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Robert Whitley: Beauty, Function, and Grace at Michener Art Museum
Robert Whitley (b. 1924), Forest Console, 1999, Walnut, Collection of Mr. Jack I. Udell.

NEW HOPE, PA.- Robert Whitley’s elegantly designed original furniture as well as his masterful furniture reproductions are on view from February 22 through June 1, 2008 at the James A. Michener Art Museum in New Hope, Pennsylvania. This retrospective exhibition, Robert Whitley: Beauty, Function, and Grace, is organized by the Michener Art Museum and features prime examples of both his contemporary furniture designs and historic pieces.

This exhibit is sponsored by Flemington Car and Truck Country Family of Dealerships, John and Dorothy Meggitt, the Wilke Murray Family, with additional funding by Jim Clare and Kathy Schroeher, Jaqui and John Hover and Deno D. and Linda F. Papageorge.

“Equally well versed in contemporary and antique furniture designs, Whitley inherited his skill at cabinetry, his knowledge of woods and joinery, and a family formula for oil finishing that is a trademark of his art,” says Bruce Katsiff, Director and CEO at the Michener Art Museum . “Whitley has a penchant for drawing the forms and rhythms of the natural world, and this fascination with nature has inspired the graceful curves in his elegant tables and chairs.”

Born in 1924, Whitley, a third generation craftsman, creates original pieces of furniture which incorporate modern designs and whimsical elements. He is a master woodworker of national reputation. His impressive commissions include a chess set presented by President Richard Nixon to the Soviet Union, now housed in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg , Russia and the restoration of several important pieces at Independence Hall in Philadelphia , where he has served as master conservator.

In 1978, Whitley was commissioned to reproduce The Resolute desk that President John F. Kennedy used in the Oval Office during his administration. Whitley worked for three days at the White House to photograph, measure and create rubbings and drawings of the desk and its carvings. The desk, most famous from the photograph taken of John F. Kennedy Jr. as a toddler peering out the front, took Whitley a year to complete. He has said it was “the most complicated piece of furniture” he’s ever made.

Whitley also creates contemporary pieces of furniture. Among them, the Throne Chair, 1977, is hand worked from rare woods, including American Curly Maple, Ebony, Dogwood, Birdseye Maple and Black Walnut. Whitley employed a new technique called “pillowing” with this chair which joins the surface edges and allows for the expansion and contraction of the wood pieces. The chair stands on three solid legs, has a smooth finish and evenly combines the dark and light elements of the various types of wood.

“My personal philosophy is that a product should be beautiful, functional and suitable with a sense of permanence,” says Whitley. “A truly excellent design—one that is pleasing to the eye, graceful in line and serves a practical function—this will survive the trends and fads of the times and will retain its classic beauty forever.”

Whitley and his wife purchased 13 acres of land in Solebury , Pennsylvania in 1971. Over time he not only built his house, but his studio, which includes a sanding room, a finishing room and an extensive library. A Japanese style tea room, which is reachable by a wooden walkway, sits in the backyard and houses Asian inspired furniture as well as a Whitley style rocking chair. He and his wife live among his furniture creations—both reproductions and originals and several pieces in this exhibit were taken from various rooms in their home.

Whitley’s works are in permanent collections at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the National Museum of Fine Arts in Washington, D.C., to name a few. He has received many awards for Creative Art Furniture such as an Individual Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington , D.C. , a “Crafts Multiples” Award from the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington , D.C. and a National Merit Award from the Museum of Contemporary Crafts , New York City .

In conjunction with this exhibition, the Museum offers opportunities to visit Robert Whitley’s studio in Solebury , Pennsylvania on Friday, April 11 from 10 – 11:30 a.m. and Friday, May 30 from 10 – 11:30 a.m. The fee for each tour is $20 for members and $25 for non-members. The artist presents a gallery talk on Thursday, February 28 at 2 p.m. and on Thursday, June 5 at 2 p.m. at the Museum in New Hope . The fee is $8 for members and $12 for non-members. Please specify date when registering; advanced registration is required and limited.

Annual support for the Michener Art Museum is provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Bucks County Commissioners and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

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