We visited Henry Chapman Mercer’s house in Doylestown, Pennsylvania yesterday. It is likely the most fascinating and eclectic home I’ve ever seen and it would probably take a full month of exploration to take in a majority of the details. Henry was many things, but by trade he owned a tile factory. It was custom work and very detailed, not a subway tile type factory. He was also fascinated by castles and built his own house out of concrete, many pieces of furniture and windows were made of this medium as well. It was a mix of Medieval, Gothic, and Byzantine style, and paid tribute to the five languages he spoke as well as phrases Henry found worthy. He filled in each crevice with designed tile work, art and tapestry which are representative of world history and personal tributes. Unfortunately, we were unable to photograph the interior of the home.
Henry was single and never had any children, so his “baby” in a way was his art and his yearning for knowledge and creativity. He was generous, innovative and “green” before that became trendy. Some may have said he was cheap, but I say he was resourceful. After years of travelling the world post-college, he finally achieved his aspiration to live in a castle of his own. He started the project at 51 years old and alongside ten workers, the castle was finished in four years.
My husband and I started to contemplate a few things as we stumbled out of the place, overwhelmed and inspired. We wondered if Mercer would have attempted and/or completed such a masterpiece had he had a wife and children.
We thought about the philosophers, inventors, innovators and artists that we respect and started to realize that so many were single dreamers. They did not have the weight of child rearing on their shoulders or the responsibility to provide for others. They could work on their projects for days on end without coming up for air and throw their lives completely into their work. Did they do it because they had nothing else, or is it impossible to change the world and be a family man at the same time? Was a life of solitude the cause or the result of their achievements?
Can a scientist find a cure for cancer and make it to all the PTA meetings? Can a gallery full of art be painted by a parent who needs to be present to teach the ABC’s? Can a marriage be happy when one spouse is in their office/studio/lab more than in their love’s arms? Can we give that much of ourselves to other people and still change the world?
I’m not sure what exactly we would have to offer the world that would carry a sense of awe to future generations, but often we think we are pretty capable of something earth shattering. As we go forward and the longer we don’t have children, I wonder if that is something to consider. Maybe we are meant for something different from our friends and family who do the family thing. Maybe our place in the world is different than even we thought it would be. I think whatever happens, we’ll create something beautiful. We just have to figure out what goes on the blank canvas for us.