William Wharton

 William Wharton by George H. Rothacker - acrylic on canvas -  24" x 24" - Original painting $2400, prints @$90 each plus tax and shipping (Prints are an edition of 50, signed, titled and numbered with an image area of 13"x 13").

Wharton was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, grew up in Upper Darby and graduated in the class of 1943. I graduated from Upper Darby High School in 1965.

I read Wharton’s first and most notable book, Birdy, soon after it came out in 1978, and recognized many of the places in the book that were near the apartments where I had lived in the Stonehurst Hills and 69th Street sections of Upper Darby as child and young adult. Although he used West Philadelphia as the location of his scenes in Birdy, the book was mostly inspired by his early years in Stonehurst Hills and his teenage years in Upper Darby.

Over the course of Wharton’s life, he wrote many books, including three of which were made into films: Birdy, Midnight Clear and Dad. But Wharton didn’t consider himself a writer. Instead he had been a lifelong painter and created hundreds of colorful works which captured impressions of his family and homes in France, a houseboat that he and his family occupied on the Seine and an old mill outside of Paris. 

Following his success with Birdy  in 1980, Wharton never sold another piece of his artwork, and many of his works are speculated to be hidden away in a vault that in his will and testament prevented from anyone from opening it and selling its contents for 100 years after his death.

Besides Wharton and I having grown up in the same locale, we share the fact that neither of us began to write until later in life. Birdy was released when Wharton was 53 years old.  I began writing novels at the age of 72 with Singularity 1.0. Wharton had a mill where most of his works were stored and displayed, and I have a barn where the bulk  of my paintings are currently hung.

We also shared another connection, In that in the early  2000s, I was represented by the prestigious Newman & Saunders Galleries located in Wayne, Pennsylvania, and Wharton, in the 1980s, was approached by the owners, Teddy Newman and Drew Saunders, to manage the sales of his work from their gallery. By that time, Wharton had chosen not to sell his artwork, since he had made enough money from his writing and the movies produced from them, that he was able to preserve his legacy for a time in the future when his artwork might be considered of greater value.

Wharton died in 2008. Although we never crossed paths, I celebrated him in one of my most recent, yet unpublished, novels, A Victorious Life. In the book, I imagined a time in the future when my lead character, at the age of 80, was to receive a National Book Award on the same evening as Wharton, long deceased, received a lifetime Achievement Award posthumously by the National Book Award committee.

On a final note, it was only recently that I painted Wharton’s portrait to add to this collection, while in reality, he was the first portrait I conceived in sketch form for the series — a coincidence that may link us ever closer in the future.

William Wharton