Notable works from the historic Hedgerow Theatre by renowned American artist and woodworker Wharton Esherick will come to auction for the first time on March 31 in Philadelphia. Representing decades of creative exchange between the master woodworker and the Theatre, this significant collection leads Freemans
forthcoming Design auction. The collectionwhich includes eight of Eshericks earliest Hammer-Handle chairs and the important Thunder Table from 1929celebrates Eshericks lengthy and seminal relationship with the Theatre and demonstrates its considerable influence on his evolution as an artist and craftsman.
Freemans will present these exemplary pieces of Pennsylvanias cultural history at auction. Proceeds from the sale will benefit future preservation of Hedgerow Theatre and will assist them in fulfilling their mission as a professional theatre ensemble and theatre school as well as a cultural center. It will enable them to continue their steadfast commitment to progress, education, and artistic excellence that has impacted countless cultural institutions and artists nationwide for nearly a century.
ESHERICK & HEDGEROW
Wharton Esherick (1887-1970), heralded as the Dean of American Craftsmen and among the vanguard of the Studio Furniture Movement, began working in wood at the close of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Although embracing the ideology that valued the hand-made over the industrially produced, he broke with the movements more traditional aesthetic, creating sculptural and cutting-edge forms. Esherick was introduced to the Hedgerow Theatre in nearby Rose Valley, Pennsylvania and to its founding Artistic Director Jasper Deeter (1893-1972) in 1923.
Esherick began designing pieces for the Hedgerow Theatre in exchange for his daughters acting lessons. Initially involved in set, costume and lighting design, Esherick went on to create woodblock posters for various productions and furniture for both the Theatre and nearby Hedgerow House, which served as the home to Theatre company members. Over the years, the Theatres Green Room housed many temporary and permanent works by Esherick, operating as an unofficial gallery and exhibition space for the artist.
Leading the auction is the iconic Thunder Table, carved by Esherick in 1929 in celebration of the success of the Theatres production of Thunder on the Left in which his daughter Mary appeared. The table stands on two splayed and hinged legs; its top is composed of two long, found wooden boards, each with a perceptibly warped end. Having spent much of his time on the Theatres balcony sketching the various dancers and actors on stage, Esherick carved a minimalist curvilinear drawing of the plays leading actors into one of the tables ends. The Thunder Table has been on display in the Theatres Green Room for many years before which it had been in use by decades of actors and visitors.
Also on offer is the set of stairs Esherick built in the Theatres former lobby in the mid-1930s to create more room for the box office. As a replacement for the old set of Arts & Crafts stairs, he designed and built one of his signature idiosyncratic staircases, with gently curving steps fanning out from a two-foot central column. Because of their nontraditional design, Eshericks stairs failed to pass fire-code inspection and were deemed unusable for ushering theatergoers from the lobby to the balcony. Other examples of Eshericks staircases are presently in the collections of the Wolfsonian-FIU in Miami Beach, Florida; the Modernism Museum in Mount Dora, Florida; and the Wharton Esherick Museum in Chester County, Pennsylvania.
Additional works on offer include a Sawbuck Table used at Hedgerow House; a Trestle Table that purportedly came from Eshericks own collection; and eight Hammer-Handle chairs. The chairs, assembled in part from found axe and hammer handles by Esherick, are among the most iconic and significant of his creations; examples are presently in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Wharton Esherick Museum in Chester County, Pennsylvania; The Museum of Art & Design in New York, New York; and the Longhouse Reserve in Long Island, New York, among others.
VIEWING & EXHIBITIONS
The Thunder Table is presently on view in Freemans new flagship gallery at 2400 Market Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Additional highlights from the Hedgerow Theatre Collection will be on view in Freemans Main Line Gallery in Wayne, Pennsylvania beginning February 10. The full exhibition for the March 31 Design Auction will be open to the public March 27-30 at 2400 Market Street. The staircase will remain at Hedgerow Theatre prior to the auction; please contact Freemans to schedule an appointment for viewing.