wing, craft workers make tile using the same molds and methods used 100 years ago. The tiles are then sold in the museum gift shop and online.
I filled the planter with fresh potting soil, put in some flowers, and admired its rugged beauty. Hoping to confirm my hunch about the origin of the tile, I visited the museum’s website and learned that they were in fact Moravian tile and many were still in production. I took pictures of the planter and drove the 40 miles to Doylestown where I showed them to the museum’s curator, Vance Koehler. He was quite impressed and told me that in the early 1900’s the company had briefly sold concrete planters decorated with their tile. Mine was not one of them but he felt mine was just as old and was in some respects more ornate than anything they had offered.
I purchased some tiles, returned home, and began working on molds to re-create this remarkable planter. After several weeks of design failures and solutions, I achieved the mold I was looking for. It took a few more weeks to develop the best concrete mixture, the right casting techniques, and a method for setting the tile.
The final product was stunning, and like a proud parent I took pictures and drove back to the museum. I showed them to the curator who was once again very impressed. He then had something he wanted me to see. It was an old booklet from 1910 entitled Concrete Pottery and Garden Furniture. It contained a photo of a planter very similar to mine and a photo of the artisan who created it. One chapter described and illustrated how to create such a planter using Moravian tiles and wooden molds. The resulting product would have the same dimensions as my planter!
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