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Museum ponders expansion plans

The Wharton Esherick Museum in Malvern, Pa., is exploring how to use some recently acquired space.

A backyard view of the “Sunekrest” farmhouse at the Wharton Esherick Museum in Malvern, Pa.

The museum opened in September 1972 and offers guided tours of the buildings filled with more than 300 works by Wharton Esherick, a prolific experimenter of form and function.

In 2014, the museum purchased an adjacent 19th-century farmhouse that was once Esherick’s first home on Valley Forge Mountain. Esherick named it “Sunekrest.”

Last fall, the museum was selected to be a case study organization for graduate students in the museum studies program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. The results showed a desire for new programs and experiences at the Wharton Esherick Museum, which has prompted its board to think of new possibilities for the property, according to museum executive director Julie Gannaway.

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“We seek to open up the new site and collections as source material to stimulate the creation of new works of art by visual, literary and performing artists and by artisans, craftsman and makers who celebrate innovation and beauty in everyday objects,” Gannaway says.

“We are open to many possible ways to do this, such as through performances, exhibitions, informal classes and simply serving as a place for artists to gather and share traditions. Another major goal is to develop an internationally recognized artist-in-residence program. All of this would be feasible by expanding into the lower (Sunekrest) campus.”

Currently, the studio museum has a relatively small structural capacity that limits the number of visitors per year and is not accessible to wheelchairs. It also lacks space for events and programs.

“Activating the lower campus will meet critical needs for the organization in terms of programming space and accessibility. But the biggest opportunity the new space presents is as a complement to the studio, which allows this creative mecca to evolve from something that happened to something that continues to happen.

“While we know that woodworkers are a key component of our core constituency, the museum appeals to a broad range of people who appreciate [Esherick’s] imaginative problem solving as much as his artistic vision. Esherick’s creative mind was a gift to the world and we want to be sure that gift is fully utilized by artists and makers of all kinds and non-makers alike.”

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This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue.

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