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Wharton Esherick family papers

1895-1996 [bulk 1920-1970], 10.5 linear feet

01

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Wharton Esherick Museum. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Summary Information

Repository:
Wharton Esherick Museum
Creator:
Esherick, Wharton
Title:
Wharton Esherick family papers
Date [bulk]:
1920-1970
Date [inclusive]:
1895-1996
Call Number:
01
Extent:
10.5 Linear feet
Container Summary:
19 document boxes; 2 flat boxes
Language:
English
Abstract:
Wharton Esherick (1887-1970) was a sculptor who worked primarily in wood, readily extending his unique forms to furniture, furnishings, utensils, interiors and buildings, creating sculptural environments. He has been called the link between the Arts and Crafts Movement and the resurgent interest in furniture making following World War II, the dean of American craftsmen, and the foundation of the current Studio Furniture Movement. The Wharton Esherick family papers, 1895-1996 (bulk 1920-1970), consist of correspondence, work documentation, financial papers, publicity clippings, photographs, and other materials that primarily document Esherick's work and to a lesser extent his personal life and the personal lives of his immediate family.
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Biography/History

WHARTON ESHERICK

Wharton Harris Esherick (1887-1970) was a noted wood sculptor. "[He] has been called the link between the Arts and Crafts Movement and the resurgent interest in furniture making following World War II, the dean of American craftsmen, and the foundation of the current Studio Furniture Movement. On awarding him its gold medal for Craftsmanship, the American Institute of Architects noted, "He led, not followed, the Scandinavians." His legacy lies not in establishing a style, his designs were too unique, but in pioneering the way for successive generations of artists working in wood to exhibit and market their original, non-traditional designs.

"Born and raised in Philadelphia, he learned wood and metal working at Manual Training High School, drawing and printmaking at the [Philadelphia] Museum School of Industrial Art and painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. American Impressionism was at its height and, with his bride Letty, he joined the flight of painters from the city to the landscape. [The Eshericks settled into an old farmhouse in semi-rural Paoli, near Philadelphia. Wharton focused on painting, but the couple owned enough level land to grow their own food in the event the paintings didn't sell.]

"His interest in wood began in 1920 with the carving of simple representational designs on frames for his paintings. This led to carving woodcuts -- he carved some 400 blocks, illustrating nine books -- and carving on furniture. In the early 1920's he began sculpting in wood, then considered solely a craft medium. By 1926 his sculpture was being exhibited at the Whitney in New York, and he began construction of an organic, Arts and Crafts style studio.

"By 1928 he realized furniture didn't need surface decoration -- "literature," he called it -- but, like sculpture, should stand on shape alone. He produced a dining table and chairs using asymmetric, prismatic forms with fanning walnut boards separated by narrow ebony strips. He began receiving commissions for Expressionist furniture and interiors, and soon achieved his goal of creating furniture that would pass as sculpture, and sculpture that functioned as furniture, bridging the gap between art and craft. His early furniture was shaped after the parts were assembled, providing a sculptural flow from element to element.

"His largest commission, begun in 1935, when he was 52, as "some interesting bookshelves for two tons of books," grew to include four fireplaces, two desks, four sofas, upholstered chairs, wall and ceiling paneling, two portals and a spiral stair that are now in museums. In time his work retained the asymmetric elements of expressionism but the sharp edges had softened, the planar surfaces had warped and the forms and textures became sensually organic. Over the years, he developed a following of dedicated customers who found his work addictive, returning year after year for yet another piece.

"He worked at a time when there were no organizations of furniture makers, magazines to promote their work or great public interest in art furniture, as exist today. Few galleries would show it. A room of his work, "A Pennsylvania Hillhouse" at the 1940 New York World's Fair, provided national exposure, but the world soon became more concerned with war than with furniture. In 1958, recognizing his leading role in furniture design, the newly opened Museum of Contemporary Craft in New York introduced his work to a broader audience through a retrospective exhibition.

"His wooden works span the fifty year period from 1920 until his death in 1970; from the organic forms of the Arts and Crafts period, through the sharp edged crystalline shapes of Expressionism to the curvilinear free-forms for which he is best known. He welcomed commissions for one of a kind furniture and interiors, not for the income but for the joy of creating new, exciting forms for everyday uses. His mind worked (he would have said played) constantly at solving the design and functional problems."

Bibliography:

Quoted text from: The Wharton Esherick Museum. "About the Artist." Accessed October 11, 2013. http://www.whartonesherickmuseum.org/about.html

LETTY NOFER ESHERICK

Leticia “Letty” Nofer Esherick (1892-1975) was a progressive educator and the wife of artist Wharton Esherick. She was born in February 1892 to Ferdinand W. and Laura E. Nofer, and spent her childhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The free-spirited beauty married Wharton Esherick on September 13, 1912; for their honeymoon, they cruised up the coast of New Jersey into New York State aboard the ship Wiwurna III. Soon after, the couple purchased the small farm in rural Paoli, Chester County, Pennsylvania, "Sunekrest," where Wharton would spend most of his adult life.

Letty was interested in non-traditional forms of education, particularly the idea of integrating dance and play into learning. She brought her family to spend the winter of 1919 at the School of Organic Education in Fairhope, Alabama, where Letty studied progressive pedagogy under education reformer Marietta Johnson while Wharton painted and taught art. The couple also made important personal and professional connections at the school, meeting writer Sherwood Anderson and curator Carl Zigrosser. Starting the following year, 1920, the Eshericks summered for many seasons at the Gail Gardner-Ruth Doing “rhythmic dance” camp in the Adirondack Mountains. Letty and Wharton became involved with Hedgerow Theatre (in Media, Delaware County, Pennsylvania), America’s first repertory theater. A progressive theater with roots in the Arts and Crafts movement, the theater emphasized individual expression and building a local artistic community. She was a member of the company for a long time, and taught dance, weaving, and progressive education at the Hedgerow School.

Letty and Wharton had three children together: Mary (born in 1916), Ruth (born in 1923), and Peter (born in 1926). However, their relationship was troubled and they separated in 1937. Letty held a variety of jobs over the rest of her life, spending long stretches at Hedgerow and working at institutions as varied as the Letchworth Village residence for the disabled (Rockland County, New York) and the Fort Hunter Museum (Dauphin County, Pennsylvania). She supplemented her income by selling her artwork, especially weavings. She retained a fairly amicable relationship with Wharton, who provided her with some additional financial support.

Letty Nofer Esherick passed away in 1975.

MARY ESHERICK WHITE

Mary Esherick White (1916-1996) was an actress and the daughter of artist Wharton Esherick and Letty Nofer Esherick. A free spirit, Mary’s obituary quotes her sister Ruth’s description of her as “a true flower child...she preferred nudity, hiding in the woods rather than dressing for Grandmother's visits.”

Mary received a progressive education, first from the school her mother Letty Esherick ran out of the family’s barn, later attending Hessian Hills School (Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.) and living and taking classes at Hedgerow Theatre (Media, Pa.). Her father helped cover Mary’s tuition at both of the latter schools with payments in kind, providing handmade furniture and decorations. At Hedgerow Mary also worked in lighting, costuming, props and stage managing, and the commissary.

Mary joined the Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus as a showgirl for the 1941 season in order to travel around the country. Next, she returned to theater, supervising lighting for a concert tour for folksingers Josh White and Libby Holman. Her short-lived theater career came to a close soon after, however, when she fell while adjusting a spotlight at a summer stock performance in the Catskills. She had trouble walking for the rest of her life.

Mary married Robertson “Bob” White soon after her accident. The couple lived near New York for a while, where White improvised radio plays for a show called “Deadline Drama.” Then they moved to Florida, where they remained for about 30 years. Bob and Mary each bounced around to different jobs, working variously in realty, telephone solicitation, travel booking, and other fields. Bob landed assorted bit parts as an actor at various levels of exposure, and also wrote fiction. Both Bob and Mary struggled with alcoholism.

After Bob died, Mary returned to the Philadelphia area. She lived in her childhood home, the farmhouse at Sunekrest in Paoli, Pennsylvania, for the last year and a half before her death in 1996.

Bibliography:

Wallace, Andy. “Mary Esherick White, 79, A Free Spirit.” Philadelphia Inquirer, April 11, 1996. Accessed May 7, 2014. http://articles.philly.com/1996-04-11/news/25660727_1_wharton-esherick-museum-catskills-lighting.

RUTH ESHERICK BASCOM

Ruth Esherick Bascom (born 1923) is the second daughter and middle child of Wharton and Leticia "Letty" Nofer Esherick. She was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania in 1923. As a child, Ruth took classes at the Hedgerow School. Her father was close friends with Jasper Deeter, the founder of the associated Hedgerow Theatre in Rose Valley (Pa.), and her mother was a member of the company and a teacher at the Hedgerow School. In exchange for Ruth's and her sister Mary's tuition, Wharton created a set of 36 chairs for the theater. Ruth was an actress for a short time, performing at Hedgerow and elsewhere. In 1951, she had a role in the film Bright Victory. In the early 1960s Ruth married Mansfield "Bob" Bascom (born around 1924), an architect and structural engineer. After Wharton Esherick's death, Ruth and Bob played a major role in establishing the Wharton Esherick Museum at the artist's home and studio in Paoli, Pa. As of 2014, Ruth and Bob live on the property.

PETER ESHERICK

Peter Esherick (1926-2013) was born in Paoli, Pennsylvania. He was the third child and only son of Wharton and Leticia "Letty" Nofer Esherick. In 1944, he enlisted in the United States Armed Forces at the age of 18, prior to officially graduating from Tredyffrin-Easttown High School. However, since he had met all of the requirements for graduation, the Board of Education invited his parents to accept Peter's diploma at the school's graduation ceremony. Shortly after enlisting, Peter proposed to his girlfriend, Helen Kohler (1918-2013). Peter served in the Army Air Corps., although from letters written to Wharton, it appears that he never shipped out overseas due to the end of World War II. Peter graduated from Lafayette College in Easton (Northampton County), Pennsylvania in 1953 with a Bachelor of Science. He pursued mechanical engineering as a career. Peter and Helen had one child, David, born in 1955. Peter owned and was president of the Patient Instrumentation Corporation, located in Schnecksville, Pa. for over 20 years. He was a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Sons of the American Revolution, and a student recruiter for Lafayette College. Peter passed away in 2013; Helen died about six months later.

MIRIAM PHILLIPS

Miriam Phillips (1899-1997) was an actress, companion to artist Wharton Esherick, and after his death, a key founder and curator of the Wharton Esherick Museum.

Miriam Phillips was born in Philadelphia in 1899. She earned a degree in teaching from the University of Pennsylvania and taught secretarial courses in Philadelphia schools until performing in a play put on by teachers at her school, which kindled her love of the theater. She met with Jasper Deeter, founder of Hedgerow Theatre, and secured a role in the company. Hedgerow, America’s first repertory theater, is a progressive theater with roots in the Arts and Crafts movement that emphasizes individual expression and building a local artistic community. Phillips lived and worked at Hedgerow for 32 years, appearing in 120 plays.

In addition to acting at Hedgerow, Miriam appeared in productions in Houston, Washington, Philadelphia, and New York. She performed in Broadway shows, including Waltz of the Toreadors and  Filumena; on television, in “As the World Turns,” “U.S. Steel Hour,” and “Play of the Week”; and in six movies.

Miriam was the companion of Wharton Esherick for over 30 years. They met at Hedgerow, while Miriam was a company member there and Esherick was doing design work for the theater. Esherick was recently separated from his wife, Letty – who was also deeply involved with the Hedgerow company – when he and Miriam got together in 1939. Although they never married, they remained partners-in-life until his death in 1970. Miriam took an active role in the management of Esherick’s career towards the end of his life, and after his death was instrumental in establishing his home and studio in Paoli, Pennsylvania as a museum.

In 1979 Miriam met Paul Modes, a theater lover who saw her perform at Hedgerow in the 1930s and again in Filumena decades later. They were companions until Miriam passed away in 1997.

Bibliography:

Wallace, Andy. “Miriam Phillips, 98, Six Decades An Actress.” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 29, 1997. Accessed May 7, 2014. http://articles.philly.com/1997-10-29/news/25539440_1_candida-theater-stages-companion.

NOTABLE FRIENDS AND ASSOCIATIONS

Wharton had close relationships with several well known people, including actresses, authors, photographers, and others. Many commissioned works from him.

The Ruth Doing School of Rhythmics was a dance camp run by Ruth Doing, a former dancer and student of Isadora Duncan, with her business and life partner Gail Gardner in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. The Esherick family spent their summers there starting in 1920. In the fall of 1923 Ruth Doing taught dance classes in Philadelphia, assisted by Letty Esherick, Wharton's wife. Watching and drawing the dancers and their movements heavily influenced Wharton Esherick's artistic style; his drawings and designs became more free and flowing. At the camp Wharton also was introduced to Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner's "organic functionalist" design theory, which impacted his style.

Sherwood Anderson (1876-1941) was an American author best known for the short story cycle  Winesburg, Ohio and for his influence on the succeeding generation of young writers that included William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck. Anderson met Wharton Esherick while the Eshericks were living at the School of Organic Education in Fairhope, Alabama during the winter of 1919. At the same time Esherick met  Carl Zigrosser (1891-1975), a noted art historian and curator. Through Anderson and Zigrosser, Wharton was introduced to many other artists, authors, and political figures. Wharton remained close to Anderson and Zigrosser throughout his life, and designed the grave marker for Sherwood Anderson.

Curtis Bok (1897-1962) was a Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge and the heir to the Curtis Publishing Company fortune. He and his wife had a home in Gulph Mills, Pennsylvania and retained Esherick to remodel it in the mid-1930s. The house, Esherick's largest commission, was finished in 1937. The job gave Esherick a large amount of national exposure. His fireplace and door installations for the Bok House are frequently on view as part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art's permanent collection.

Esherick met Theodore Dreiser, one of his closest friends, at Hedgerow Theatre. Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945) was an American writer of the naturalist school of literature, best known for his novels  Sister Carrie and  An American Tragedy.

Helene Fischer, who owned the engineering firm Schutte-Koerting Company, became a great patron of Esherick's in the 1930s after she met him at the Hedgerow Theatre and purchased a sculpture of his. She and her husband commissioned many additional pieces from him to furnish their house. She gave Esherick great freedom in designing the pieces, allowing him to fully explore his creativity.

Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939) was an English novelist, poet, critic, and editor best known for his publications  The Good Soldier,  Parade’s End, and  The Fifth Queen. He met Esherick through their mutual friend Theodore Dreiser in 1934, when Dreiser suggested that Ford and his lover visit Esherick. It was during this visit, at Esherick's desk, that Ford worked on his novel  The Great Trade Route.

Henry Varnum Poor (1887-1970) was a painter and potter, as well as a muralist, sculptor, and architect. He and Wharton Esherick probably met at the E. Weyhe Book Store in the mid-1920s. The two had much in common: they were the same age, both had sons named Peter, and were both artists. Poor was also a friend of Theodore Dreiser, and he introduced Esherick to modernist photographer  Marjorie Content (1895-1984). Content later commissioned a bedroom set from Esherick.

Elin S. and Olaf N. Rove were close family friends of the Eshericks. Elin Solomonson (1894-1986) married Sedley Hopkins Phinney (1890-1932) in 1916; by 1940 she was re-married to Olaf N. Rove (1898-1980). Elin and Olaf Rove received several pieces from Esherick as commissions and gifts. Reflecting on her relationship with Wharton and reviewing her diaries from the early years of their acquaintance, in a letter to Ruth Esherick Bascom dated April 9, 1970, Elin wrote "I have written much 'soul searching' never 'body touching' but we were madly in love."

Bibliography:

Eisenhauer, Paul. “Esherick, Wharton Harris.” American National Biography Online, February 2000. Accessed May 8, 2014. http://www.anb.org/articles/17/17-01984.html.

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of the personal and professional papers of Wharton Esherick, supplemented by additional materials from several of his family members. The collection primarily documents Wharton Esherick’s career as an artist, and to lesser extent his personal life and the personal lives of his immediate family and close friends. Unless otherwise specified, “Esherick” refers to Wharton. The collection is organized into three series: "Series I. Wharton Esherick professional papers, 1920-1985"; "Series II. Wharton Esherick personal papers, 1895-1991"; "Series III. Family members’ papers, 1925-1996."

Best represented in the collection, besides Wharton, are Leticia "Letty" Nofer (his wife), Miriam Phillips (his later life partner), Mary (his first daughter) and her husband Bob White, Ruth (his second daughter) and her husband Bob Bascom, and his close friends Elin and Olaf N. Rove. Wharton Esherick associated with a large number of 20th century cultural luminaries, although these relationships are not equally well documented in this collection. There is a substantial amount of material relating to novelists Sherwood Anderson, Ford Madox Ford, and Theodore Dreiser. An 80th birthday scrapbook compiled for Esherick by Mrs. Kremens of the Jenkintown Music School includes letters sent from a vast array of friends, families, and representatives of Philadelphia cultural institutions.

Miriam Phillips, Wharton Esherick’s life partner after he separated from his wife (Letty), took an active role in the management of his later career, handling much of his personal and professional correspondence and other affairs in the 1960s. After his death in 1970, she championed his legacy, promoting exhibitions of his work and spearheading (along with Ruth and Bob Bascom) the establishment of the Wharton Esherick Museum at his home studio in Paoli, Pa. Miriam’s influence is apparent throughout the collection in many documents that date from the 1960s and later. She is often referred to in personal correspondence by her nickname, “Mima.”

Esherick’s effervescent creativity is expressed throughout the collection. Some of his personal correspondence, especially with family members and with Elin and Olaf Rove, feature original “doodles.” He sent a hand-drawn card to his twin sister Dot (Esherick) Woodbury every year on their birthday; photocopies of 30 years of these can be found in the collection. He also wrote poems, short stories, and other fiction, especially in his younger years. (Examples can be found in Series II. Wharton Esherick personal papers, Subseries D. Writings, photographs, and other personal papers.) Some original and many copies of block prints by Esherick can be found in Series I. Wharton Esherick professional papers, Subseries B. Publicity and prints. A highlight of this collection is a scrapbook Esherick created as a memento of his honeymoon with Letty in 1912. The illuminated scrapbook features a narration and illustrations by Esherick, along with photographs of the couple and scenery from their cruise up the New Jersey coast from Philadelphia. (Housed in Series II. Wharton Esherick personal papers, Subseries D. Writings, photographs, and other personal papers.)

Series I. Wharton Esherick professional papers, 1920-1985, undated is divided into four subseries: “Subseries A. Exhibitions, 1920-1985”; “Subseries B. Publicity and prints, 1920-1984”; “Subseries C. Commissions, 1929-1978”; and “Subseries D. General professional papers, 1920-circa 1981.” The first subseries,  A. Exhibitions, 1920-1985, is organized chronologically. It includes various materials pertaining to particular exhibits, gallery shows, or art competitions in which Wharton Esherick’s works were represented. Catalogs and newspaper clippings about specific exhibitions make up the bulk of the materials; there is also some correspondence, advertisements, and other ephemera. Foldered separately are exhibitions for which there is a substantial amount of material, or if the exhibition was particularly notable. Of special interest are the 1940 World’s Fair, at which Esherick gained national exposure for his work with architect George Howe on “A Pennsylvania Hillhouse,” a room in the America at Home exhibit; the “Objects: USA” landmark exhibition of American artist-craftsmen in 1969; and the “Woodenworks” exhibition heavily featuring Esherick’s works held in 1972, shortly after his death, at the Renwick Gallery in Washington D.C. The second subseries,  B. Publicity and prints, 1920-1984, is also in chronological order for the most part. While newspaper clippings about a specific exhibition are filed in the former subseries, this subseries includes articles that are more generally about Esherick, his career, or the Wharton Esherick Museum. Also present in this subseries are Esherick’s woodblock prints, both original and those published in newspapers, pamphlets, or other publications. Some correspondence related to publicity and prints, notably regarding a feature on Esherick that appeared in the magazine  House Beautiful is also included. A sizeable quantity of material relates to the Ruth Doing School of Rhythmics, for which Esherick designed several promotional materials. There are copies of several brochures, as well as photographs of performances that Esherick may have used as references for his designs. The third subseries,  C. Commissions, 1929-1978, is organized alphabetically by client. Most files contain accounting notes about the cost of materials and employee time, with a smattering of related correspondence, sketches of designs, and blueprints. Esherick is particularly well known for his extensive design work at Judge Curtis Bok’s house. The Commissions series also documents Esherick’s work designing a grave marker for his friend, American novelist Sherwood Anderson; and designs for Hedgerow Theatre, an organization to which his family had close ties. The final subseries,  D. General professional papers, 1920-circa 1981, includes correspondence, financial papers, and various other materials documenting Esherick’s works and career.

Series II. Wharton Esherick personal papers, 1895-1991, undated is arranged into four subseries: “Subseries A. Financial, property, and legal papers, 1895-1991”; “Subseries B. Correspondence, 1911-1973”; “Subseries C. Clippings of interest to Wharton Esherick, circa 1905-1969”; and “Subseries D. Writings, photographs, and other personal papers, 1901-1970.” The first subseries,  A. Financial, property, and legal papers, 1895-1991, includes legal documents and correspondence; deeds, mortgages, and other materials relating to Esherick’s property in Chester County, Pennsylvania; and personal financial records, including receipts, invoices, and tax returns. The second subseries,  B. Correspondence, 1911-1973, consists primarily of letters sent to Esherick from friends, with some original and copied letters sent from Esherick. (Correspondence between Esherick and immediate family members is filed in Series III. Family members’ papers.) Well-represented are famous novelists Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, and Ford Madox Ford. Correspondence with Sherwood Anderson is in this subseries (see Series I. Wharton Esherick professional papers, Subseries C. Commissions for materials about Anderson’s grave marker, which Esherick designed); the Dreiser materials in this subseries include documents about bringing the Russian ballet to the United States; the subseries also features a corrected galley proof of  The Great Trade Route by Ford Madox Ford, written in part while Ford was visiting Esherick's home. Smaller amounts of materials relating to artists Henry Varnum Poor and Ossip Zadkine, conductor Leopold Stokowski, and actress Ann Harding, are present. The largest amount of correspondence is with Elin and Olaf Rove, close friends of Wharton Esherick and his family. (More Rove correspondence can be found in Series III. Family members’ papers, subseries C. Ruth Esherick Bascom.) The third subseries,  C. Clippings of interest to Wharton Esherick, circa 1905-1969, consists of clippings featuring other artists, friends of Esherick, images Esherick may have used as inspiration or reference, and other topics of interest to him. The final subseries,  D. Writings, photographs, and other personal papers, 1901-1970, includes a large number of photographs, fictional writings and jottings by Esherick, and various other materials. Most of the photographs are from travel, many depicting art objects and architectural design elements in Scandinavia and elsewhere. There are also portraits of individuals and two group portraits from the turn of the 20th century. Of special interest in this subseries is a scrapbook Esherick created as a memento of his honeymoon with Letty in 1912. The illuminated scrapbook features a narration and illustrations by Esherick, along with photographs of the couple and scenery from their cruise up the New Jersey coast from Philadelphia.

Series III. Family members’ papers, circa 1925-1996, undated is organized into five subseries by name: “Subseries A. Letty Nofer Esherick (1892-1975), circa 1925-1975”; “Subseries B. Mary Esherick White (1916-1996), 1930-1996”; “Subseries C. Ruth Esherick Bascom (b. 1923), circa 1931-1983”; “Subseries D. Peter Esherick (1926-2013), 1938-1969”; and “Subseries E. Miriam Phillips (1899-1997), 1943-1977.” If more than one family member is a correspondent, the letter is filed under the recipient’s subseries. The first subseries,  A. Letty Nofer Esherick, circa 1925-1975, contains papers relating to Wharton Esherick’s wife, arranged roughly chronologically. It consists primarily of correspondence. Of special interest are some records of Hedgerow Theatre (Media, Pa.) and bulletins from the School of Organic Education (Fairhope, Ala.), two institutions where Letty was resident for varying lengths of time. There is also a folder of drafts of letters Letty began writing to Esherick about the couple’s marriage troubles. More documentation of their relationship can be found in other folders of their correspondence. The second subseries,  B. Mary Esherick White, 1930-1996, contains materials relating to the personal life and career of Wharton Esherick’s eldest daughter. It documents her acting career, including her time at Hedgerow Theatre; her stint in the circus, evidenced through her diary, photographs, circus magazines, and the memoirs of a friend; and aspects of her personal life. Much of the latter correspondence with Mary also features her husband Robertson “Bob” White. The third subseries,  C. Ruth Esherick Bascom, circa 1931-1983, is mostly letters from Wharton Esherick and from Elin and Olaf Rove (close friends of the Eshericks). Both Ruth and her husband, Mansfield “Bob” Bascom, are active correspondents in most of the letters. The fourth subseries,  D. Peter Esherick, 1938-1969, is by far the smallest in the series. In consists of one file of correspondence and documents regarding Peter’s time in the U.S. Air Force, and one file of letters to Wharton Esherick from Peter, his wife Helen, and son David. The final subseries,  E. Miriam Phillips, 1943-1977, primarily consists of letters from Wharton Esherick to Miriam (“Mima”), his life partner after he separated from Letty.

Arrangement Note

The collection is organized into three series: “Series I. Wharton Esherick professional papers, 1920-1985, undated”; “Series II. Wharton Esherick personal papers, 1895-1991, undated”; and “Series III. Family members’ papers, circa 1925-1996, undated.” The series are further organized into subseries, as outlined below.

I. Wharton Esherick professional papers, 1920-1985, undated

  • A. Exhibitions, 1920-1985
  • B. Publicity and prints, 1920-1984
  • C. Commissions, 1929-1978
  • D. General professional papers, 1920-circa 1981

II. Wharton Esherick personal papers, 1895-1991, undated

  • A. Financial, property, and legal papers, 1895-1991
  • B. Correspondence, 1911-1973
  • C. Clippings of interest to Wharton Esherick, circa 1905-1969
  • D. Writings, photographs, and other personal papers, 1901-1970

III. Family members’ papers, circa 1925-1996, undated

  • A. Letty Nofer Esherick (1892-1975), circa 1925-1975
  • B. Mary Esherick White (1916-1996), 1930-1996
  • C. Ruth Esherick Bascom (b. 1923), circa 1931-1983
  • D. Peter Esherick (1926-2013), 1938-1969
  • E. Miriam Phillips (1899-1997), 1943-1977

Administrative Information

Publication Information

Wharton Esherick Museum

Finding Aid Author

Finding aid prepared by Celia Caust-Ellenbogen and Sarah Leu through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories

Sponsor

This finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Access Restrictions

Contact Wharton Esherick Museum for information about accessing this collection.

Immediate Source of Acquisition Note

The papers of Wharton Esherick were collected by his family and donated to the Wharton Esherick Museum in 2013. Additional materials were added over time by various family members, especially Mary Esherick White and Ruth and Bob Bascom.

Processing Information Note

This collection was processed in 2014 by staff of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR). The HCI-PSAR project was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Existence and Location of Copies Note

Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C.: Wharton Esherick papers, 1920-1970 (on microfilm). Lent for microfilming 1991 by the Esherick family as part of AAA's Philadelphia Arts Documentation Project.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Materials Note

Archives of American Art: Oral history interview with Mansfield Bascom and Ruth Esherick Bascom about Wharton Esherick, 1990 July 13.

Wharton Esherick Museum: Susan Hinkel research files on Wharton Esherick.

Some additional Wharton Esherick papers are stored at the Wharton Esherick Museum but were not considered part of this collection. Contact the Wharton Esherick Museum to access these materials:

  • Note cards of furniture and sculptures created by Esherick (in alphabetical order), circa 1924-1935, providing customer name, date, cost of materials, price sold, and description
  • Note cards of suppliers in alphabetical order
  • Photographs of Esherick's works (sorted by type of work), providing dates, materials used, and some buyers and prices
  • Chess set copyright papers, 1924
  • Additional blueprints of homes designed by Esherick: Watson House (Monroe County, NY), 1961; and Judge Curtis Bok home
  • Handwritten telephone books

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Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)
  • Hedgerow Theatre (Organization : Rose Valley, Pa.).
  • Ruth Doing School of Rhythmics.
  • Wharton Esherick Museum
Geographic Name(s)
  • Chester County (Pa.)
  • Paoli (Pa.)
Personal Name(s)
  • Anderson, Sherwood, 1876-1941
  • Bascom, Mansfield
  • Bascom, Ruth Esherick
  • Bok, Curtis, 1897-1962
  • Dreiser, Theodore, 1871-1945
  • Esherick, Leticia Nofer, 1892-1975
  • Esherick, Peter, 1926-2013
  • Esherick, Wharton
  • Ford, Ford Madox, 1873-1939
  • Phillips, Miriam, 1899-1997
  • Poor, Henry Varnum, 1887-1970
  • Rove, Elin Solomonson, 1894-1986
  • Rove, Olaf N. (Norberg), 1898-1980
  • White, Mary Esherick, 1916-1996
  • White, Robertson
Subject(s)
  • Actresses
  • Architectural woodwork
  • Art
  • Artists
  • Arts and crafts movement
  • Block printing--20th century
  • Circus performers
  • Furniture design
  • Furniture making
  • Modernism (Art)
  • Museums
  • Sculptors
  • Studio furniture
  • Wood sculpture
  • Woodwork
  • Woodworkers

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Collection Inventory

Series I.  Wharton Esherick professional papers, 1920-1985, undated.

Subseries A.  Exhibitions, 1920-1985, undated.

Box Folder

Advertisements, 1920-1927.

1 1

1928.

1 2

1929.

1 3

1930.

1 4

1932.

1 5

1934.

1 6

1936.

1 7

1937.

1 8

1939.

1 9

Golden Gate International Exposition, 1939.

1 10

1940.

1 11

1940 World's Fair (New York), 1940.

1 12

1940 World's Fair (New York) blueprint, 1940.

21 1

American Federation of Art Rotary, 1940-1941.

1 13

1941.

1 14

1942.

1 15

Argent Galleries (New York City), 1943-1944.

1 16

1944.

1 17

1945.

1 18

1946.

1 19

1947.

1 20

1948.

1 21

1949.

1 22

1951.

1 23

Whitney Museum (New York City) Annual Sculpture Exhibition, 1951.

1 24

1952.

2 1

International Sculpture Competition, 1952-1953.

2 2

1953.

2 3

1954.

2 4

1955.

2 5

1956.

2 6

1957.

2 7

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) Annual Exhibitions of American Oil Paintings and Sculpture, 1957-1968.

2 8

1958.

2 9

1959.

2 10-11

1960.

3 1

1961.

3 2

1962.

3 3

1963.

3 4

1964.

3 5

1965.

3 6

1966.

3 7

1967.

4 1-2

1968.

4 3

1969.

4 4

Objects: USA, 1969.

4 5

Craftsmen '70, 1970.

4 6

1970.

4 7

1971-1972.

4 8

Renwick Gallery / Minnesota Museum of Art, 1972.

4 9

1979-1985.

4 10

undated.

4 11

Subseries B.  Publicity and prints, 1920-1984, undated.

Box Volume

Scrapbook, 1920-1934.

20 2

1922-1924.

5 1

1925-1929.

5 2

1930-1939.

5 3

1940-1949.

5 4

House Beautiful magazine feature on Esherick with correspondence, 1950-1951.

5 5

House Beautiful magazine, 1951 March.

5 6-7

1950-1954.

5 8

1955-1959.

5 9

1960-1965.

6 1

Oversized, 1961-1971, undated.

21 2

Armstrong Floors "Decoration and Design" folders, 1962.

21 3

Craft Horizons featuring Esherick interview, 1966 June.

6 2

1966-1969.

6 3

Obituaries and tributes, 1968-1970.

6 4

1970-1971.

6 5

1972.

6 6

1973-1979.

6 7

1981-1984.

6 8

undated.

6 9

Prints (woodblock), undated.

6 10-11

Ruth Doing School of Rythmics brochures, 1923-1936.

7 1

Ruth Doing School of Rythmics photographs, 1923-1936.

7 2-3

Subseries C.  Commissions, 1929-1978, undated.

Box Folder

Client accounts and tax, 1937-1940.

7 4

Client accounts and correspondence, 1939-1948.

7 5

Client accounts and correspondence, 1953-1955, 1967.

7 6

Client accounts (alphabetical), 1956-1970.

7 7

Correspondence and notes regarding orders, 1960-1969, 1978.

7 8

Stools and ladders - correspondence, inquiries, and Armstrong advertisements, 1968-1970.

7 9

America House (New York) correspondence, orders, payment records, 1960-1969.

7 10

Sherwood Anderson grave marker, 1941-1944.

8 1

Julius Bloch model stand, 1938.

8 2

Curtis Bok, 1935-1955.

8 3

Curtis Bok, blueprints, 1937.

21 4

Alan Burnham, 1962.

8 4

Derrick, 1937.

8 5

Maria Ealand, letters and drawings of table, 1941.

8 6

Mrs. Edmund C. Evans, 1939-1954.

8 7

Dennis Fennelly chairs and tables, 1953.

8 8

Fischer guest room, 1934.

8 9

Elizabeth and Horace Fleisher wall paneling, 1953-1954.

8 10

Hedgerow Theatre, 1935-1946.

8 11

Hessian Hills, circa 1935.

8 12

Hilsberg dresser, table, and chairs, 1935-1937.

8 13

Lewis Lehrer, 1951-1955.

8 14

Grace Martin letters to Wharton, circa 1939-1947.

8 15

McMichael bookcase, 1935.

8 16

Thomas Henry (Jr.) and Margaret C. Milliken, 1949-1951.

8 17

Ruth Montrose fabric logo, undated.

8 18

Phinney cupboard, 1936.

8 19

Irving Rabinowitz record cabinet, 1950.

8 20

Rotzel easy chair, 1936.

8 21

Olaf N. Rove, 1944.

8 22

Schubart table and chairs, 1932-1935.

8 23

Schutte Koerting Company, 1942-1950.

8 24

Seifriz chairs, circa 1940-1942.

8 25

Dr. Thomas "den", circa 1950.

8 26

Marjorie Content Toomer, 1934.

8 27

Various commissions, accounting documents, 1929-1953.

8 28

Subseries D.  General professional papers, 1920-circa 1981.

Box Folder

American Institute of Architects, Craftsmanship Medal, 1970-1971.

8 29

Biographical data, circa 1981.

8 30

Castings information: foundry advertisements, bills, and correspondence, 1960-1972.

8 31

Conference of American Craftsmen, 1957.

8 32

Correspondence about books featuring Esherick's work, 1930-1955.

9 1

Correspondence with the Forum and prints for "Gates of Paradise", 1928-1934.

9 2

Correspondence with A.C. Lawrence Leather Co. and leather samples, 1932.

9 3

Correspondence with Donald Lloyd McKinley and materials regarding writing Esherick Museum book, 1966-1980.

9 4

Correspondence with photographers, 1958-1968.

9 5

Correspondence regarding works in exhibitions, galleries, and publications (alphabetical), 1928-1938.

9 6-7

Correspondence regarding works out on exhibition or commission, 1932-1937.

9 8

Lists and labels of photographs of works, circa 1928-1938.

9 9

Lists of photographs sent out, 1941-1949.

9 10

Lists of items at Edna M. Phillips Antiques, 1945-1954.

9 11

Financial. Bills paid (alphabetical), 1927-1938.

9 12

Financial. Check stubs and employee timesheets, 1969-1970.

9 13

Financial. Employee time book, 1937-1938.

9 14

Financial. Employee timesheets (Horace Hartshaw and Bill McIntyre), 1968.

9 15

Financial. Personnel wages and tax material, 1936-1937.

10 1

Financial. Taxes - unemployment compensation, 1937-1939.

10 2

Financial. Workmen's compensation insurance, 1937-1938.

10 3

Work done and exhibitions lists, 1920-1932.

10 4

Work done and exhibitions lists, 1929-1938.

10 5

Series II.  Wharton Esherick personal papers, 1895-1991, undated.

Subseries A.  Financial, property, and legal papers, 1895-1991, undated.

Box Folder

Financial documents and correspondence (alphabetical), 1933-1938.

10 6

Insurance, automobile and fire, 1945-1959.

10 7

Legal correspondence, 1954.

10 8

Legal correspondence with A. Allan Goodman, 1963-1964.

10 9

Legal documents, mostly regarding home, 1939-1953.

10 10

Legal documents: will, obituary, and appraisal, 1967-1970.

10 11

Property. Deeds for Esherick property, 1895-1963.

10 12

Property. Correspondence with Emlen and Co. Real Estate, 1959-1967.

10 13

Property. Sale to Inverness Corp., 1964.

10 14

Property. Mortgage and new kitchen, 1965-1967.

10 15

Property. Mortgage documents for Bascom acquisition of Esherick property, 1967-1987.

11 1

Property. Mortgages, Paoli Bank, 1926-1956.

11 2

Property. Mortgages, Upper Main Line Bank, 1959-1967.

11 3

Property. Mortgages, other, 1931-1943.

11 4

Property. Plans of Esherick land, undated.

21 5
Property. U.S. Army road papers, 1954-1961, 1991.
General Note

In March of 1954, the U.S. Army announced its intention to build an anti-aircraft missile base on Diamond Rock Hill, the area where Esherick's house was located. Esherick opposed the building of the base and the road leading to it, which ran into his property, but it was built anyway.

11 5

Property. U.S. Army road maps and surveys, circa 1954, 1960.

21 6

Property. Various documents, 1915-1954.

11 6

Receipts and invoices, 1968.

11 7-9

Receipts and invoices, 1969.

11 10-11

Receipts and invoices, 1969.

12 1-2

Tax returns, social security, personnel, and income and expense records, 1937-1959.

12 3

Tax, income, 1937-1942.

12 4

Tax, income, 1942-1949.

12 5

Tax, income, 1949-1953.

12 6

Tax, income, 1953-1961.

12 7

Tax receipts, Chester County, 1949-1966.

12 8

Tax receipts, Tredyffrin Township, 1950-1966.

12 9

Subseries B.  Correspondence, 1911-1973, undated.

Box Folder

Dinner invitation, 1911.

12 10

Letters to Esherick from various artists, curators, and galleries, 1934-1941.

12 11

Letters to Esherick from various friends and family, 1928-1959, undated.

12 12

Letters to Esherick from various friends and family, 1960-1970, undated.

12 13

Letters from "old friends", 1921-1958.

13 1

Scrapbook of Esherick 80th birthday cards (photocopy), 1967.

13 2

Scrapbook of Esherick 80th birthday cards (originals), 1967.

13 3

Scrapbook of Esherick 80th birthday cards (originals - enclosures), 1967.

13 4

Sherwood Anderson and "Thwarted Ambitions" advertisements, 1921-1941, undated.

13 5

Theodore and Helen Dreiser, 1927-1949.

13 6

Theodore Dreiser. Papers regarding formation of the All-Russian Ballet, Inc., 1929.

13 7

Jane, Margie, and Pendelton Dudley, 1931.

13 8

Ford Madox Ford, 1935-1938.

13 9
Ford Madox Ford. The Great Trade Route galley proof - acknowledgements and illustrations, 1936.
General Note

Ford Madox Ford worked on his novel The Great Trade Route while visiting Esherick in the fall of 1934.

13 10

Ford Madox Ford. The Great Trade Route galley proof (corrected), 1936.

21 7-9

Ann Harding, undated.

13 11

Amory Hare (Hutchinson), 1930, undated.

13 12

Marietta Johnson (School of Organic Education), 1931.

13 13

Henry Varnum Poor, 1935, undated.

13 14

Elin and Olaf Rove (letters from Eshericks), 1945-1956.

13 15

Elin and Olaf Rove (letters from Eshericks), 1957-1973, undated.

13 16

Elin and Olaf Rove (letters to Eshericks), 1963-1970.

13 17

Leopold Stokowski, 1931-1938.

13 18

George and Phebe Whitsett, circa 1969, undated.

13 19

Dot Woodbury, birthday cards from Esherick (photocopies), 1932-1965.

13 20

Ossip Zadkine, 1940.

14 1

Subseries C.  Clippings of interest to Wharton Esherick, circa 1905-1969, undated.

Box Folders

Artworks by other artists, circa 1905-1925.

14 2-4

Artwork by other artists: borders, embellishments, letterhead, circa 1905-1925.

14 5

Artwork by other artists: illustrations of women, circa 1915.

14 6

British Museum postcards set C.7: Persian Paintings, 1922.

14 7

Images, 1941-1959, undated.

14 8

Oversized, 1959-1969, undated.

21 10

People, 1923-1940, undated.

14 9

Sherwood Anderson, 1926-1941.

14 10

Curtis Bok, 1936-1937.

14 11

Theodore Dreiser, 1933-1941, undated.

14 12

Mary Esherick, 1940-1941.

14 13

Ford Madox Ford, 1938-1939.

14 14

Ann Harding, 1924 February.

14 15

Hedgerow Theatre, 1937-1942, undated.

14 16

Henry Varnum Poor, 1937.

14 17

Clippings of interest, 1922-1957, undated.

14 18

Subseries D.  Writings, photographs, and other personal papers, 1901-1970, undated.

Box Folder

Address book, undated.

14 19

Artwork by children, circa 1925-1935.

14 20

Cards: business, membership, 1901-1970 (Bulk, 1964-1970) .

14 21

Lists of books loaned by Esherick, 1943-1969.

14 22

Photographs. Art museum sculptures, undated.

15 1

Photographs. Groups (oversized), 1906, undated.

21 11

Photographs. People, 1910, undated.

15 2

Photographs. People (oversized), undated.

21 12

Photographs. Theatre Artistique de Moscou, autograph postcards, 1923.

15 3

Photographs. Travel, undated.

15 4-5

Photographs. Travel, postcards, and images, 1936-1948.

15 6

Photographs. Travel, postcards, and images, undated.

15 7

Photographs, undated.

15 8
Scrapbook of honeymoon with Letty, 1912.
Scope and Contents note

Honeymoon on ship "Wiwurna III" motorboat, September 13, 1912 to October 2, 1912, between Philadelphia and New York State including locations such as Cape May, NJ; Atlantic City, NJ; Sandy Hook, NJ; New York City; and Tarrytown, NY

Scrapbook includes photographs and pen and ink drawings by Esherick depicting the couple, scenery, and boat, with written narrative of their journey.

20 1

Writings, short stories, 1933-1945.

15 9

Writings (chronological), 1920-1956.

15 10

Writings, undated.

15 11-12

Series III.  Family members' papers, circa 1925-1996, undated.

Subseries A.  Letty Nofer Esherick (1892-1975), circa 1925-1975, undated.

Box

Gardening book, circa 1925.

20

Correspondence, circa 1926-1936.

16 1

Draft letters to Esherick regarding marriage troubles, possibly summer 1928.

16 2

Letters regarding Letty's health, 1929.

16 3

Clippings of dancers and New York City museums, circa 1935.

16 4

Correspondence with Esherick, 1937-1959, undated.

16 5

Letters to Marie Tisdale, 1939-1952.

16 6

School of Organic Education (Fairhope, Ala.) bulletins, brochures, clippings, 1940-1945.

16 7

Hedgerow Theatre records: grounds maintenance, correspondence, 1940-1942, 1945-1946.

16 8

Al Spisso correspondence regarding stuffed seagull, 1945.

16 9

Memorial bookplates (block prints), 1975.

16 10

Subseries B.  Mary Esherick White (1916-1996), 1930-1996, undated.

Box Folder

Letters from Esherick, circa 1930-1931.

16 11

Acting materials: Hedgerow Theatre programs, resume, clippings, 1930-1940.

16 12

Letters from Letty, circa 1930-1938.

16 13

Photographs, ephemera, letters, 1930-1932, 1952.

16 14

Hessian Hills School. Letters, photograph, report card, 1932-1940, undated.

16 15

Hessian Hills School. Letters from Meg Barden, 1933-1988.

16 16

Letters from friends, 1934-1939, undated.

17 1

Circus diary, 1941.

17 2

Circus magazines, 1941.

17 3

Circus magazines, 1941-1978.

17 4

Circus memories of Brooke Carlyle (Mary's bunkmate), 1996.

17 5

Circus photographs, 1941.

17 6

Photographs, circa 1935-1985.

17 7

Clippings collected by Mary, 1941-1979.

17 8

Pencil sketches, undated.

17 9

Pocket diary, correspondence, 1937-1968.

17 10

Letters from Esherick, 1957, 1964.

17 11

Letters to Esherick, 1951-1968.

17 12

Letters from Ruth, 1976-1977, undated.

17 13

Subseries C.  Ruth Esherick Bascom (b. 1923), circa 1931-1983, undated.

Box Folder

Correspondence, 1961-1983, undated.

17 14

Sketches, letters to Esherick, circa 1931-1951.

17 15

Letters from Esherick, 1955-1956.

18 1

Letters from Esherick, 1957-1959.

18 2

Letters from Esherick, 1960-1961.

18 3

Letters from Esherick, 1962.

18 4

Letters from Esherick, 1963-1964, undated.

18 5

Letters to Esherick, 1954-1970.

18 6

Letters to Elin and Olaf Rove, 1967-1976.

18 7

Letters from Elin and Olaf Rove, 1966-1971.

18 8

Letters from Elin and Olaf Rove, 1972-1974.

18 9

Letters from Elin and Olaf Rove, 1975-1983, undated.

18 10

Notes, writings, undated.

18 11

Subseries D.  Peter Esherick (1926-2013), 1938-1969, undated.

Box Folder

Correspondence and documents, mostly regarding Peter in U.S. Air Force, 1938, 1944-1946, undated.

18 12

Letters to Esherick, 1962-1969.

18 13

Subseries E.  Miriam Phillips (1899-1997), 1943-1977, undated.

Box Folder

Letters from Esherick, 1943-1945.

19 1

Letters from Esherick, 1954-1957.

19 2

Letters from Esherick, 1958-1959.

19 3

Letters from Esherick, 1960-1966, undated.

19 4

Letters from Esherick (photocopies).

19 5

Personal and professional correspondence on behalf of Esherick, 1961-1977.

19 6

Letters of condolence on Esherick's passing, 1970.

19 7

Letters to Miriam, 1953-1960, undated.

19 8

Letters and writings, 1944.

19 9