If ever there were two individuals who engaged the world with a no holds barred, engaged enlightenment, it would be Wharton Esherick and Jack Lenor Larsen. Each brought the beauty of the imagined and unimagined to life in bold strokes. It is no wonder then that Esherick and Larsen were kindred spirits in art and craft, not to mention friends.
The mission of LongHouse Reserve is to live with art in all its forms, to be a case study for living life artfully. Nowhere is that more evident than in the collection of Wharton Esherick pieces at LongHouse.
Esherick archway from the Curtis Bok House that frames the LongHouse living room. LongHouse Reserve Collection, gift of Jack Lenor Larsen.
Wharton Esherick was present at the creation of the American craft and studio furniture movement, and in fact ,he made it possible. His work is in the collections of the Met, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. Every piece speaks to his limitless vision, non-conformity and a sense of delight in the work. Esherick's motto, "If it's not fun, it's not worth doing" is like an iridescent thread that is woven into every piece.
Treasured works in the LongHouse Collection from Wharton Esherick include a dining table and four chairs, two stools, a shelf and a three sided mirror. LongHouse Reserve Collection, gift of Jack Lenor Larsen.
The dining set was featured at the "America at Home" pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair. The Fair's "A Pennsylvania Hill House" was a collaboration between architect George Howe and Wharton Esherick.
This softwood painted bench is also an Esherick originally made for a porch. LongHouse Reserve Collection, gift of Jack Lenor Larsen.
Esherick was always a rebel. He went to a trade school, and then studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. There he worked under painters like William Merritt Chase, but he found the program stifling and quit a few weeks before graduation. He chose to immerse himself in the modern and nontraditional approach to art that was forbidden at the academy.
Music stand by Esherick, 1962. LongHouse Reserve Collection, gift of Jack Lenor Larsen.
In 1913 Esherick and his young wife, moved to an old stone farmhouse in Paoli, 25 miles west of Philadelphia. He supported himself as an illustrator and painted in an Impressionist style in his free time. In 1919 he went to teach art at a utopian artists’ colony in Fairhope, Ala. Esherick began experimenting with woodcut printing and carving picture frames. When he returned to Pennsylvania in 1920, he won commissions to do woodcuts for books and magazines. Much to his chagrin he saw that his carved frames elicited more interest than his paintings, which were not selling.
By 1925 Esherick had given up painting altogether and devoted himself to woodblock printing, wood sculpting and making sculptural furniture. He was trying to be original, which seemed easier in wood than in oil paint. Esherick built his home and studio by hand: not only the furniture, stairs, doors and floors, but also cutting boards, bowls, coat pegs, light fixtures and kitchen utensils. Esherick worked up to the day he died at 82, a true original and a master artist and craftsman.
Wharton Esherick's library ladder, 1965. Longhouse Reserve Collection, gift of Jack Lenor Larsen.
As the kids say, "game recognizes game" and how lucky for us all that Esherick and Larsen recognized and celebrated the boundless creativity in one another and shared it with the world.
A look inside the Wharton Esherick studio, now the Wharton Esherick Museum.
Wharton Esherick, 1934, photo by Emil Luks