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September 22, 2014


Filed under: wharton esherick — Tags: — jherzlinger @ 7:55 am

I was browsing an auction catalog, a modern auction catalog and came across Wharton Esherick and I had never heard of him and was intrigued by the asking price, which almost doubled! I thought the table was Nakashima and i read it wrong.  But no.

So I decided to find out about him and share what I found. OK so, ESHERICK is the founder really, of sorts, of this whole carving and organic movement in furniture around 1913-20′s 30′s.  So consider the time period.  The world is awakening to post Rococo and all of the ornamentation,

going into world wars, the start of Deco, then Nouveau,and now think of the posts I did on nakashima and Noguchi and their influences.  I always thought those two were the start, so to speak of the whole, organic, slab table that Hudson is doing now which is so clever with the

polished metal bases.  but alas, you see, just when you think you know something, or rather I do, I realize I know very little and am always so happy to learn more.

Wharton Esherick (July 15, 1887 – May 6, 1970) was a sculptor who worked primarily in wood. He reveled in applying the principles of sculpture to common utilitarian objects. Consequently he is best known for his sculptural furniture and furnishings. Esherick was recognized in his lifetime by

his peers as the “dean of American craftsmen” for his leadership in developing non-traditional designs, and encouraging and inspiring artists/craftspeople by example. Esherick’s influence continues to be seen in the work of current artisans, particularly in the studio furniture movement.

Born in Philadelphia, Esherick studied painting at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Arts (now the University of the Arts and at the Pennsylvania school of Fine Arts. In 1913 he moved to a farmhouse near Paoli, Pennsylvania to pursue his painting career. He began carving decorative frames for his paintings in 1920,

which led to making woodcut prints and finally to sculpture.

Esherick’s early furniture was derived from the Arts and Crafts style, and decorated with surface carving. In the late 1920s he abandoned carving on his furniture, focusing instead on the pure form of the pieces as sculpture. In the 1930s he was producing sculpture and furniture influenced by the organicism

of Rudolf Steiner, as well as by German Expressionism and Cubism. The angular and prismatic forms of the latter two movements gave way to the free-form curvilinear shapes for which he is best known.

From furniture and furnishings, he progressed to interiors, the most famous being the Curtis Bok House (1935–37). Though the house was demolished, Esherick’s work was saved.

In 1940, George Howe used Esherick’s Spiral Stair (1930) and Esherick furniture to create the “Pennsylvania Hill House” exhibit in the New York World’s Fair “America at Home” Pavilion. Esherick’s work was also featured in a 1958 retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Craft and in the 1972 “Woodenworks” exhibition

at the Renwick Gallery. He exhibited hundreds of times during his life and his work is now in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Whitney Museum in New York, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and many other museums. Most of his work remains in private hands.

His greatest creation was his home and studio, outside of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The buildings evolved over forty years as Esherick lived and worked there. He continued working on the studio until his death in 1970. In 1972 the studio was converted into the Wharton Esherick Museum. The property, known as Wharton Esherick Studio

was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1993.




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