The Art Journal Adventure prompt for last week was “Eyes”. I knew instantly what I wanted to do – it just took me almost an entire week to find the time to do it. When I was a wee girl, I became fascinated with glass eyes. I saw some in a junk shop I was in with my Gran and thought they looked amazing. I was a massive fan of marbles so to me they were like really cool marbles. I wanted them but my request was denied, whether for price or for taste reasons I do not know. I would repeatedly tell my parents that I wanted to start collecting glass eyes. It never happened. This journal page, however, is inspired by that lifelong fascination with glass eyes and depicts an imagined collection of them.
This summer, in addition to our recent road trip, my in-laws decided to take the Pictlings on vacation in pairs. For the first time in over ten years, therefore, I was left with just two children to care for and keep busy. The youngest two went off on their grandparent vacation first so I had the 11 and 14 year old at home. I decided, therefore, to take them to explore a place none of us had visited: the Mercer Museum in Doylestown.
The Mercer Museum is named for Henry Chapman Mercer and reflects his pursuits and hobbies. He was a tile-maker, an avid collector, and an archaeologist and the museum showcases all of these interests. The museum building is, in fact, one of his creations. Mercer designed three poured concrete buildings, all in Doylestown: his Moravian Tile Works; his home, Fonthill; and the museum. The building, therefore, is an exhibit in its own right and – in my opinion – it was the best thing about the museum.
We started in a modern extension to the building where there was a special exhibition about one woman’s collection of quilts and a selection of marvelous dollhouses. I have no ability with sewing and could never even dream of embarking on something like a quilt but I enjoyed seeing the variety of designs and styles. All three of us liked the dollhouses for all the tiny details and the meticulous crafting of scaled household items. Soon enough, however, it was time to enter the actual museum building and it was a wow moment to step out into the central area. We were surrounded on all sides by spaces full of interesting collections but the real impact came from looking up. The museum is six or seven floors (it gets confusing) and we could stand in that first atrium area and look up through all of the floors, up to where a collection of chairs were suspended from the ceiling, our eyes darting past buggies and boats and even a fire engine that were dangling from the walls.
Walking around the Mercer Museum is like poking around in someone’s really organised attic. Each collection has its own designated nook within the space. Mercer appears to have been interested in the tools, equipment, and workshops of a wide variety of trades so each display space was themed around some industry. We saw, for example, a collection of hair combs made from tortoise shell along with the shells and the tools used to slice and carve them. There was a room dedicated to shoemaking with a large collection of cobbler’s lasts hanging on one wall. Another space was full of hats and hat-making equipment. There was a woodworking shop, a blacksmith’s furnace, a room full of spindles and spinning wheels, medical and apothecary equipment, a huge collection of lanterns, musical instruments (my kids laughed when I said the word “hurdy gurdy” with my Scottish accent), moulds for making confectionery, whaling implements, and so much more. I confess to being not very enthused by industrial history but I found this collection quite charming. With it being organised the way it was, I could quickly skim and scan the collections that I was not fussed by – such as gunsmithing – and spend more time with the items I did find more engaging, such as the glassblowing workshop.
Now, being honest, my sons were not really digging the museum. They gave passing glances to most displays but were not overly interested in the contents or in hearing me tell them about domestic industries of times past. They were, however, more interested in the large items on display. Seeing a whaleboat up close gave them an appreciation for how dangerous and difficult the job of whaling was when sent out in a relatively small, narrow and shallow whaling boat into the midst of large sea mammals. They also thought the Conestoga wagon and stagecoach were cool. One narrow little entry way took us into an area that was set up to look like a general store and they found that pretty interesting, spotting familiar items in unfamiliar packaging. Being macabre little souls (they take after me in that respect) they also liked seeing a set of gallows and implements linked to crime and punishment. We also entertained ourselves with our usual museum quest to find the ugliest and/or most offensive items on display. The various tobacco advert carvings easily won the contest.
There was a dog theme running throughout the museum. Apparently Mercer loved dogs, especially Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. We saw a statue of one on the way in and then, when we found ourselves in various children’s sections of the museum, there were a couple of cuddly dogs. Best of all, however, were a set of paw prints, made by a dog named Rollo, imprinted into the concrete between two upper floors of the museum. Finally, outside the museum, as we headed back to the car, we passed the grave markers for two pet pooches.
For them and for me, however, the whole highlight of our visit was simply the building itself. It was marvelously bonkers. Each set of stairs brought us to another level lined with strange little nooks and crannies, there were weird doorways, steps that went up only to immediately go down again, and all manner of strangely shaped windows. It was incredible to think that all of these shapes and forms and levels had been constructed by pouring concrete. We really enjoyed the experience of wandering around and never quite knowing, despite having a map, where we were going to end up. At one point, we took a staircase down to see a vast collection of stoveplates, entered an adjoining room showcasing tiles, and somehow found ourselves back in a room we had been in some time before and on a different floor altogether. It made all three of us think of Hogwart’s Castle. Thinking back to the dollhouses at the beginning of our visit, I could not help thinking about how much fun it would be to have unfettered access to the museum and play within its walls. We will now have to visit Fonthill and the Moravian Tile Works some time.
The title of this blog entry is not about me donning spandex to fight injustice superhero like nor is it about vigilante justice – as much as there are some companies and organisations who are driving me spare right now. No, nothing as exciting or creative as that. This blog is literally about taking out the trash.
Trash collection is quite different here in the Pennsylvanian town we have landed up in compared to in the remote, rural community we left in Scotland. In Scotland, regular household waste was picked up weekly and paper recycling was picked up fortnightly. We had to take responsibility for all other recycling so our back garden contained three different boxes – for metal, plastic and glass – which we had to transport to the dump every time they filled up. We are not eco-warriors by any stretch but we are eco-conscious so we did not object to the hassle or effort involved but I am pretty confident that more people there would have recycled had there been kerb side collection of such materials. Here, not only does the township collect all of the recycling but it can all be put in one bin. No sorting of materials required. It is also collected weekly. I cannot be bothered to track down the evidence but I would guess that more households recycle here as a result.
Another difference is that the whole bin collection process is automated. Back in Scotland, the bin men would walk alongside the lorry to hoik the bins onto the back of the lorry and have them flip their contents inside the lorry. Here, a solo driver scoots the lorry alongside the kerb and a mechanical arm comes out to grab the bin, toss its contents inside, and then deposit the bin back on the roadside. I have no preference because, frankly, I don’t really care how my rubbish is collected as long as it is. I am merely noting the difference.
The third thing is that here, in the appropriate season at least, the township comes to collect leaves. This is a great thing because our back garden is absolutely littered with leaves. Every three weeks we can gather them up into a large pile on the roadside and then a truck visits with a man operating a giant vacuum that sucks all the leaves up. My 4 year old finds it quite fascinating.
One area of rubbish collection is definitely better in Scotland, however, is access to dumps and recycling centres. In Scotland we could take any surplus rubbish, recycling, old electrical items and such like to the town dump where it would then be processed. Here we appear not to have any access. As a result, since we just moved here and have had to buy new things, we have a load of flattened cardboard boxes stored in the basement which we are gradually getting rid of by shoving them in the recycling bin so long as it is not already full. It’s weird that they don’t seem to permit householders to dispose of that stuff in any direct way. Apparently we can contact the township if we have any bulky items to dispose of – old furniture, for instance – and they come and collect it but I can’t help thinking they have missed an efficiency trick there by not just allowing people to go along and deposit their own waste.