After studying painting , 25 year old Esherick headed out of Philly into the mountainous countryside of Paoli, Pennsylvania. There he found solitude in a dilapidated farmhouse. In 1919, Esherick wintered in Fairhope, Alabama as faculty at the School of Organic Education where he first began working wood. You see, in Fairhope, Esherick truly fell in love with wood and the woods. But when he returned to Paoli, he found the mountainside that overshadowed his farmhouse threatened by industrial developers. As we all do when strapped for cash, he borrowed money from his grandmother to buy the remaining acreage to connect his property, at the base, with the summit land.
Now he had to repay his grandmother! To better sell his paintings, he carved wooden frames and distributed woodblock print invitations. The prospective customers, visiting his barn gallery, were more interested in the frames than the art! "One visitor who came into the house was enamored of Esherick's unusual dining table and offered to buy it. Desperately in need of cash, Esherick sold it and made another one for his family." Thus was his investment in Design!
All the time he lived in Paoli, Esherick manufactured what he and his family needed; his art and life paralleled. He began heavily ornamenting exotic woods, but gradually he eschewed the exotic for the local. As he wandered the back roads he found inspiration in the very forms of the native forest. This led to his free-form furniture with "tree angles and tree forms".
In 1926, he laid the foundation, literally, for what would be his life's work: his mountaintop studio. He looked to the giants of Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolph Steiner for inspiration; a building should harmonize with and grow from its environment. Esherick's reclusive innovations inspired his contribution to the 1939-40 New York World's Fair. But this did little to disrupt his reclusive existence. He continued until his death to design and create in his home and his art, for they are one and the same.
So Wharton Esherick, mountain hermit, designed to survive, designed to live. He sold his kitchen table to preserve his property and solitude. He certainly is an example that design can be much more than a career. And if you are near Philadelphia, you can go see it!
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team