Esherick Museum is a woodworking mecca

comments (4) August 21st, 2014 in blogs

AsaC Asa Christiana, Special Projects Editor, Fine Woodworking magazine
thumbs up 17 users recommend

Esherick designed his house to fit in with the barns of Chester County. He developed a method of coloring and spraying concrete in order to give the silo a tie-dyed look.
The house is full of Eshericks furniture, displaying his full evolution as a maker. Back left you can just see a big sculpture poking up through the open center of the house.
You get to walk up and down Eshericks two-part spiral stairs, which lead to all parts of the house and include a mastodon tusk as a handrail.
The kitchen is an example of Eshericks boundless creativity. The table has one leg, the hand-fitted cherry floor makes the pattern of a woman with hand on hip, the shelves have raised, carved edges to keep cups from falling, and the light fixtures are handmade from a variety of materials.
Eshericks handcarved platters and vessels have inspired many others.
Esherick had an amazing gift for sculpture.
When one of his wood sculptures proved to be popular, he would have castings made, like the artists version of Winnie the Pooh.
The house is built into the side of a hill, and Esherick had his evening cocktails on a curvy deck overlooking the wooded valley below.
This barn is the first building Esherick built on the property. It now houses the gift store. Notice how the peak is skewed to the right.
That shift gives the roof a deep curve on both sides. Cedar shingles have no problem following.
Like his home, Eshericks studio buildings have no square corners. Check out the faux-dovetails, and the indigo wash on the concrete, intended to look like blue jeans.
I love the artists stylized signature. The W, for Wharton, is a sunrise motif that Esherick used often in his home and furniture.
Esherick designed his house to fit in with the barns of Chester County. He developed a method of coloring and spraying concrete in order to give the silo a tie-dyed look. - CLICK TO ENLARGE

Esherick designed his house to fit in with the barns of Chester County. He developed a method of coloring and spraying concrete in order to give the silo a tie-dyed look.

Photo: Lucy Christiana

I've only been to only three other places that are anything like the Wharton Esherick Museum: Sam Maloof's compound, Nakashima studios, and the Gamble House in Pasadena. In all four the furniture, buildings, art, and environment are all of a piece, the bountiful outpouring of artists who never stopped creating, and saw no divisions between their living spaces and everything inside them. All of them loved wood first and foremost, but each had a fearless approach to materials and methods of all kinds.

Who wouldn't want to surround themselves with a completely handmade world? These men actually did it. Through their furniture, they also ushered in the idea of the fine woodworker, who sees no division between art and craft.

In Philadelphia last week for a college visit, I took my daughter and in-laws to the Esherick museum, just 1/2 hour outside the city, in the town of Paoli. As I had hoped, they were just as blown away and inspired as I was. Tours are by appointment only, but they are easy to set up.

Like Maloof, Esherick started by drawing, constantly. His first forays into wood were frames for his paintings. Later he made some of the most captivating wood block prints I've seen. That led to wood sculpture, and then carving on furniture, and then fully realized furniture, with a flowing, modern style that has been hugely influential.

But what is most amazing about his house and studios is how the art and invention never end, from handcrafted lighting fixtures that swing out to where they are needed at the moment, to completely efficient handcrafted spaces that are like a ship's cabin, to a three-story "sculpture well" that passes through the center of the house.

Just like 13 years ago, when I first visited, I left deeply inspired to make my next home handmade from top to bottom, inside and out. Please visit if you get the chance.


posted in: blogs, esherick, wharton, house, museum, pennsylvania


Comments (4)

gyrog gyrog writes: When we have the opportunity to visit the environment of a skilled, prolific and creative woodworker, we can feel a little of what it was like for that talented person to live each day in their little piece of heaven. I find that most of the people who are able to enjoy a work/play environment such as Esherick or Maloof have sought out a remotely tranquil and beautiful location where disturbances and distractions are minimal. Understandably, we would like to spend as much time as we could in such place if only we were willing to struggle for years to put food on the table, just as those hard working unknown artisans did back when they were starting their professions. We have a way of overlooking all the hard days and seeing only the results of their toil and endurance. And I do appreciate the beauty and the ideas that these masters left behind. To see all that went into those creations, one can only try to envision; Ah-h-h, but that is a large part of the experience and the satisfaction.
Thanks for the great pictures, Lucy, and thanks for sharing your visit with us, Asa.
Posted: 6:42 pm on September 5th

AsaC AsaC writes: Thanks, Gmoney. I'll tell her. She's just 16, and loves photography. And she loved the Esherick house, too! If a typical teen is inspired by it, you know it's good!
Posted: 8:45 pm on September 1st

gmoney gmoney writes: Fabulous inspiration in this article. Lucy did a beautiful job with the photographs too.
Posted: 7:30 am on August 30th

old saw old saw writes: What! No pictures of Esherick's cool homemade bandsaw built from bicycle wheels? Aww, man!
Posted: 6:55 am on August 30th

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