Esherick’s influence spread from theater, to furniture, to dance. He’s considered a seminal figure in American Modernism.
An woodcarving exhibit at the University of Pennsylvania depicts a furniture maker from Paoli as one of the seminal figures of American Modernism. Wharton Esherick died in 1970 and is now recognized for his influence beyond just tables and chairs.
Esherick is known, by those who know him at all, as an expressionistic woodworker. Even his oddly angular outhouse looks taken from the set of the German silent film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Paul Eisnehauer is the curator at the Wharton Esherick Museum in Paoli.
“He often said the wood would tell him what to do. As he worked with the wood it would lead him in new directions.”
A series of planned exhibits and performances show how a young Esherick used wood to embrace all disciplines of Modernism, from poetry to dance to architecture. Two galleries at the University of Pennslvania display his sculptural furniture and his connections with progressive artists of his day – including architect Louis Kahn and playwright Theodore Dreiser. William Whitaker is a curator at Penn.
“Esherick was able to bridge these artistic endeavors in ways others weren’t. His sensibility of motion and how to capture that in sculpted form that we could call furniture is really remarkable.”
In addition to the gallery shows at Penn, Hedgerow Theater in Media will revive Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, for which Esherick designed the original set.