Freeman’s To Sell Notable Works By Wharton Esherick From Historic Hedgerow Theatre Collection

Published on

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 Freeman’s forthcoming Design auction. The collection—which includes eight of Esherick’s earliest “Hammer-Handle” chairs and the important “Thunder Table” from 1929—celebrates Esherick’s lengthy and seminal relationship with the Theatre and demonstrates its considerable influence on his evolution as an artist and craftsman.

Freeman’s is honored to present these exemplary pieces of Pennsylvania’s 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. (View this 1948 State Department Documentary Film about Hedgerow Theatre.)


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 movement’s 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 daughter’s 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 Theatre’s 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 Theatre’s 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 Theatre’s balcony sketching the various dancers and actors on stage, Esherick carved a minimalist curvilinear drawing of the play’s leading actors into one of the table’s ends. The “Thunder Table” has been on display in the Theatre’s 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 Theatre’s 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, Esherick’s stairs failed to pass fire-code inspection and were deemed unusable for ushering theatergoers from the lobby to the balcony. Other examples of Esherick’s 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 Esherick’s 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.


The “Thunder Table” is presently on view in Freeman’s new flagship gallery at 2400 Market Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Additional highlights from the Hedgerow Theatre Collection will be on view in Freeman’s 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 Freeman’s to schedule an appointment for viewing.


Established in 1923 in the Rose Valley Arts and Crafts Community, Hedgerow Theatre is America’s longest serving Ensemble Repertory Theatre.  Founded by visionary actor/director Jasper Deeter as a haven for cutting-edge artists of the early 20th century, the theatre quickly gained a national and international reputation, attracting era-defining artists such as Eugene O’Neill, Henrik Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw, Theodore Dreiser, Bertolt Brecht, and Wharton Esherick. Hedgerow has and continues to serve as a place where artists can both live and work, ensuring that active artists remain central to the community originally conceived as a creative utopia. Today, Hedgerow’s resident ensemble of artists, unique in America, present professional productions from across the range of theatre, classic to contemporary. Hedgerow’s Theatre School, formally established in 1935, is a robust year-round theatre education program that serves youth and adults, with a special focus on creativity and critical thinking.  Hedgerow is known for its pioneering role in the establishment of the not-for-profit theatre movement in America.  Serving as a pillar for the arts community for 97 years, it now stands as a preeminent creative landmark in the greater Philadelphia area.


Freeman’s has been a part of the fabric of Philadelphia since 1805, helping generations of clients in the buying and selling of fine and decorative arts, jewelry & modern design. Today, they are an international auction house with a year-round sale season and a team of specialists committed to personalized service. Freeman’s provides solutions for the changing dynamics of a family or business—valuing a single item, an entire estate, personal property, or a corporate collection. With both appraisal and auction services, Freeman’s is dedicated to providing the best experience for our clients.

More in the auction industry