Wharton Esherick when he is older looks thoughtfully out a window as afternoon light illuminates his face. He leans his arm on the windowsill and is wearing a collared shirt and a dark blue cardigan.

Wharton Esherick in 1966, photo by Donald McKinley. Wharton Esherick Museum Collection.


This month we are celebrating Wharton Esherick’s birthday (July 15, 1887) with a poem from his daughter Mary — whose own birthday falls just one day after her father’s — and her husband Bob White. Transcribed from the original document held in our museum archives, the poem captures Wharton’s “zest for life” — as well as a charming anecdote regarding his first words! Happy birthday to Wharton – and happy birthday, Mary!



A Happy Birthday




We sing a short song to a birth…

And thru’ long years of sorrow and mirth.

The lyric begins in the year ’87,

When the Eshericks received a twin bundle from heaven.

The wise little girl they chose to call Dotty.

Of much about her our knowing is spotty;

Except that her voice was very soon heard,

While little twin brother said nary a word…

Until the year our Wharton reached three,

When he looked in the glass at his personal ‘me’

And said, with a smile: “Doesn’t Wharton look nice!”

In a voice quite clear and also precise.


Now the years pass, and our hero grows older.

His zest for life, ‘tis said, grows bolder.

At young people’s dances he’s quite a success

As he waltzes blonde Dotty in her bright yellow dress.

Yet, our gay young blade was no shining student.

He was wont to be more feisty than prudent.

But his skill as a draftsman helped him to ‘pass’,

And he also drew tests for his hand-awkward class.


And now we move on to a budding career

Which his family regards with some pride and some fear.

For where are the guide-lines, slide rules or charts

For any bright youth in search of the arts?

Could it have been Pop’s workbench inspired

Young Wharton to know he’d surely be hired,

To work in the arts, the love of his life –

No matter the struggle, no matter the strife?


At the fine arts school he found magic in paint:

To draw life as it is… and life as it ain’t;

Soon he gave rein to his towering notion…

Of setting down nature in still and in motion.

His subjects were mountains and men and their trees.

Before many years, he found that of these

‘Twas the towering oak that held him in thrall;

To sculpt of its wood… that was life’s all!


And so it has been… and the years add by the score;

Bring dollars and fame and, oh very much more!

Art lovers and critic of many a land

Cherish the fruit of his dexterous hand.


So now on this day in the midst of July –

When 78 summers have said, ‘Ah, now, good bye’

We will not say it, in this year of our Lord;

We’re too proud to be bound by invisible chord

Of affection and blood, and also too few…

Years of knowing ‘Pop’ Wharton… that’s you!



Mary & Bob

left is a typed letter; right image is Wharton in a faintly lit woodshop.

The birthday poem for Esherick in our museum archives; Esherick in the workshop circa 1965.


Learn more about Wharton’s daughter, Mary Esherick White.

Explore the Finding Aid for the Wharton Esherick Family Papers.


July 15, 2021