Sometimes you stumble upon something so perfect that you exclaim (sometimes even out loud) “Where have you been all my life?!” I felt this way when I cross sectioned and twisted my first avocado open in my early twenties. I felt this way when I discovered the Women in Manufacturing association, or when Spotify Discover Weekly instantly became more legitimate by slipping this gem into my playlist a few weeks back. This is not one of those times.
To the ghost and legacy of Wharton Esherick I proclaim: Thank you for helping me find you right now. This was the perfect moment to discover your work. Your ingenuity was just what I needed.
A friend of mine, who, coincidentally also makes extremely clever furniture says, “they sell you on the freedom (of being an entrepreneur), but you don’t really hear about the rest of it.” While I feel unbelievably lucky to be deeply immersed in the minute, medium-sized, and epic aspects of X Swimwear right now, every entrepreneur hits times when they feel bogged down by details and too deep in the forest to see the trees.
Ironically, a weekend away from my studio on a wee trek with my mother into the Pennsylvania woods to the Wharton Esherick Museum was just what I needed. Maybe I needed a real forest and not a metaphorical one.
Wharton Esherick was a pretty prolific sculptor and woodworker for many decades. If that doesn’t impress you, I’ll also note that the structures on the property are very hobbity in nature. One was co-designed by my favorite architect, Louis Kahn, though they don’t let you inside that one.
I like very much that the docents let you touch all the wood surfaces inside the museum and that you get to climb up that amazing spiral staircase made from an old redwood with a mammoth tusk (it was a different time, OK?) as a railing up to ol’ Wharton’s bedroom where his bed is tucked all nice and high against some charming little windows that frame an extraordinary view of the treetops.
The docent described him mostly as headstrong, driven, and Hemmingway-brand cantankerous, but elements of his design made him also seem like a very considerate person. Lots of curves in couches in which to curl up and read books and rounded edges on tables so you didn’t bang your thigh on the way to them when you were caught up in your thoughts and not paying attention. I loved that he made a little trap door at the top of the spiral staircase fashioned out of triangular pieces of wood that made it look like the spiral was continuing on forever.
The guy really knew how to make drawers. I loved the ones under his bed that extended the entire width across, supported by some sliders that pulled out and provided extra runner space. This was a design element in the two desks on the main floor of his studio as well. I loved how this little innovation made for a very economical use of space and a lovely experience.
Refrigerator switches had also just come into being and he used a lot of them around his house to light cabinets and downlight storage drawers. They don’t let you take pictures inside, but here are some pictures of Wharton’s drawers I found via this article.
Yours, a little lighter and more inspired