Wharton Esherick (1887-1970): The Rose and Nathan Robinson Collection

(March 2015)

Contact: Phoebe Resnick, Resnick Communications  prres1@comcast.net  / 610-872-2689 / cell 215-206-1402

Robert Aibel, Moderne Gallery – Raibel@aol.com  / 215-923-8536


WHARTON ESHERICK (1887-1970): The Rose and Nathan Rubinson Collection

A Major Exhibition/Sale - at Moderne Gallery in Philadelphia

April 17 - September 6, 2015                              

Opening Reception: Friday, April 17 – 5 to 8 pm

Philadelphia, PA (March 2015) …Works by Wharton Esherick, the ‘father’ of American Studio Furniture, are very limited - created primarily for individuals and families who were his patrons. As a result, items seldom come to market.

Philadelphia’s Moderne Gallery, renowned as the leading Studio Furniture gallery in the U.S., will offer furniture, sculptural objects, sculpture and woodcuts from the Merion, PA home of patrons Rose and Nathan Rubinson, with additional works from other private collectionsMost pieces come from the original owners and have never before been exhibited or available for purchase.

A singular opportunity to appreciate and purchase one-of-a-kind, custom-made works by Wharton Esherick, acclaimed as the “Dean of American Craftsmen,” will be presented by Moderne Gallery in an exceptional Exhibition/Sale: “Wharton Esherick (1887-1970): The Rose and Nathan Rubinson Collection,”  April 17 to September 6, 2015.

An Opening Reception will be held on Friday, April 17 from 5 to 8 pm.  

Moderne Gallery is located at 111 N. 3rd Street in Old City, Philadelphia, PA 19106. 


Hours: Daily 12 to 5 pm

“Our Esherick exhibition comes at an exciting moment, with renewed attention focused on the revered artist/craftsman,”says Moderne Gallery founder/director Robert Aibel. The Wharton Esherick Museum recently purchased a neighboring property, which includes the farmhouse, the first home of Esherick and his wife. A museum expansion is planned. In addition, a documentary about the life and work of Wharton Esherick is currently being produced by California State University Fullerton professor and filmmaker Carolyn Coal. The Moderne Gallery exhibition and opening will be integral to this film.

Highlights of “Wharton Esherick (1887-1970): The Rose and Nathan Rubinson Collection” include Esherick’s original iconic Music Stand, made in 1951 for Rose Rubinson and exhibited at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair (the first fair to introduce American craft to the world) , and one of two examples of his bronze sculpture “The Actress” (1939). Other pieces from the Rubinson Collection available for purchase include chairs, a dining table, cabinets, coffee tables, wall lights, woodcuts and much more. Significant works from various other private collections will be offered as well, such as hammer handle chairs, wagon wheel chairs, stools, the important Marjorie Content daybed and a major 1931 sculpture.

Approximately 40 pieces, plus woodcuts, will be in the Moderne Gallery exhibition. Most works are priced between $7,500 and $100,000, with woodcuts starting at $1,200.  

Wharton Esherick is universally credited as having a pioneering influence on Wendell Castle, Arthur Espenet Carpenter, Sam Maloof and many other designer-craftsmen of the 20th century. He received numerous prestigious honors, among these the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal (posthumously) in 1971.

Much of Esherick’s work is in museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Renwick Collection at the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress. Furniture and a well-worn staircase are integral parts of Hedgerow Theatre, in Rose Valley, PA, a center of the American Arts and Crafts Movement.                                                                                                        

Robert Aibel has maintained a long association with the Esherick and Rubinson families, and served as the appraiser for the sculptor-woodworker’s home and studio, now the Wharton Esherick Museum, in Paoli, PA. In 1996 Moderne Gallery presented the first comprehensive gallery show and sale of Esherick’s work,  featuring pieces from the Rubinson collection,  since the Esherick retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York in 1958-9.  


From the Wharton Esherick Museum website (www.whartonesherickmuseum.com): “[Wharton] 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 1958-59, recognizing his leading role in furniture design, the newly opened Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City introduced his work to a broader audience through a retrospective exhibition, “The Furniture and Sculpture of Wharton Esherick.”

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 and Cubism 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.                                                

From the Moderne Gallery website (www.modernegallery.comIn the decade before he died in 1970 at the age of 83, Wharton Esherick was heralded by the national art and design community as the “Dean of American Craftsmen.” It was an accolade not previously bestowed on an American artist and an indication of the unique nature of Esherick’s work and influence. Ironically, much of his career was spent working in relative isolation in Paoli, PA - an artisan pursuing his own vision of high-art craftsmanship during a period when hand craftsmanship was generally held in low regard by American culture. Ultimately, Esherick’s work helped lead to the renaissance of the 1960s that re-established hand craftsmanship as the popular and highly valued activity it is today and was the model for what we now know as the American Craft Studio Movement.

Trained as a traditional academy artist at the turn of the 20th century, Wharton Esherick unsuccessfully pursued a career as a painter for many years. In 1924 he abruptly abandoned brushes and canvas for chisels and wood. Working in his Pennsylvania mountainside retreat, possessed by his own visions, Esherick combined the emerging concepts of modern art with the process of hand wood shaping in a manner that created a new genre. His sinuous, organic sculptures, furniture, and architectural interiors were stunningly new in their time and eventually they changed the way many designers and artisans thought about the design potential of furniture and wooden structural forms.

During his lifetime, Esherick’s work was featured at three World’s Fairs and exhibited by such organizations as the Whitney Museum in the Whitney Annuals of 1932 and 1952, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Smithsonian Institution, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Arts and Design and many others. In 1971 he was posthumously awarded the Craftsmanship Medal by The American Institute of Architects. His home and studio became the Wharton Esherick Museum, open to the public by appointment.

ABOUT MODERNE GALLERY                                                                        

Moderne Gallery celebrates its 31sth anniversary this year.  In 1984, founder/director Robert Aibel augmented his university teaching career by pursuing his passion for Twentieth Century Decorative Arts and Design in Old City Philadelphia.  He has never looked back.  In 2009, his son Joshua joined the gallery as co-director.

 In the ensuing years, Aibel has become known as America’s leading proponent of furniture as design.  After establishing himself as one of this country’s foremost dealers and authorities of French Art Deco, in which he specialized for years, Aibel began concentrating on the American Studio Craft Movement, developing a particularly strong interest in the work of the leading studio furniture designer, George Nakashima. 

 In 1985 when studio furniture was barely a collecting category, Aibel began to display Nakashima’s graceful, beautifully crafted furniture, taking the lead in opening the market to discerning collectors.  By the mid 90’s Nakashima had become a household name, much as Bertoia, Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier had been in earlier decades.  Collectors of mid to late 20thcentury furniture sought Nakashima’s unmistakable and functional designs for their homes and offices. 

In 1996 the gallery mounted the largest exhibition of the highly desirable furniture and sculpture of Wharton Esherick, known as the ‘father’ of the Studio Furniture Movement and as the “Dean of American Craftsmen.” Moderne Gallery is hosting a second Esherick show in 2015.            

 Aibel earned his B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Pennsylvania.  He is a member and past president of the Old City Arts Association and a board member and past president of Collab, a collaboration of design professionals supporting the modern and contemporary design collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He also currently serves on the board of the Modernism Museum, Mount Dora, Florida.

 Moderne Gallery continually buys and sells vintage work by Sam Maloof, Arthur Espenet Carpenter, Wendell Castle, David Ebner, Peter Voulkos, Toshiko Takaezu, Viola Frey, Paul Soldner, Edward Moulthrop, Bob Stocksdale, William Hunter, Hannah Silver and many others. 

 In the past several years, Moderne Gallery began to exhibit contemporary work by David Ebner, the Israeli designers, Geva/Goldner, Richard Lazes, Brodie Neill, and others.  In 2014 Moderne Gallery presented its first one-man show of the work of David Ebner in Philadelphia.

 Moderne Gallery regularly exhibits in America’s top antiques and design fairs, including The Winter Antiques Show, The Salon: Art + Design, and Design Miami. Moderne Gallery will be exhibiting at Design Miami/Basel in Switzerland in June 2015.




Contact: Phoebe Resnick, Resnick Communications 

prres1@comcast.net  /  610-872-2689 / cell 215-206-1402 


Robert Aibel, Moderne Gallery –  Raibel@aol.com / 215-923-8536