Esherick’s carved forms, rather than function as mere decoration, produced meaning—not as a kind of narrative symbolism as in many craft objects, but as a design function, grounding the experience of his work in a consciousness of self-awareness and connectedness.
Sheryl Conkelton, Art historian
Over several years in the late 1950s, Esherick created more than 25 pieces for the Main Line home of Lawrence and Alice Siever. The custom works for the Seivers include his first ever sofa design as well as several tables, lamps and more; their interior would become one of the most important commissions of the later portion of Esherick's career.
I would tell Wharton what I needed. But I never told him what it should look like, and I never asked when I would get it.
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.
Esherick’s work was featured in three World’s Fairs, and in 1958 he was honored by a retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Craft in New York as well as awarded the Gold Medal for Craftsmanship from the American Institute of Architects in 1971. His work has been exhibited by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Smithsonian Institution, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York among many others.
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