Charles Sheeeler, Modernism, and the National Identity

a chapter of the exhibition catalogue

"Charles Sheeler in Doylestown: American Modernism and the Pennsylvania Tradition"

by Karen Lucic




1. Charles Corwin, New York Daily Worker, 4 February 1949, p.12, quoted in Martin Friedman, "The Art of Charles Sheeler: Americana in a Vacuum," in Charles Sheeler (Washington, D. C.: National Collection of Fine Arts, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1968), 57.

2. Michael Kimmelman, "An Iconographer for the Religion of Technology," New York Times, 24 January 1988, sec. H, pp. 29-30; Matthew Baigell, "American Art and National Identity: The 1920s," Arts Magazine 61 (February 1987): 51.

3. Quoted in Frederick S. Wight, "Charles Sheeler," in Charles Sheeler: A Retrospective Exhibition (Los Angeles: Art Galleries, University of California, 1954), 28.

4. Sheeler's attraction to the Shakers has received some scholarly attention. See, for example, Faith and Edward D. Andrews, "Sheeler and the Shakers," Art in America 1 (1965): 590-95.

5. Autobiographical notes, Charles Sheeler Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution (hereafter AAA), Roll Nsh 1, frame 65.

6. Ibid., frame 74.

7. Quoted in Constance Rourke, Charles Sheeler: Artist in the American Tradition (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1938), 49. Rourke's biography is largely based on autobiographical notes written by Sheeler in 1937. (See note 5 above.) For a recent source on the American response to the European vanguard, see Steven Watson, Strange Bedfellows: The First American Avant-garde (New York: Abbeville, 1991).

8. See Karen Lucic, Charles Sheeler and the Cult of the Machine (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991), 43-73, and Rick Stewart, "Charles Sheeler, William Carlos Williams, and Precisionism: A Redefinition," Arts Magazine 58 (November 1983): 100-14.

9. William Carlos Williams, "Introduction," Charles Sheeler: Paintings, Drawings, Photographs (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1939), 6-7.

10. See Susan Fillin-Yeh, Charles Sheeler: American Interiors (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987).

11. Robert J. Coady, ''American Art," The Soil 1 (1917): 55. See also Judith K. Zilczer, "Robert J. Coady: Forgotten Spokesman for Avant-Garde Culture in America," American Art Review 2 (November/December 1975): 77-89.

12. Coady, "American Art," The Soil 1 (1917): 3-4.

13. Van Wyck Brooks, "On Creating a Usable Past," The Dial 64 (11 April 1918): 339.

14. Hugh Prince, "Revival, Restoration, Preservation: Changing Views about Antique Landscape Features," in Our Past Before Us: Why Do We Save It?, ed. David Lowenthal and Marcus Binney (London: Temple Smith, 1981), 45-46.

15. Charles B. Hosmer, Jr., The Presence of the Past: A History of the Preservation Movement in the United States Before Williamsburg (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1965), 41, 62, 81, 84, 88.

16. Statement by James Pollock, former governor of Pennsylvania, made in 1879. Quoted in Hosmer, Presence of the Past, 83.

17. Such sentiments also frequently expressed the will of the Anglo-Saxon elite to affirm its cultural dominance over newly arrived immigrants with radically different ethnic backgrounds. This retrospective mood was not unique to America, of course. Similar longings for a preindustrial past surfaced in all the industrialized nations during this time. Kenneth Ames, introduction to The Colonial Revival in America, ed. Alan Axelrod (New York: W.W. Norton, 1985), 11-14.

18. In 1920, Sheeler wrote that he had discovered a building in Bucks County "almost as fine as the Neeley house which seems to be our standard for comparisons." Sheeler to Mr. Swain, 18 June 1920, Henry Mercer Correspondence, Spruance Library, Bucks County Historical Society (hereafter BCHS).

19. Quoted in Wight, "Charles Sheeler," 27. Sheeler was not always consistent in living by these strictures, however. During the 1930s, he accepted a commission to paint several buildings at Colonial Williamsburg, and in 1943, he painted the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. See Carol Troyen and Erica E. Hirshler, Charles Sheeler: Paintings and Drawings (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1987), 28, fig. 22.

20. Wight, "Charles Sheeler," 21.

21. Quoted in ibid., 35.

22. Quoted in Rourke, Charles Sheeler, 136. In this passage, the artist specifically refers to Shaker objects, which he began to collect in the 1920s. Sheeler's relation to the Shaker tradition is also a formative aspect of his art, but it is a topic beyond the scope of this catalogue. A recent discussion of Sheeler and Shaker design appears in Karen Lucic, "Charles Sheeler and Henry Ford: A Craft Heritage for the Machine Age," Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 65 (1989): 37-47.

23. Rourke, Charles Sheeler, 99.

24. See Joan Shelley Rubin, Constance Rourke and American Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press), 1980, and Rubin, ''A Convergence of Vision: Constance Rourke, Charles Sheeler and American Art," American Quarterly 42 (June 1990): 191-222.


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