Wharton Esherick Museum: Homage to a Rebel Craftsman

“Be sure to touch the railing on the way down,” the guide at the Wharton Esherick Museum urged as we descended the hand-crafted red oak spiral staircase. “It isn’t every day that you get to feel the tusk of a mastodon.”

No. And a visit to this leafy Valley Forge property isn’t your typical house tour. This is the studio (and later home) of Esherick, a master craftsman whose motto was “if it isn’t fun, it isn’t worth doing.” The building pays homage to Pennsylvania’s stone barns, an artist’s fascination with the concave and convex, and the use of recycled materials long before it was trendy to do so. Esherick used branches from the property’s wild cherry tree to make the dining room’s wood paneling. Rejected walnut and applewood scraps make up the curvilinear floor. And the artist’s cantilevered chairs, desks, and tables can be found throughout the house, along with whimsical sculptures of horses, pheasants, and Winnie the Pooh.

Esherick, who studied painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, lived “hand to mouth” most of his life, according to the museum, bartering oak chairs for his children’s tuition and only gaining recognition as a pioneer of American Modern furniture after his death in 1970.

A visit to his home offers a glimpse into his creative, thoroughly rebellious mind.

Tours are $12 per person and available on weekdays by appointment for groups of 5 or more, and Saturday and Sunday for individuals or groups; the museum closes in January and February. Combine a trip here with a visit to Valley Forge National Park (5 minutes away) or an evening at Hedgerow Theatre, a repertory theater in Rose Valley that Esherick was heavily involved with, along with Edward Albee and Richard Basehart.

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