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"A truly excellent design-one that is pleasing to the eye, graceful in line and serves a practical function-this will survive the trends and fads of the times and will retain its classic beauty forever."
Robert Whitley was a studio furniture designer and master craftsman of national reputation. Equally well versed in contemporary and antique furniture designs, Whitley was a third-generation craftsman who inherited his skill in cabinetry, knowledge of woods and joinery, and formula for oil finishing from his father and grandfather. This same family oil formula had become a signature of sorts for Whitley and can be seen in the majority of his works. Among his many commissions are a chess set presented by President Richard Nixon to the Soviet Union, now in the collection of The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia; a recreation of President John F. Kennedy's Oval Office desk for the Kennedy Memorial Library, Boston; and the restoration of several important pieces at Independence Hall, Philadelphia, where he has also served as master conservator. His contemporary furniture designs had earned the artist numerous national awards. Whitley's work resides in the Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C.; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art collections, among others.
Whitley's Starfish Desk, Michener Art Museum Chair, Throne Bench, Throne Desk, and Throne Chair are part of the Michener Art Museum’s permanent collection. Throne Bench was selected for the collection by a panel of judges from amongst fifty submissions from artists in the Mid-Atlantic region. These and other pieces by Whitley have been exhibited at the Michener Art Museum in Bucks County Invitational II: Contemporary Woodworkers (1998), Robert Whitley: Beauty, Function, and Grace (2008), and Parting Gifts: Artists Honor Bruce Katsiff, Director/CEO, 1989-2012 (2012).
In 2016, Whitley was awarded a lifetime membership in the Society of American Period Furniture Makers (SAPFM) in recognition of his support and through a lifetime commitment to advancing the understanding, education and appreciation of period furniture.
Robert Whitley. Photograph by Mark Linquist. Image courtesy of Robert Whitley. James A. Michener Art Museum archives.
Education and Training
Trenton Art School, Trenton, New Jersey
Influences and Teachers
Whitley trained under his grandfather and father. Whitley's father was a commercial artist and an antique collector.
Connection to Bucks County
Whitley lived and had a studio on Laurel Road in Solebury Township. He opened his first cabinetmaking shop in 1948 in Lambertville, New Jersey. In 1970, he moved across the Delaware River to Solebury.
Artistic Community and Colleagues
Whitley knew artists William F. Taylor, Valentine D'Ogries, Edward Redfield, Harry Leith-Ross, John Folinsbee, Lloyd Raymond "Bill" Ney, Moss Hart, and Oscar Hammerstein as a child. His colleagues include the late George Nakashima, Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, Jeffrey Greene, and Phillip Lloyd Powell.
Major Group Exhibitions
Bucks County Invitational II: Contemporary Woodworkers, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 1998
Parting Gifts: Artists Honor Bruce Katsiff, Director/CEO, 1989-2012, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 2012
Major Solo Exhibitions
Robert Whitley: Beauty, Function, and Grace, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 2008
Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
The High Museum, Atlanta, Georgia
Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania
National Gallery of Fine Arts, Washington, D.C.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Ten Acre Foundation, Princeton, New Jersey
University of Pennsylvania Museum, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Westminster Choir College, Princeton, New Jersey
The White House Library, Washington, D.C.
Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Commissions for Original Pieces, Recreations, and Restorations
Presidential commission, presentation chest and game-playing board for a chess set, presented to the people of the U.S.S.R. by President Richard Nixon, collection of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia
Recreation of the original presidential desk used by President John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office, John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston, Massachusetts
Restoration of seven Sack Back Windsor Chairs and two Comb Back Windsor Chairs, Carpenters' Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Recreation of four copies of three-legged, stretcher-based tavern tables and two tripod-based, adjustable music stands; the restoration of an antique Chippendale pier mirror and the recreation of an exact copy, City Tavern, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Antique restoration of a Queen Anne Spanish foot lowboy, circa 1730-1740, Dolly Madison House, Washington, D.C.
Recreation of Benjamin Franklin's Quadruple Music Stand, Franklin Court, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Recreation of twelve copies of Chippendale Side Chairs, as well as the design and recreation of one Chippendale Arm Chair, George Washington's Headquarters, Morristown, New Jersey
Recreation of 4 Queen Anne chairs, circa 1740-1760, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Recreation of a Windsor arm type chair with a unique swivel based seat that Thomas Jefferson sat in while writing the Declaration of Independence, Second National Bank of the United States, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
National Merit Award, Museum of Contemporary Crafts, 1966
Craft Multiples Award, Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 1975
Handmade Furniture Exhibit Award, American Craft Museum, 1979-1980
Individual Grant, National Endowment of the Arts, Washington D.C., 1980
First Place Award of Excellence, The American Woodworker Magazine, 1996
The Cartouche Award for Outstanding Achievement, Society of American Period Furniture Makers, 2002
Bucks County Arts Lifetime Achievement Award, Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce, 2002
Affiliations, Memberships, Schools
Lifetime Membership, Society of American Period Furniture Makers (SAPFM), 2016