Modernist 20th Century /06 June 2004


Wharton Esherick

coffee table
USA, 1958
figured mahogany
58 w × 36 d × 18 h in (147 × 91 × 46 cm)

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 a fitting title for a lifetime spent in pursuit of craft. Ironically, much of his career was spent in relative isolation; a lone artisan pursuing his own vision of high-art craftsmanship during a period when hand craftsmanship was generally held in low regard by American culture. Yet ultimately, Esherick's work helped lead to the craft renaissance of the 1960s. The table shown here is a fine example displaying the complexity and subtleties of Esherick's art. Carved signature and date: [W. E. 1958] on edge.

estimate: $30,000–40,000
result: $47,200

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Wharton Esherick 1887–1970

Wharton Esherick was an American artist and craftsman whose influence on craft furniture design and architectural forms spanned decades. Esherick pioneered the Postwar American Studio Craft movement applying a technique that bridged the gap between expressionist art and craft. His furniture was non-traditional: both sculptural and functional while focused on organic, asymmetric forms. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Esherick studied wood and metal working at Central Manual Training High School and later drawing and printmaking at the Pennsylvania Museum School of the Industrial Arts. In 1908 he received a painting scholarship to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, but did not complete the program, instead he pursued commercial art and book illustration while continuing to paint on the side.

In the early 1920s, he moved to rural Paoli, Pennsylvania in order to live a lifestyle more immersed in nature. At this time his woodworking began to take form combining modern art with hand wood shaping creating frames for his paintings which developed into carved woodcuts. By 1926 his sculpture was exhibited at the Whitney Museum in New York, and he began to hand-build a studio on his land, which in 1993 was named a National Historic Landmark and opened to the public as the Wharton Esherick Museum.

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