Museum Mission & History

The Wharton Esherick Museum is the home and studio of famed American artist Wharton Esherick, located atop Valley Forge Mountain in Chester County, Pennsylvania. It is our mission to preserve, maintain, and exhibit the artistic creations of the late Wharton Esherick so that the general public may gain enjoyment, education, and inspiration from Esherick’s life work. We seek to act dynamically; connecting contemporary audiences to Esherick’s legacy and brilliant creations through diverse public programs and community partnerships.

Set on 12 wooded acres, the Museum campus is comprised of multiple buildings including Wharton Esherick’s Studio, which is now the centerpiece of the Museum. Esherick’s highly individual, hand-built Studio was constructed over a 40-year period beginning in 1926, incorporating Arts and Crafts, Expressionist, and organic designs. Two years later Esherick began his 1928 Expressionist garage, now our Visitor Center. In 1973, just one year after its official opening as a museum, the Studio was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1993, the Museum was designated a National Historic Landmark for Architecture.

Though not currently available for regular tours, Esherick’s 1956 Workshop, designed in collaboration with Louis Kahn, is also a part of our campus and a treasured piece of our landmark status. Additionally, Sunekrest, the 19th-century farmhouse where the Eshericks first lived on Valley Forge Mountain, was reacquired in 2014, the Museum is currently in the early stages of a campus planning process to explore how the farmhouse can be incorporated into the Museum experience.

The most recent addition to our campus is the Diamond Rock Schoolhouse. A Chester County landmark, this historic octagonal one-room schoolhouse located at the base of Diamond Rock Hill was an early painting studio for Esherick and is open to the public during select summer events.

The Wharton Esherick Museum is a proud member of the Historic Artists’ Homes & Studios.

About Wharton Esherick

Wharton Esherick (1887 – 1970) was an internationally significant figure in the landscape of art history and American modern design. As a sculptor, Esherick worked primarily in wood and extended his unique forms to furniture, furnishings, interiors, buildings, and more. His motto, “If it isn’t fun, it isn’t worth doing,” is evident in the joyful expression of his work. Now recognized as a leader of the Studio Furniture Movement, Esherick saw himself as an artist, not a craftsman, and his concern was with form, not technique. He pursued his artistic vision in forms that might turn to furniture or other sculptural furnishings. More importantly, these were but one aspect of his art complemented by the paintings, prints, drawings, poetry, and sculpture he also created.

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.

Your support helps us preserve and share Wharton's legacy for generations to come.