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Chester County’s Wharton Esherick Museum Lands a $10 Million Donation

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Image courtesy of the Wharton Esherick Museum.

The Malvern institution unveils plans for its reimagined campus.

Christmas came early for the Wharton Esherick Museum when the Windgate Foundation donated $10 million to the Malvern institution. Named a National Historic Landmark for Architecture, the local treasure is dedicated to the work and memory of Wharton Esherick (1887-1970), a foundational figure in American crafts, particularly the American Studio Furniture movement.

Wharton Esherick circa 1960. Photo courtesy of the Wharton Esherick Museum.

Windgate’s donation provides much needed funding to the museum. “We will be able to meet all of our preservation and maintenance needs,” says Julie Siglin, the museum’s executive director. “We’ll put half of that draw in a board-designated fund to reimagine the campus.”

Sketch of the proposed “Ramble” path connecting the upper and lower campus. Image courtesy of the Wharton Esherick Museum.

That reimagining was already underway. Siglin and her colleagues spent a year working on plans to unite the upper campus with other areas, including Esherick’s original home. A new visitor center, event space and gallery space will be created, too. The museum board enthusiastically approved the ambitious plan on March 11. “Six days later, I was locking the visitor’s center not knowing when I’d reopen it,” says Siglin.

While grappling with COVID-induced closures, the museum also mourned the loss of Bob Bascom, Esherick’s son-in-law and a guiding hand in the museum’s mission to preserve the artist’s legacy. “Bob’s absence is very loud,” Siglin says. “He and Ruth, Esherick’s daughter, created this museum as a labor of love.”

Siglin shared news of the Windgate donation with Bascom before he died. “It was a transformational moment in my life,” she says. “I was able to tell him that we’d be able to continue the mission he started.”

Wharton Esherick’s Studio. Photo by Charles Uniatowski, courtesy of the Wharton Esherick Museum.

That mission is a story of art and architecture. And the revamped campus will bring that into focus with new seating, displayed texts and opportunities for visitors to experience Esherick’s living and working quarters. For its part, the Windgate Foundation is confident in the museum’s potential. “The endowment gift is a culmination of our many years of working together and shows our trust in the staff and board and their future vision,” says executive director Pat Forgy. “It’s our hope that this gift will inspire others to show their support for this exceptional museum as they prepare to expand over the coming years.”

To accomplish its planned renovation, the museum will need many more millions of dollars. Siglin put the number at $7-$10 million, a goal she hopes to reach with a capital campaign set to launch in 2022, the museum’s 50th anniversary.