It’s the 4th of July and the wood studio is closed. Philadelphia plans to have firework celebrations in several locations, most notably the Philadelphia Museum of Art (think “Rocky”movie and those many steps).

Early last week, Albert LeCoff, with Tina, visited our studio at UArts to discuss projects and the residency in general. For most artists, a residency experience takes awhile to adjust to new facilities, living away from home, and sharing space with others. No exception here, but because of much support and everyone’s inclusive, positive outlook, we are finding multiple ways to connect. Work is progress apace!

Perhaps because this is my second time as a Windgate ITE Fellow, I am thoroughly enjoying the experience in a way that extends beyond my original expectations. Simply put, I am having a marvelous time! At home in Indianapolis, I work alone — the energy and camaraderie here is fueling my creativity. The many distractions of living in downtown Philadelphia are … a distraction, but the city’s atmosphere is energizing.

As the residency progresses, I will be writing in depth about each artist individually, as I stockpile images and take notes. In the meantime ….

Inspiration for my work

Yes, I am the photojournalist, but I am also making shavings, painting wood, and making woodcut prints. Informing what I’m currently working were two recent trips: Echo Lake and Wharton Esherick Museum. While at Echo Lake, I began carving (and then abandoned) a small sculpture of a boat out of holly, half spalted, the other half a plain gray color. The contrast between “lovely-wood-don’t-paint-it” on one side and ho-hum gray on the other presented a challenge … and then offered an opportunity for a narrative approach when Mark Sfirri led us on a personalized tour of the Wharton Esherick Museum. Mark has extensively researched and written papers about Esherick’s work and life. We heard stories beyond the usual textbook information. For instance, Letty, Wharton’s wife, seems to have a hard life, yet much of it must have been quite interesting. Her story intrigued me, and I thought, “What better person to sail my ship of contrasts?”

I titled the boat, She Sails. The first image is of the spalted side, the second is of the plain-grain side. Here, I’m trying to determine the “stand.” Thanks to a comment from Katie, I see that the “stand” looks like (and has become) a rudder. I named the ship Letty. I feel, somehow, to be honoring Letty and freeing her from my initial negative thoughts.

A visit to Wharton Esherick Museum

Last week, our visit to the Wharton Esherick Museum delighted! (Amy and Rebecca had been there before, so they stayed behind to work.) The “museum” was Wharton’s original workshop, then became his living quarters after he and Letty separated. Their son lived there for awhile, too, in a third-floor bedroom. So very different from any museum I’ve seen. I appreciated Mark interpreting some of the many objects — there were no wall placards to inform visitors.

Wharton is long-since dead, but his inventive approach was apparent in the many examples of his furniture, sculptures, and woodcut prints. He designed the furniture (others made it) but anything shaped or carved, Esherick had a hand in. And, he was a prolific maker. A second visit would no doubt reveal numerous overlooked objects.

Mark and Ashley view the “sculpture pit.” If termites ate away part of your workshop, what would you do? No problem for Wharton, he dug out the damaged wood, which create a space sufficiently expansive for displaying some of his tall sculptures. The photo on the right shows the press Esherick used for woodcut printmaking.

Katie was in her element, surrounded by quirky, unusual, fantastic works, too many to sketch in one brief visit, so she asked me to take a photo of this doorstop and for everyone to share their images. How clever to make a heavy, carved-handled doorstop, which could also serve as a counterweight or a footstool … or who knows what else?

Nuch examined as much as she could take in, took many images, and had an informative discussion with Mark. We all took a break on the porch half way through the tour. Check out our height-of-fashion protective booties! Minimal protection, really, for such an “open” museum. I would not be surprised if, in the future, such free-range tours are allowed. I felt privileged.

We all discovered small details, tucked here and there. What an imaginative mind Wharton obviously possessed: a square toilet seat/lid, a carved light-switch cover, Wharton’s initials chiseled into the first step of his iconic staircase, several bronze-cast light pulls (Michaela’s favorite!), hand-carved draw pulls attached with strips of leather, a telephone stand tucked into the staircase, accessible from three rooms, and a wooden grate-opening partially obscuring the metal grate.

Esherick’s woodcut prints hung throughout the building. The swing was my favorite.

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It seemed as though even the natural environment collaborates with Wharton Esherick. This log’s cheerful shape greeted us near the entrance, and smiled at us as we left. If ever the opportunity presents itself, visit the Wharton Esherick Museum! It’s about an hour’s drive from Philadelphia.

Country Living

The next day, a late afternoon/early evening visit to Suzanne Bonsall Kahn’s home and workshop provided an opportunity to relax, swim (in the pool), eat a delicious meal (topped off with lemon cupcakes), and chat with Suzanne and her husband, Jeff. In addition to being a member of the Center’s Board of Trustees, Suzanne is also a furnituremaker and woodturner.

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Michaela relaxes on the dock overlooking a small pond (soaking up atmosphere reminiscent of her home state of Maine). To the left of the dock, nestled among the trees, is Suzanne’s workshop.

It’s the end of the holiday weekend, and tomorrow we will be back in the wood studio to begin our last full month of work. We have a lot to accomplish before our exhibit opens in early August!

— Betty J. Scarpino, Photojournalist