While the Museum is closed to tours during the winter months, the staff still reports Monday – Friday to work of various projects like exhibit installation, archival/collection work, preservation projects and much, much more. Who are these staff members exactly? You may have met one or two when you’ve come for a tour, but read on and let us introduce you to the crew (or as we refer to ourselves: Team WEM)
Paul Eisenhauer, Executive Director & Curator
Paul started as a docent in 2003, became the Program Director in 2005, the Curator in 2008 and the Executive Director in 2010. Before WEM, Paul was an Associate Professor of Sociology at Chestnut Hill College. He received his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania where he specialized in prison history. He entered the museum field doing volunteer work at Eastern State Penitentiary in its first years open to the public (it’s also his favorite site to visit, besides WEM of course). Outside of work, Paul works with prisoners at SCI Graterford through Temple University’s Inside Out Prison Exchange Program. Paul is an amateur woodworker, which is what first brought him to the Museum. He enjoys carving spoons and bowls and enjoys music and folk dancing.
His favorite parts of working at WEM are giving tours and researching Wharton and his fascinating life. Spoken like a true Executive Director, Paul’s vision for the Museum is to keep it moving forward as we go through the many changes that are occurring. Paul also plans to continue to spread the word about Esherick until his reputation matches his influence in 20th century American furniture and sculpture. He also plans to continue to bring Eshericks’s work to the public through exhibitions and publications.
When asked what Esherick piece he’d like to own, Paul couldn’t choose just one. His favorites included Oblivion, Reverence, the Library Ladder, the olive spoon in the kitchen, Babbie & Colt, the Fischer Corner Desk, the Dannenberg Dining Room, Twin Twist and Wharton’s Memo pad. He encourages everyone who envies his job to become a volunteer – you never know where it will lead.
Laura Heemer, Assistant Curator & Program Director
Laura started working at WEM as the part time Museum Assistant in 2010 and was promoted in 2012 to the full time Assistant Curator & Program Director. Laura holds a BA in Historic Preservation from the University of Mary Washington with a focus on Museum Studies. Before working at WEM she interned at the James Monroe Museum in Fredericksburg, VA and hopped from one Chester County site to the another starting at The Mill at Anselma, then on to The Chester County Historical Society, Historic Yellow Springs and Valley Forge National Park. During her internship at Ansemla she picked up a brochure for WEM noting the “awesome staircase” on the front and planned to come for a visit but never did. Seeing the job posting for the Museum Assistant finally got her here, and she’s been hooked ever since.
Laura couldn’t choose just one favorite part of the job – working at a small museum you get to do so many wonderful things! As a self professed “museum geek” she loves working with the collection, cataloging and photographing it; working that close with Wharton’s work is a real treat. She loves the physical location of WEM and watching the weather change the look and feel of the hillside, she has a great view from her desk in the Visitor’s Center. She also enjoys interacting with visitors and the wonderful team of docents. Laura would like to see WEM do more demonstration days with the printing press, it’s always fun to see Wharton’s press in action. Wharton’s “Washington Press” is one of her favorite pieces in the museum, but of Esherick’s own work, her favorite is Babbie and Colt.
Outside of WEM Laura loves to go “museum hopping” (she recently started a blog: Making Museums Matter). She loves to go hiking & kayaking; is a youth leader and sings on the worship team at her church. She’s a diehard Red Sox fan and enjoys going to baseball games. Her favorite historic site to visit: Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts. Louisa May Alcott is her favorite historical figure and “Little Women” her favorite book, she said visiting Orchard House felt like going home.
Ashley Harper, Business Manager
Our newest staff member Ashley, grew up in Wharton’s front yard, attending high school in Malvern and upon graduation set out to see the world. She received a degree in the History of Art from the University of Michigan then moved abroad and lived in England, France and Italy. She received a Master’s Degree in Museum Studies from the University of Manchester then lived out of a suitcase for awhile, traveling through Europe and India. She worked in finance for a year but has spent the past few years working at various local historic sites including the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Bartram’s Garden and the Penn Museum where she has worked on digital archives projects, grant writing and programs. One thing she likes about her role at WEM is that it draws upon the accumulative strength of all of her experiences. WEM’s gardener Nancy Long is the one who encouraged Ashley to apply for the job knowing she’d be a perfect fit!
Ashley has been at WEM for a short time and when asked what her favorite part of the job and what her personal goals for WEM were responded with: ask me when taxes are finished! Her favorite part of the WEM collection is Wharton’s library. She says that as someone who likes to work creatively, she enjoys figuring out the influences and context around how a beautiful piece of art is made. Not just the physical crafting techniques but the mental exertions – the personal triumphs and tragedies. That way, when she finally figures out what her talent is, she can utilize all that knowledge and retire on a nice commission.
Outside of work Ashley likes to do a lot of things from “the real to the random”. For example: cult practices, Pirate watching, conundrums, reading books (especially on history/art history related topics). She enjoys sports such as biking and playing ultimate Frisbee and she likes to knit and do photography (sometimes at the same time). She also enjoys blogging about Philadelphia’s First Fridays (http://larevegauchearts.com/) and has recently been working with a friend to help organize the development of an Artist’s residence in Downingtown, PA. She couldn’t choose a favorite museum or cultural event as there are too many to choose from, but said chatting with Bob and Ruth here at WEM might be her favorite.
She says to anyone out there reading this, she’s happy to have been invited on board and looks forward to getting to know everyone better. There’s never a bad time to stop in and say hi, otherwise, keep an eye out because you never know when she will pop up.
Coming up next: meet our part time staff, followed by a glimpse into the friendship of Wharton Esherick and Sherwood Anderson.
Post written by Laura Heemer with contributions from Paul Eisenhauer and Ashley Harper.