Butler / Local Interest
My dear friend Andrea got a really nifty tattoo featuring two of my paintings combined!
What a fun idea! I hope I get a chance to see it in real life before she moves back to Colorado. ♥
The Wishtart Cabinetmakers the “Master Craftsman” of Washington, Pennsylvania
Charles Wishtart started his woodworking business in about 1938 in Washington, PA. He began with very little, re-purposing wooden crates into cupboards and utilitarian furniture objects that sold to his initial clients. He then began restoring and refinishing used furniture and antiques. Charles was self taught, and he referenced the great masters of design from American and English period furniture. He studied note worthy examples illustrated in furniture books, and he successfully mastered the art of design and proportion.
Charles worked hard and constant. He was blessed with gifts that are evident in his skillfully made furniture. His primary furniture incorporated characteristics reminiscent of Hepplewhite, Chippendale and Sheraton. His was ingenious, his workmanship was unsurpassed in quality of nature, and he was one of very few cabinetmakers to produce such pieces in the 20th century. Wishtart would not permit any object of furniture to leave the shop until it was impeccably perfect in his eyes. Impatient clients would grumble about why it was taking several months to finish a custom highboy. They being naive to the process, were very contented once they viewed the finished piece. The furniture of Charles Wishtart was purposed for use, but upon completion was transformed into a work of art. Just as one critiques the composition of a fine art painting, Wishtart furniture incorporates intentional fine characteristics associated with the hand that formed it.
Leonard Wishtart, was the only child of Charles and Genevieve Silver Wishtart. As a young boy Leonard’s hobby was photography. As a young man he took pictures for the local newspaper before serving in the US Army as a photographer in 1947, while stationed in Germany. Some of his photographs are said to have been acquired by the Smithsonian Institute. Leonard took pictures and personally developed and printed many fine photographs of the Wishtart cabinet shop over the years, making for a photographic history. He later realized his woodworking talents as he worked alongside his critiquing father. After his father passed away in 1975, “Wishtart and Son,” continued on Jefferson Avenue. From about 1968 and through the early 21st century, Leonard completed many pieces of furniture that imitate those of his father’s work. He also completed his own personal designs, some of which veered away from the straightforward designs of the historic early cabinetmakers, but portrayed the contemporary or that which was in vogue. Leonard idolized his father, and to this day he repeats sentimental stories of their lifetimes. Leonard’s mother was an advocate of her husband and son cabinet shop, even though shadowing on the sidelines. Genevieve was an artist in her own rights, not a professional, but she produced some outstanding oil landscape and still life paintings.
My first encounter with Leonard was in the early 1980’s. My mentor and respected friend, in the appraisal business, Recco Luppino of Washington, introduced me to Leonard, and raved about the quality furniture that was made and still being made in the cabinet shop. About once a month, we would stop by and see what was new at the shop. Mr. Luppino pointed out the fine characteristics of the pieces. During one of those visits, Mr. Luppino bought two one-drawer stands, and gifted me with one of the two, that started my personal collection. After Mr. Luppino passed away in the 1990’s, I continued to be drawn to the shop. Leonard and I shared memories associated to Luppino, and over the years solidified a lifelong endearing friendship. Our creative minds were tuned into the same channel with harmonic cords. Leonard shared his ideas with me. I remember sitting on the tall shop stool within walls of partially finished chests of drawers, and nearby the wood fired potbelly stove. Leonard would pencil cartoon images on a wood scrap, then looked to me for an opinion about a design or understanding of composition. We contemplated and imagined the child’s highboys that he made into a reality of workmanship and completed design. He made about six that I know of, one that was made in curly maple for my young daughter at the time. Leonard would select hardwood figured boards for a drawer front or table top, etc. The herringbone inlay, shells and sunburst, were custom made in the shop. These elements are important decorative elements that add flare of character and distinction that enhanced the whole. While at the shop, I noticed a tall metal cabinet that held powdered color pigments, oil, and polishes that were used in the final treatment on the smooth surfaces. He would order special brass pulls and escutcheons that enhanced the cabinetry.
Leonard had access to a warehouse of lumber collected with insight by his father over the years. “These fine cherry boards came from the trees of Colonial America,” Leonard would say. “The initial quality, proper storing, and gentle drying of these boards, over a half of a century, was rare, and samples were nearly non existent in today’s world.” There were hundreds of ready to finish elements such as tabletops, drawer parts, and sets of inlaid legs waiting to be chosen and incorporated into stands, tables, highboys, chests, etc. I can only imagine how many of these parts were made by Leonard as he practiced under his father’s guidance. Also, stashed away in the large fortress of a warehouse were round antique tabletops, hundreds of square tapered legs, card table tops, carved elements, turnings, casings, etc., those of which were all waiting the light of day. Leonard’s unending hope was for an apprentice to carry on the business. The decline of his health about ten years ago made it impossible to continue. The warehouse and shop had to be liquidated, even still with the hope that that person would come along and keep the shop going.
The furniture signed or labeled by Charles Wishtart, Wishtart and Son, and Leonard Wishtart Cabinetmaker, is now being housed in some of the finest homes across the country. The ingenious master craftsman’s intention, to make something to be treasured and to last, has become a reality. and pieces are now family heirlooms.
Leonard is retired and will be 93 years old on January 18th. He has many stories about his family coming to this country, and how his father became an entrepreneur. He still has hope that he can be of assistance or a mentor to a person who is interested in learning the trade. Although, it will be more difficult these days, there is something more to be passed along.
Leonard still enjoys photography, history, and continuing education. He has a wealth of knowledge just waiting to be tapped, his being the gifted hands that operated the custom made machinery that produced masterpieces.
I have started to compile a photographic inventory of the furniture made by the Wishtarts. This documentation is important to preserve the history of the cabinet shop and its artists/craftsman. The names of many fine cabinetmakers of Pennsylvania and surrounding regions, in years past have been lost because they were not documented. My “wish” for the Wishtart name is that it will live on and gain recognition as time goes on. They indeed were and are “the master craftsman” who will be recognized among the most significant and important period style furniture makers of the 20th century. If you are the fortunate enough to own Wishtart furniture, and would like to add a page to the book, please contact me.
I would be happy to assist you in future days to market those appreciated and exceptional furniture pieces by the Wishtarts.
Pictured is a pair of stylistic lamp or end stands created by Leonard. They are one “one of a kind” and a fine pair of stands in my personal collection.