Charles Sheeler by Kirsten M. Jensen

Book Review presents reviews of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects by noted scholars, historians and journalists.

Charles Sheeler
Fashion, Photography, and Sculptural Form
Edited by Kirsten M. Jensen
James A. Michener Art Museum, distributed by the University of Pennsylvania Press, 234 pp., cloth $49.95

This volume is the catalog from the exhibit Charles Sheeler: Fashion, Photography, and Sculptural Form that ran from March 18 to July 9, 2017, at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Bucks County. Philadelphia native Charles R. Sheeler (1883–1965) was a prolific artist and commercial photographer. It is appropriate his work was on display in Doylestown, where he also lived for two decades. The museum’s Lenfest Chief Curator Kristen M. Jensen assembled the exhibit and also edited this exciting look at a neglected portion of Sheeler’s body of work — his images for Condé Nast Publications made in New York between 1926 and 1931. Sheeler was supervised there by Edward Steichen, no slouch himself in the world of photography and art.

Scholars for many years considered commercial photography a “low” form of art, something made to pay the bills. But like the art of another Pennsylvanian who worked commercially, Andy Warhol, Sheeler’s work has been elevated to the plane on which it belongs. Jensen has assembled eight essays by leading art and photography scholars that go beyond the exhibit and delve into Sheeler’s technique of stripping away or minimizing background to focus on the subject and create geometric planes and patterns with light and shadow. In addition to these incisive essays, the plates that lovingly reproduce his work are top-notch, printed in color and duotone with crystal clarity in the manner they deserve. Portraits of famous film and stage performers and other celebrities of the time grace these pages, along with interesting artifacts and landscapes.

Charles Sheeler is well-recognized among artists, art historians and photographers as a founder of modernism in America. This sumptuous volume is an opportunity for everyone to appreciate his work.

Linda A. Ries
Pennsylvania State Archives, ret.