Wharton Esherick


In the decade before he died in 1970 at the age of 83, Wharton Esherick was heralded by the national art and design community as the "Dean of American Craftsmen." It was an accolade not previously bestowed on an American artist and an indication of the unique nature of Esherick's work and influence. Ironically, much of his career was spent working in relative isolation in Paoli, PA - an artisan pursuing his own vision of high-art craftsmanship during a period when hand craftsmanship was generally held in low regard by American culture. Ultimately, Esherick's work helped lead to the renaissance of the 1960s that re-established hand craftsmanship as the popular and highly valued activity it is today and was the model for what we now know as the American Studio Craft Movement.

Trained as a traditional academy artist at the turn of the 20th century, Wharton Esherick unsuccessfully pursued a career as a painter for many years. In 1924 he abruptly abandoned brushes and canvas for chisels and wood. Working in his Pennsylvania mountainside retreat, possessed by his own visions, Esherick combined the emerging concepts of modern art with the process of hand wood shaping in a manner that created a new genre. His sinuous organic sculptures, furniture and architectural interiors were stunningly new in their time and eventually they changed the way many designers and artisans thought about the design potential of furniture and wooden structural forms.

During his life, Esherick's work was featured at three World's Fairs and exhibited by such organizations as the Whitney Museum in the Whitney Annuals of 1932 and 1952, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Smithsonian Institution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Arts and Design and many others. In 1971, he was posthumously awarded the Craftsmanship Medal by The American Institute of Architects.  His home and studio became the Wharton Esherick Museum, open to the public.

Selected Bibliography:

"Wharton Esherick: The Journey of a Creative Mind" by Mansfield Bascom

"Wharton Esherick Studio & Collection" by Paul D. Eisenhauer

"Wharton Esherick and the Birth of the American Modern" by Paul Eisenhauer & Lynne Farrington

"Esherick, Maloof, and Nakashima: Homes of the Master Wood Artisans" by Tina Skinner