Wharton Esherick (1887-1970)
Wharton Esherick was an artist whose talent for functional sculpture led him to bridge the gap between craft and fine art in the 20th century. He is considered the father of modern American studio furniture.
Esherick began his career as a painter, but a financially unsuccessful one. By 1926 he abandoned painting for sculpture and started making furniture. During the 1930s he received commissions for furniture from several patrons who provided him the freedom to develop his artistic vocabulary and produce some of his most imaginative furniture designs.
By the close of the 1930s Esherick had developed the curving organic forms that are the hallmark of his work. He softly sculpted his furniture (which he termed “Expressionist”) with fluid and sensual edges that invite touch. He also loved internal mechanics such as hidden corner hinges that pivot roundly rather than slide straight out.
Esherick first gained exposure on the national stage when the architect George Howe incorporated his work in the America at Home pavilion at the 1939-1940 World's Fair. But most of Esherick's designs were one-of-a-kind pieces produced for private homes and Philadelphia area clients. (Exceptions include his three-legged stool with sculpted top, aerodynamic music stand, and spiral library steps.) The Bok House was demolished in 1989, but the Esherick interiors were preserved and pieces can be seen at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami, Florida. The home and studio he designed in X, PA have been converted into the Wharton Esherick Museum and are open to the public.
Esherick’s work is held by many major institutions, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.