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Charles Sheeler is one of my favorite American artists, and this book features the works of his that speak the most to me -- farmhouses and barns in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (not far from where I grew up). CHARLES SHEELER IN DOYLESTOWN was assembled and published in connection with an exhibition of Sheeler's paintings and photographs organized by the Allentown Art Museum in 1997. At the time, Sheeler was known primarily as an American modernist who had produced compelling images of the Machine Age -- New York skyscrapers, locomotive engines, power plants, and factory complexes. The Allentown exhibit, and this book, reminded people that Sheeler had also produced equally compelling modernist images of preindustrial America, as exemplified by structures in rural Bucks County.
The book is divided into three sections. The first centers on an eighteenth-century stone farmhouse near Doylestown. Known as the Worthington house, Sheeler rented it and used it as a studio and a residence or retreat off and on between 1917 and 1926. In 1917 Sheeler produced a series of striking black-and-white photographs (gelatin silver prints) of the interior of the farmhouse, of which the pictures of a spiral wood staircase, the broad-planked door to the stairwell, and an iron stove are the most noteworthy. On various occasions later in his career, Sheeler re-worked these farmhouse interiors in oil paintings or in conté crayon works.
The second section of the book deals with photographs, paintings, and drawings of large barns in Bucks County that Sheeler executed while he lived and worked in the Doylestown area. The barns usually were constructed of fieldstone and clapboard or board-and-batten siding, and typically they centered a complex of ells and other side buildings.Read more ›
Karen Lucic, guest curator for the Allentown Art Museum’s 1997 exhibition “Charles Sheeler in Doylestown: American Modernism and the Pennsylvania Tradition” has done a superb job in describing and analyzing how Charles Sheeler used uniquely American in historic architecture and functional implements and put it in service of modernist movement in Art following the 1913 Armory Show. One could say that Sheeler helped make modern art palatable, even comprehensible to Americans during and following World War I . Contrary to the popular notion that Sheeler was an uncritical admirer of industry and the new technology, Sheeler’s primary objective was to meet the challenges of modern art in ways that respect his emphasis on rigor of design and craftsmanship and that were consonant with his own American heritage and cultural standards.
In Kucic’s second chapter, The Doylestown House, we come to understand how the stone house he and Morton Schamberg shared during summers and weekends outside of Philadelphia provided him with direct, daily access to abstract elements he was able to find in nature. These elements –arrangement of stone, wood and shadow - Sheeler prized highly. They permitted him to start to bridge the gap between pure representation and pure abstraction. Somewhere near the middle of that bridge we find Sheeler’s best work. Doylestown is where it began, with the 1768 house and with Pennsylvainia Dutch barns in the surrounding countryside.
Sheeler moved to New York after Schamberg’s untimely death in 1918, and became famous as the premier Precisionist painter of the New York skyscrapers and of industrial shapes and scenes. This is when his Upper Deck and his response to Ford’s River Rouge automobile plant – American Landscape and American Classic were completed.Read more ›
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Charles Sheeler in Doylestown: American Modernism and the Pennsylvania Tradition investigates one artist's lifelong engagement with the rich, distinctive traditions of rural Buck's County. It charts Sheeler's discovery of the region's architechture and artifacts beginning about 1910, when he and fellow artist Morton Livingston Schamberg rented an eighteenth-century farmhouse in Doylestown. It assesses what impact this seminal event had on Sheeler's early career, and how his cyclical return to Bucks County themes in later life reveals poignant attachments and emotional depths not usually ascribed to this twentieth-century painter and photographer - known primarily as an iconographer of the machine. By analyzing Sheeler's core attachment to the preindustrial vernacular, this exhibition and its catalovue reconstruct his attempt to reconcile part and present in a series of powerful complex pictures that resulted from his enduring fascination with the Pennsylvanian tradition.
--- excerpt from book's Preface
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