Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

Charles Sheeler in Doylestown: American Modernism and the Pennsylvania Tradition

by Karen Lucic
Allentown Art Museum, 1997 (120 pages, paper, $30.00)

This remarkable book traces the development of artist Charles Sheeler’s modernist treatment of a highly familiar theme, the Bucks County barn. Charles Sheeler (1883-1965) was born in Philadelphia and as a young man lived in the Bucks County seat of Doylestown. He received his artistic training at the School of Industrial Art and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, learning the fluid, impressionistic style closely associated with artist and teacher William Merritt Chase. During a trip to Paris in 1908-1909, he encountered first-hand the radical innovations of Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso. The experience stirred him to renounce the concepts of pictorial representation and to search instead for a modernist style. “I [now] had,” said Sheeler in recalling his trip abroad, “an entirely new concept of what a picture is.” In time, Sheeler became best known for his impersonal, machine-inspired style – often labeled precisionism – in which he depicted city skyscrapers, locomotive engines, power plants, and factory complexes. Despite his successes, Sheeler’s artistic needs were not completely satisfied by the machine age. He returned for inspiration to the rustic environment and interior scenes he knew in his earliest years. The bold colors, varied textures and materials, the blocky, “functional” forms of the barns, roofs, and staircases – all these appealed to his modernist sensibility and asserted the value of American objects as abstract forms rather than as sentimental symbols. Charles Sheeler in Doylestown makes generous use of photographs to document the influences upon, and evolution of, Sheeler’s Bucks County-inspired art. Commentaries, both scholarly and engaging, build a solid case for Sheeler’s achievement. The result is a revealing and carefully wrought account of how Charles Sheeler bestowed upon one of Pennsylvania’s oldest and richest symbols a new iconographic dimension.


Philadelphia’s Progressive Orphanage the Carson Valley School

by David R. Contosta
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997 (215 pages, cloth, $34.95)

When he died in 1907, Philadelphia railway and traction magnate Robert Niedermark Carson left a five million dollar endowment for the establishment of an orphanage for girls. So begins the story of what is now known as the Carson Valley School. Built on a portion of Carson’s country estate, just north­west of Philadelphia, the school became a model of progressive education. It opened in 1918 as the Carson College for Orphan Girls. (The word “college” was used in the French sense of elementary or secondary school.) The school’s success is owed largely to the inspiration of its first president, Elsa Ueland (1888-1980), a former settlement house worker who was a student of John Dewey and Maria Montessori and an accomplished progressive educator. The school’s benefactor, born in 1846, had made a number of stipulations in his will – including accepting only white, parentless girls – that looked backward rather than forward. Even so, Ueland was able to gradually overcome such obstacles to create a flourishing, progressive institution, dedicated to serving the individual needs of all children and preparing them for life. The progressive legacy of trying to repair the ills of modern urban society remains. Carson Valley School maintains its policy of providing a homelike setting on the campus. Carson’s lush grounds and beautiful buildings also help make its children feel wanted and valued. The author has shaped a remarkable account of Carson’s place in the history of education and child welfare, and offers an important contribution to renewed debate about orphanages and dependent child care.


Triumphant Capitalism: Henry Clay Frick and the Industrial Transformation of America

by Kenneth Warren
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996 (426 pages, cloth, $35.00)

Henry Clay Frick (1835-1919) was one of an outstanding group of businessmen who contributed to America’s ascendancy as the world’s leading industrial economy. Best remembered today for his fierce opposition to labor, especially during the Homestead Steel Strike of 1892 (see “‘The Public is Entitled to Know’: Fighting for the Public Memory of Henry Clay Frick” by Brent D. Glass in the Winter 1992 issue), he was also one of the most powerful and innovative industrialists of the nineteenth century. After consolidating the vital bituminous coke fields of the Connellsville region in western Pennsylvania, Frick became the most important of Andrew Carnegie’s partners and the manager of Carnegie’s steel interests. Later, his bitter opposition to Carnegie was one factor in the events leading to the 1901 purchase of the Carnegie Steel Company by J.P. Morgan and the formation of United States Steel Corporation. Frick’s importance has long been recognized, but his work and his standing have been difficult to assess in detail because the record has not been available to researchers. Although he died in 1919, his papers remained closed until the late 1980s. Given the circumstances of his career, particularly his involvement with the Homestead strike, this was unfortunate. In the absence of knowledge, speculation and myth flourished. The author is the first historian to be given unrestricted access to the extensive Frick archives in Pittsburgh. Triumphant Capitalism is welcome not only for its new insights on the life of such a key historical figure, but for its contribution to understanding the history of the basic industries and thereby the laying of foundations of present-day value systems and landscapes.


What Death More Glorious: A Biography or General Strong Vincent

by James H. Nevins and William B. Styple
Belle Grove Publishing, 1997 (181 pages, cloth, $21.95)

Colonel Strong Vincent, of Erie, commanded the Third Brigade of the First Division in the army of the Potomac’s Fifth Corps at Gettysburg. On the second day of battle, July 2, ]863, Vincent rallied his troops to the undefended hill called Little Round Top, skillfully positioning them along the rocky slope. Rebel forces soon attacked with such ferocity that a portion of Vincent’s brigade – four regiments from Pennsylvania, New York, Maine, and Michigan – began to withdraw from the battle in terror. As Vincent stood on the summit bringing the panic­-stricked troops back into line, he made himself an ideal target for hundreds of Confederate muskets. Moments later, a bullet tore into him as he mounted a large rock, shouting to his men: “Don’t give an inch, boys don’t give an inch!” Strong Vincent died from his wounds five days later, on July 7. At the age of twenty-six, he had been the army’s youngest brigade commander (his promotion to general came shortly after his death). A powerful, handsome man, he won the hearts and captured the imagination of everyone who knew him. Educated at Harvard, with a beautiful, intelligent bride waiting for him, he had everything to live for, but died gladly; it is clear, for the Union cause. Although a bronze statue at Gettysburg Battlefield commemorates his bravery; most written accounts of the Civil War give little space to his contribution (see “History and Community – Pennsylvania’s First Lady Makes the Connection: An Interview with Michele M. Ridge” by Brent D. Glass in the Winter 1998 edition). The man who served as Vincent’s bugler, Oliver Norton, wrote an account of the role of Vincent’s brigade at Gettysburg. This full-length biography, however, is the first to recount Vincent’s life. The telling details of his daily existence, the words of those who knew him, the little-known story of his key efforts to form a strong Federal army, and eyewitness reports of his final days remind us that behind every hero is an ordinary life made radiant by the courage to meet history with honor and conviction.


Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians

by Virginia Waring
University of Illinois Press, 1997 (404 pages, cloth, $34.95)

Frederic Malcolm Waring was born in 1900, during the late Victorian era and died eighty-four years later in the computer and space age. He grew up in the small, closely knit community of Tyrone, Blair County – the very center of the state. From that beginning, Waring went on – almost alone – to popularize choral sound and the choral instrument through his Fred Waring Glee Clubs. Although his repertoire was founded upon “entertainment” music, he spurred choral technique, choral repertoire, and the public acceptance of choral music in the United States. It was Fred Waring who first demonstrated on a national scale, and to the average listener’s satisfaction, that choruses could, in fact, be understood. It was Waring, asserts choral director Robert Shaw, author of the book’s foreword, who helped create an audience for more serious choral music. Waring was crowned “the man who taught America how to sing,” holding together his musical organization for sixty-seven years. His earnest patriotism, his fabulous concert tours, and his lively broadcasts helped create a legendary reputation. Written by his wife of thirty years, Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians chronicles not only his achievements but ordinary failings with candor and affection.