Born and raised in Philadelphia, Esherick studied drawing and printmaking at the Pennsylvania Museum School of Industrial Art and painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. At the height of American Impressionism he and his wife, Letty, joined the flight of painters from the city to the countryside. They settled in an old farmhouse near semi-rural Paoli – with enough level land to grow their own food in the event the paintings didn’t sell.
His interest in wood began in 1920 with the carving of simple representational designs on frames for his paintings. This led to carving woodcuts – some 350 blocks and nine illustrated books – and carving on furniture. In the early 1920s he began sculpting in wood, then considered solely a craft medium. Gravitating towards direct carving and interior furnishings, Esherick had begun his lifelong exploration of the nature of wood and its dynamic material quality. By 1926 his sculpture was being exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and he turned to the construction, the expression in space, of his Studio.
Spanning the 50-year period from 1920 until his death in 1970, Esherick evolved from the organic forms of the Arts and Crafts period, through the sharp-edged crystalline shapes of Expressionism, to the curvilinear free-forms for which he is best known. He created furniture that would pass as sculpture, and sculpture that functioned as furniture, bridging the gap between art and craft. He welcomed commissions for one-of-a-kind furniture and interiors, not just for the income, but for the joy of creating new, exciting forms for everyday uses and developed long-lasting relationships with dedicated patrons along the way.
In 1940, Esherick presented a room of his work and furnishings at the New York World’s Fair, his first major exhibition. During his lifetime, Esherick was also honored with a Gold Medal from the New York Architectural League and, in 1958, the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York (now the Museum of Arts and Design) held a major retrospective of his work. In 1972, not long after his passing, the Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. featured many Esherick pieces in the exhibition Woodenworks, introducing his work to a new generation of artists.
In addition to private commissions, Esherick’s work is represented nationally in the permanent collections of more than 20 major museums and galleries, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Art, Boston, and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.