Bucks County Barns

a chapter of the exhibition catalogue

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

by Karen Lucic




1.Joseph W.. Glass, The Pennsylvania Culture Region: A View from the Barn (Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1986), 9; Henry Glassie, review of Society of Architectural Historians session, "Vernacular Architecture," Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 35 (December 1976): 294; Robert F. Ensminger, The Pennsylvania Barn: Its Origin, Evolution, and Distribution in North America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992): 8,14-17,109. Interestingly, Sheeler's series coincided with the first scholarly interest in the origins of these structures. See Marion Learned, "The German Barn in America," in University of Pennsylvania Lectures Delivered by Members of the Faculty in the Free Public Lecture Course (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1915): 338-49.

2. For line drawings and photographs of typical Bucks County barns, see Glass, Pennsylvania Culture Region, and Ensminger, The Pennsylvania Barn.

3. The classic work on this topic is The invention of Tradition, ed. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (London: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

4. However, the negatives from which these photographs were printed are 4 x 5 inches. This indicates that Sheeler used a different camera for his barn subjects.

5. Millard, "Charles Sheeler," unpaged. Here the term "series" applies more loosely than with the Worthington house photographs. No evidence exists to suggest that Sheeler intended to market or exhibit the barns as a "set."

6. Stebbins and Keyes, Charles Sheeler, II. I have never seen a barn photograph with a date inscribed on it.

7. Nomenclature is also a complicated aspect of Sheeler's barn images. Vintage prints of Bucks County Barn (Vertical) in the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Worcester Museum are inscribed in Sheeler's hand "Bucks County Barn"; the ones in the Lane Collection are inscribed "Pennsylvania Barn," except for cat. 26, which Sheeler originally titled Buggy. Stebbins and Keyes, Charles Sheeler, 12, n. 24. I have retained the traditional titles of the well-known barn images, such as Side of a White Barn. For the rest of the photographs, I have appended descriptive labels in parentheses for the sake of clarity in my discussion.

8. Troyen and Hirshler, Charles Sheeler, 8.

9. Henry McBride, "Charles Sheeler's Bucks County Barns," Sun and New York Herald, 22 February 1920, sec. 3, p. 7, reprinted in The Flow of Art, ed. Daniel Catton Rich (New York: Atheneum, 1975), 155-56.

10. Scratches in the upper portion of the frame exist in all the prints I have seen and therefore must be on the original negative.

11. Susan Fillin-Yeh speculates that this picture may have been taken in one of Mercer's storage barns. "Charles Sheeler and the Machine Age" (Ph.D. diss., City University of New York, 1981),39. But the coats hanging from the racks suggest an environment of use rather than just storage.

12. Autobiographical notes, Sheeler Papers, AAA, Nsh 1, frame 92. Compare this passage to the more fluid version in Rourke, Charles Sheeler, 97-98.

13. Sheeler interview by Friedman, AAA, Tape 1, p. 14.

14. For the historical development of this idea, see Edward Robert de Zurko, Origins of Functionalist Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 1957), and Larry L. Ligon, The Concept of Function in Twentieth-Century Architectural Criticism (Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1984).

15. Sheeler recollected that all the barns he depicted were within walking distance of the Worthington house. Sheeler interview by Friedman, AAA, Tape 2, p. 6. After extensive searching in Doylestown, I found no surviving barns that correspond to Sheeler's photographs, drawings, or paintings. Modern developments have apparently destroyed all the barns that attracted Sheeler's interest.

16. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (New York: McGraw-Hill,1964), vii-viii.

17. Herwin Schaefer, Nineteenth-Century Modern: The Functional Tradition in Victorian Design (New York: Praeger, 1970), 198.

18. Ensminger, The Pennsylvania Barn, 195-97.

19. Benjamin Latrobe executed one of the earliest pictorial representations of a Pennsylvania barn in 1801. Ensminger, The Pennsylvania Barn, xvii. But the subject is rare in nineteenth-century academic painting, although it appears in almanacs and folk art, as I discuss below.

20. One modernist predecessor was Paul Strand, who portrayed a Connecticut barn in White Fence (19I6).

21. Reported in Rourke, Charles Sheeler, 68. Rourke does not identify the author of this comment.

22. Sheeler exhibited barn photographs at the Wanamaker Photography Exhibition in 1918, and at the De Zayas and Charles Daniel galleries in the early 1920s; Side of a White Barn and other barn images were reproduced in Broom 5 (October 1923) and appeared in a prestigious German architectural journal in the mid-1920s. Fiske Kimball to Charles Sheeler, 23 November 1927, Fiske Kimball Papers, Series 1 (General Correspondence), Philadelphia Museum of Art Archives.

23. From the time Sheeler first exhibited these drawings and paintings, he often gave identical titles to works dating from the same year. In addition, titles have changed over time, complicating the task of distinguishing between them. In this publication, I have retained the titles assigned by the owners of the works.

24. See Broom 5 (October 1923), facing p. 160. This lost work seems to be a large-scale tempera.

25. Private collection. See Santa Barbara Museum of Art, A Selection of 19th and 20th Century American Drawings.from the Collection of Hirschl & Adler Galleries (Santa Barbara, 1981), no. 33, and Hirschl & Adler Galleries, Inc., Realism and Abstraction: Counterpoints in American Drawing, 1900-1940 (New York, 1983), 68, no. 75.

26. Given to the artist Alexander Brook by Sheeler in the 1930s, now in the Columbus Museum of Art.

27. Private collection. The gouache and pastel work was published in The Arts 3 (May 1923): 338, but was subsequently scribbled over -- apparently by the artist himself. It remained in the artist's collection until his death. See Sotheby, Parke, Bernet, Inc., The Edith G. Halpert Collection of American Paintings (New York, 1973), no. 102.

28. Coe Kerr Gallery, New York, as of 1984.

29. Rourke, Charles Sheeler, 66-67. Rourke gives the number of barn images as eight, but her reckoning must only include the larger works. See Lillian Dochterman, "The Stylistic Development of the Work of Charles Sheeler" (Ph.D. diss., State University of Iowa, 1963), 200, 208-12, 229, and 238.

30. Many of Sheeler's barn drawings were exhibited at the De Zayas Gallery, 16-28 February 1920. The catalogue indicates some very general and abstract titles, underscoring Sheeler's formalism of this period. But the majority of works had more specific names that identify the subjects as to their place of origin: "Bucks County Barn;" "Bucks County Barn with Silo," "Upright Bucks County Barn Contrast,"and "Downright Bucks County Barn." Handwritten transcription of De Zayas Gallery catalogue, 1920, courtesy Carol Troyen. Only the lithograph (cat. 36) and the two works once owned by the Arensbergs. Barn Abstraction, 1917, and Barn Abstraction, 1918, retain the early formalist titles.

31. See Lillian Dochterman, The Quest of Charles Sheeler (Iowa City, Iowa: State University of Iowa, 1963), 11-14, and John Driscoll. Charles Sheeler 1883-1965, Classic Themes: Paintings, Drawings and Photographs (New York: Terry Dintenfass Gallery, 1980),11-15.

32. Driscoll, Charles Sheeler, 15.

33. Actually, these Bucks County structures were not purely indigenous in their origins. As noted earlier, they came quite directly from Europe. Nor were they as humble and unpretentious when originally built as they must have appeared to Sheeler in the early twentieth century. Pennsylvania barns. for instance, were considered quite elegant in the early nineteenth century and some even had blinds on the windows. Beatrice B. Garvan, The Pennsylvania German Collection (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1982), 4.

34. According to William Robin, Western observers applied the term "primitive" to an amazingly diverse variety of traditions in the late nineteenth century, including much courtly and sophisticated art. The common denominator was that their styles all contrasted sharply with the late phases of Western realism then dominating the art establishment, but deemed inauthentic by the vanguard. After 1906-07, the term "primitive" became increasingly identified with tribal art. William Rubin, "Modernist Primitivism: An Introduction," in Primitivism in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, ed. William Rubin (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1984), 2-3, 7.

35. Meyer Schapiro, "Nature of Abstract Art," in Modern Art: 19th and 20th Centuries (New York: George Braziller, 1978), 186.

36. Rourke, Charles Sheeler,31.

37. Undated file, Marius de Zayas Papers, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries, New York. Sheeler, like de Zayas, Picasso, and Braque, was also drawn to African tribal art. His series of photographs of masks has already been discussed. But his attraction to the material culture of America was more profound and long-lived. undoubtedly for the reasons discussed here.

38. Daniel Robbins, "Folk Sculpture without Folk;' in Folk Sculpture U.S.A., ed. Herbert W. Hemphill,Jr. (New York: Brooklyn Museum, 1976), 12.

39. Today, scholars often find the term "folk art" to be meaningless in the American context. See Kenneth Ames, "The Paradox of Folk Art;' in Beyond Necessity: Art in the Folk Tradition (Winterthur, Dela.: Winterthur Museum, 1977), 13. Having found no adequate substitute, I use the term here in the sense that it was understood in the early twentieth century.

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