Last month the tents went up, we brought out the tablecloths and packed Horseshoe Trail with the cars of museum friends, family and docents as we hosted our Annual Members’ Party! This event is held each September, but the excitement around it extends far beyond, and for good reason. It is often mentioned to new visitors as the one day a year they can go inside the 1956 Workshop designed by Louis Kahn (and that is worth it!) – but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a gathering of old and new friends, a chance to reconnect with the community Wharton’s work has inspired and we thought this was a good time to shed a little light on where this party has been and where it’s going!
First of all, this party goes waaay back. Basically, the museum was incorporated in 1972 and we’ve been partying ever since. Of course things have changed over time – looking back through our photos it seems we’ve tried facing the chairs in every possible direction, to say nothing of the polyester plaid pants. More substantially, the Members’ Party has come to serve as the opening reception and award ceremony for the Annual Woodworking Competition, hosted in our Visitor Center exhibition space.
Established in 1994 (thanks to Morton Weiss – a founding member of the museum who both conceived of the event and provided the funds) the goal of the competition has always been to encourage imaginative works that merge the sculptural and the functional. The theme this year was frames, and our exhibiting artists did not disappoint! The pieces on view achieve a range of styles from the delicate to the hearty with exceptional skill. This component of the afternoon is a wonderful opportunity for our museum community to meet with artists and support ongoing woodwork and design.
Members present at the party also cast their votes for the frame most deserving of the Member’s Choice Award, while the jury deliberates who gets First (the Dr. Henry Jordan Best in Show), Second, Third and the Horace Hartshaw Award (an award for best High School entry named after the last apprentice to work under Wharton). You can view a full gallery of the exhibition on our facebook page.
The day’s program also includes a guest speaker, and we’ve had many brilliant ones over the years – check out our previous blog post “Wharton to Wendell” for Wendell Castle’s remarks at the 1992 Members’ Party. This year Mark Sfirri (renowned woodworker, teacher and Esherick scholar) shared with us his recent research on John Schmidt, the cabinetmaker who was such an integral part of Wharton’s studio. Mark had established correspondence with Schmidt’s granddaughter, Margie Cooke, who was graciously able to provide photos of Schmidt – and who we were happy to have in attendance at the party!
Mark also took this opportunity to flip through a yearbook entitled Cinagro from the Marietta School of Organic Education, the progressive school which served as the impetus for the Esherick’s first trip to Farihope, Alabama, a trip which certainly changed the course of their lives. Cinagro (organic spelled backwards) will also now be part of the museum’s collection – thanks Mark!
The newest edition to the party program, put into full force this year, was the silent auction. With over twenty items and gift packages donated from artists, local museums, art organizations, restaurants and more the auction proved a great success. This year’s hot item was a beautiful slab of walnut donated by Hearne Hardwoods. Fundraising activities like these are exceedingly important in helping us steward this treasured place.
This year’s party was distinct in that it was dedicated to Ruth Esherick Bascom, Wharton’s daughter and co-founder of the Museum, who passed away in 2015. Mansfield “Bob” Bascom, Ruth’s husband and Museum co-founder, closed the event this year by sharing a few warm stories in her honor. A bulletin board on display collected photos of Ruth brought by friends over the course of the day allowing everyone to share their fond memories. Bob also announced the official donation to the museum of a number of Wharton’s sculptures that have been in Bob and Ruth’s personal collection. To end the evening friends of the Bascoms were invited in for beer and chocolate cake, Ruth’s favorite way to celebrate.
In recent years invitation to the party has been extended to include non-members as we strive to share the site with a broader audience and ensure the support we need as a donor-dependent organization! Naturally, our members are our greatest ambassadors, and Wharton’s legacy is expanded through your passion and commitment to sharing in our mission.
This event has been growing and changing to meet the needs of the Wharton Esherick Museum and its community since its inception, but one goal remains the same – to share in the joy of Wharton’s work and the exceptional people that have been drawn together by it. Join the party!
You can learn more about the benefits of becoming a member by clicking here.
Post written by Visitor Experience and Program Specialist, Katie Wynne.