Wharton Esherick Museum Unveils ‘Movement is Life’: A Celebration of Art and Rhythm

Photograph of dancersPhotograph of dancers from Esherick family album including photos by Delight Weston and others, 1920. Collection of the Wharton Esherick Museum. Photo courtesy of WEM. /Submitted Image

MALVERN, PA — The Wharton Esherick Museum (WEM) is set to launch “Movement is Life,” a captivating exhibition tracing the rhythmic influences on Wharton Esherick’s art. The exhibition will be on view in the museum’s Visitor Center starting on March 2, 2024, marking the beginning of an exciting year of rhythmic-themed programming.

“Movement is Life” explores the profound impact of modern dance on the emergence of Esherick’s dynamic artistry. In the early 1920s, Esherick evolved from a relatively unnoticed impressionist painter to a renowned woodcarver whose modernist forms shaped his distinguished career. His earliest woodworks—woodblock prints and decorative reliefs on frames and furniture—were characterized by swirling lines and rhythmic patterns that brought the natural world to life.

Esherick’s transformation coincided with his involvement in communities practicing “rhythmics,” a form of modern dance aimed at revitalizing individuals by reconnecting them with nature’s rhythms. This movement-based expression found its place in progressive school curricula and among health-conscious adults, resonating with the interpretive dance approach of Isadora Duncan, who encapsulated the ethos of the movement with her declaration, “Movement is Life.”

Esherick’s exposure to rhythmics came through his wife, Letty Nofer Esherick, as they frequented the Ruth Doing Camp for Rhythmics and the Gardner-Doing Camp for Rhythmics in the Adirondack Mountains. This encounter introduced Esherick to the concept of art invigorated through rhythmic harmony with nature, a theme that would thread through his life’s work.

“Movement is Life” showcases a selection of woodblock prints, carvings, and archival photographs from WEM’s collections, created during 1919-1924. Notably, the exhibition features an antique chest with carved decorative reliefs by Esherick on each side. This piece, which depicts their farmhouse home, is one of Esherick’s earliest experiments in merging art and furniture.

Holly Gore, WEM Director of Interpretation and Associate Curator of Special Collections, notes, “These enclaves of dancers and progressive thinkers introduced Wharton Esherick to a view of art as invigorated through rhythmic harmony with nature – and mark the beginning of his engagement with these themes throughout his life.”

“Movement is Life” is the inaugural event in a series of programs at WEM this year that celebrate the creative energy found in life’s rhythms. The Annual Juried Woodworking Exhibition, opening this summer, will feature artists and woodworkers interpreting this theme in diverse ways.

“Movement is Life” will be on display in the WEM Visitor Center from March 2, 2024, to June 2, 2024. Guests wishing to enter the Studio must make advance reservations for a tour. Don’t miss this opportunity to experience the rhythmic inspiration behind Wharton Esherick’s remarkable artistry. Details about visiting can be found at whartonesherickmuseum.org.

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