Wharton Esherick and the Birth of the American Modern

University of Pennsylvania Libraries



Wharton Esherick sitting at his trestle table in his studio, photograph, circa 1931. Photo courtesy of the Wharton Esherick Museum.

A Philadelphia-area modernist sculptor deeply influenced by the Arts & Crafts movement, Wharton Esherick designed and built furniture distinctive for its asymmetric, prismatic forms. His goal was to design furniture that functioned as sculpture, and sculpture that functioned as furniture. The American Institute of Architects once noted that, "He led, not followed, the Scandinavians."

The University of Pennsylvania Libraries, in collaboration with the Wharton Esherick Museum and the Architectural Archives at the University of Pennsylvania, presented the first major examination of Esherick's work and artistic development in over 50 years. The exhibition was accompanied by a staged revival at the Hedgerow Theater of The Case of Clyde Griffiths, based on the novel An American Tragedy by Esherick's friend Theodore Dreiser; a symposium of visiting scholars; and a series of gallery talks, lectures, and workshops in various venues.