Participatory art at its best in this 1966 MCC exhibition...more
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Idiosyncratic Wharton Esherick
Since October I have been rearranging the exhibition archives in the the American Craft Council Library. In these unique, historical folders there are hundreds of letters, photographs, press clippings, and exhibition planning documents. My excitement begins in the photographic folders, which include exhibitions such as "Tools, Techniques and Materials" (1957), which includes several photographic series of artists in the process of their craft, "Louis Comfort Tiffany Retrospective" (1958), featuring photographs of the Tiffany estate, and "The Patron Church" (1958), a collection of stunning architectural photographs.
However, Wharton Esherick has completely captured me. The archived exhibition collection "The Furniture and Sculpture of Wharton Esherick" (December 12, 1958 - May 3, 1959) contains correspondence, press releases, news clippings, contacts, negatives, photographs, and an exhaustive list of individuals who own his furniture (lent for the exhibition).
Of the photos, there are several of Esherick that show off his fanciful ways, wild hair, and charming smile. In his early career he illustrated books in woodcuts. See "Like A Roe" (above). Another treasure is a photo featuring an elegant commissioned stairway for the home of Mr. and Mrs. Curtis Bok, along with the sculpture "The Actress."
Most notable is the letter Esherick wrote to Thomas Tibbs, director of the Museum of Contemporary Crafts from 1956-1960. Esherick's personality glows. He addresses himself in third person, reveals his personal thoughts, and makes fun of himself - all humorous to Tibbs, I am sure.
Esherick never had formal training in furniture design or sculpture, the path that he chose to pursue. His work came from within, from who he was as a person. These characteristics are shown in the way he wrote, the things he said, and the way in which his work was fluid between sculpture and furniture, between functional and beautiful. Esherick created out of meaning.
In his obituary, Esherick was quoted as saying: "Tables, like shoes, improve with use, becoming soft and kindly." Through Esherick's archive, one gains great insight into the artist and his similar qualities. Qualities that can be forgotten in the passion of creating and the sometimes long, dark times in which an artist is trying to hold onto their passion.
The American Craft Council Library and Archives Digital Collections is an open-access online compendium containing more than 3,000 unique images, documents, and media detailing the history of contemporary craft in America. From ACC newsletters and photographs to firsthand documentation of major national craft exhibitions, the digital collections offer makers, scholars, and craft appreciators a glimpse at some of the ACC Library's most invaluable resources.