Please touch the furniture!

 Today, my husband and I went with some good friends, to visit the Wharton Esherick Museum in Paoli PA.  Esherick (1887-1970) is an artist and sculptor who worked primarily in wood and whose finely crafted pieces are found in museum collections around the country.  The museum includes Esherick's small studio and workshop. Additions were made to the buildings at various times during Esherick's lifetime.

 I had not been there in more than 25 years and remembered it fondly for its quirky interior full of finely crafted woodwork, especially the stair. What I did not recall, is that this museum was quite the opposite of the vast majority of house museums in the “please don’t touch” genre.

 Visitors are allowed—encouraged even--to touch to woodwork, sit on the chairs (so long as they do not have leather or fabric seats), and visit every room in the place. Everyone wears booties over their shoes to prevent scratching of the fine floors, but you are allowed to run your hands over all the wood surfaces: everything.  It was thrilling.

 The house is as Esherick left it when he died in 1970. It is complete with cutlery in the kitchen drawers; his favorite hat in the fascinating drawer system under the bed; and finally the Mastodon bone handrail just topped it off for me. When in my lifetime will I ever be able to touch a massive dinosaur bone? Our docent was a local carpenter who was quite knowledgeable. Each time someone asked as question he could not answer, his reply began with “You know, that is a really great question. I don’t know. Let’s ask the curator when we are done.

 While the studio is a small space, we saw all but one bedroom room, climbing up that famous stairway into the master bedroom and then into another space with the kitchen and dining room. And let’s not forget the restroom and the panorama from the deck.

 I was thinking that had we not participated in the experience, meaning:  climbing the stairs, sitting in the chairs, feeling the dinosaur bone handrail, pulling out the drawers to the hutch, opening the kitchen drawers, seeing the shirts folded in the drawers, or running our hands over the smooth or rough surfaces of the wood grain on the table tops, and decorative carvings—that a hour-long recitation of names and dates would have been absolutely deadly.

 Instead, a knowledgeable docent (who had a small Wharton Esherick wood block print image as a tattoo on his arm) made it all meaningful as he explained how he related to Esherick’s work in his own life.  But for me, the touching the furniture was the best and most memorable part.

 Learn more about the Wharton Esherick Museum at