The papers of painter, photographer, lithographer and industrial designer Charles Sheeler measure 4.9 linear feet and date from circa 1840s to 1966, with the bulk of the material dating from 1923-1965. The collection documents Sheeler's family, personal life and career through financial and medical records, awards, correspondence, writings, an autobiography, journal and notebooks, scrapbooks, exhibition catalogs and announcements, printed materials, photographs, funeral records and artwork by Sheeler and others. The collection is particularly rich in Sheeler's writings, and also includes Sheeler's industrial designs and manufactured artwork. Notable photographs include Sheeler with Edward Weston, Edward Steichen, and John Marin.
Scope and Content Note:
The papers of painter, photographer, lithographer and industrial designer Charles Sheeler measure 4.9 linear feet and date from circa 1840s to 1966, with the bulk of the material dating from 1923-1965. The collection documents Sheeler's family, personal life and career through financial and medical records, awards, correspondence, writings, an autobiography, journal and notebooks, scrapbooks, exhibition catalogs and announcements, printed materials, photographs, funeral records and artwork by Sheeler and others. The collection is particularly rich in Sheeler's writings, and also includes Sheeler's industrial designs and manufactured artwork. There are photographs of Sheeler with Edward Weston, Edward Steichen, and John Marin.
Biographical materials date from 1875, and 1928-1965, and include funeral records, medical records, insurance, tax, and scattered financial records. There is one folder of records relating to artwork and exhibitions, as well as Sheeler's numerous certificates, prizes and awards, and the condolence book used at his funeral.
Correspondence consists of Sheeler's personal and professional correspondence dating from 1937-1966 with friends, artists, dealers, collectors, photographers, and curators. Notable correspondents include Ansel Adams, Walter and Louise Arensberg, William Lane, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, George Waters, William Carlos Williams, and Edward Weston. The series also includes correspondence with the Archives of American Art, Sheeler's biographer Constance Rourke, and with publishers, editors, children, and the general public. Lastly, there are condolence letters written to Musya Sheeler following Sheeler's death in May 1965.
Writings include Sheeler's journal dating from the 1950s-1963 and two notebooks containing notes, addresses, recipes, etc. Also found are Sheeler's writings on artists, drafts for articles, and a manuscript and notes for an autobiography that Sheeler wrote for Harcourt Brace. The autobiography became the basis for Constance Rourke's biography Charles Sheeler: Artist in the American Tradition published in 1938. The writing series also includes a short story by Musya Sheeler, and an illustrated short story by friend Dorothy Eidlitz.
The scrapbook series contains two oversize scrapbooks dating from 1930s-1960s that include newspaper and magazine clippings about Sheeler and his artwork, exhibition announcements and brochures, a poem, and a thank you letter from Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.
Additional printed materials date from 1923-1966 and document Sheeler's numerous exhibitions, notably his partnership with Edith Halpert and the Downtown Gallery. Found here are clippings, copies of magazines, exhibition announcements and catalogs, museum bulletings, books, and miscellaneous items.
Photographs date from circa 1840s-1963 and include photographs of Sheeler's family, of Sheeler, and of Sheeler with friends and colleagues. There is one daguerreotype, two ambrotypes, and two tintypes of Sheeler's family and of Sheeler as a child. There are copyprints of these originals. Additional photographs are of Sheeler's mother and father (or possibly Sheeler's grandparent), of Sheeler, of Sheeler with his wife Musya, Sheeler with William Lane, Sheeler with Edward Weston, and Sheeler with Edward Steichen and John Marin. The series also includes photographs of Sheeler's collection of Shaker furniture, and photographs of exhibitions.
Artwork by Sheeler dates from circa 1930s-1960s and includes artifacts of manufactured pieces based on his industrial designs. Found are a glass tumbler, salt and pepper shakers, a tea spoon, fabrics designed by Sheeler, and sketches. The series also includes a drawing by Peggy Bacon and a photograph by Minor White.
The collection is arranged into seven series. Materials are arranged by material type and chronologically or alphabetically thereafter:
Series 1: Biographical Materials, 1875, 1928-1965 (Boxes 1, 5, OV10; 0.6 linear feet)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1937-1966 (Box 1; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 3: Writings, circa 1930s-1965 (Boxes 1-2 ; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 4: Scrapbooks, 1930s-1960s (Boxes 2, 6; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 5: Printed Material, 1923-1966 (Boxes 2-4, 7; 1.5 linear feet)
Series 6: Photographs, circa 1840s-1963 (Box 4, OV11; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 7: Artwork, circa 1930s-1960s (Boxes 4-5, 8-9, OV12-OV14; 1.1 linear feet)
Painter, photographer, lithographer and designer, Charles Rettew Sheeler Jr. was born on July 16, 1883 to Mary Cunningham Sheeler and Charles Rettew Sheeler in Philadelphia. He attended the School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia from 1900-1903 and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he studied under William Merritt Chase. He found early success as a painter and exhibited at the Macbeth Gallery in 1908.
Around 1910 Sheeler took up photography, and by 1912 financially supported himself photographing buildings for local Philadelphia architects. The following year, Sheeler exhibited six paintings at the 1913 Armory Show in New York. In the mid 1910s, Sheeler began to collect American antiques, and by the 1920s was actively acquiring Shaker crafts and furniture.
In 1916, Sheeler was hired by Marius de Zayas of the Modern Gallery in New York to photograph objects and artwork. From 1917-1924, he worked as the staff photographer for the Modern Gallery and moved to New York in 1918. In 1920, Sheeler was hired as a still photographer for The Arts Magazine.
In 1926, Sheeler was hired by Edward Steichen to work as a fashion and celebrity photographer for Conde Nast Publications. His photographs were regularly featured in Vogue and Vanity Fair, but Sheeler also worked as a still life photographer for numerous advertising agencies. The following year, he was commissioned by the advertising firm N.W. Ayer and Son to photograph Ford Motor Company's new plant at River Rouge.
While working as a photographer, Sheeler continued to paint and used the subjects and composition of his photographs as a basis for his painting. His paintings Skyscrapers, 1922; Upper Deck, 1929; and American Landscape, 1930 are examples of Sheeler's technique of merging photographic imagery with painting and his overall precisionist style.
In 1931, upon the advice and guidance of Edith Halpert of the Downtown Gallery, Sheeler began to paint more often and to photograph less. Halpert became Sheeler's primarily dealer, and from 1931-1966 regularly exhibited his paintings and drawings. With Halpert's support, Sheeler produced Classic Landscape, 1931; American Interior, 1934; Silo, 1938; Amoskeag Canal, 1948; and Convolutions, 1952. In addition to Sheeler's partnership with Halpert, his work was exhibited by other galleries and museums throughout the United States and abroad.
In 1939, Sheeler married his second wife, Musya Metas Sokolova (1908-1981) and, in 1942, the couple moved to Irvington-on-Hudson, New York. Sheeler continued to paint and photograph until he suffered a debilitating stroke in 1959. After 1959, Sheeler remained active exhibiting his artwork until his death on May 7, 1965 in Dobbs Ferry, New York.
The Archives of American Art holds several collections that are related to Charles Sheeler.
There are two oral history interviews with Sheeler conducted by Mary Bartlett Cowdrey in December 1958, and by Martin Friedman in June 1959. The Archives also has the records of the Macbeth Gallery, which include a substantial amount of correspondence with Sheeler from 1907-1921, and the Downtown Gallery records, which also include correspondence with Sheeler, photographs of Sheeler and his artwork, exhibition publications, clippings, press releases, and audio visual materials dating from 1904-1972.
Also found in the the Archives is a loan of Charles Sheeler letters filmed on reel NY/59-5 containing letters written by Sheeler to his psychologist and art collector, Dr. Helen Boigon, art student George Craven, and friend William Carlos Williams, all dating from 1939-1958. There is a collection of six letters of Sheeler letters addressed to Doris Royce, possibly an art critic, dating from 1949-1957. Miscellaneous manuscript collections include one letter written by Sheeler to E.P. Richardson in 1958, and another letter written to Frank Crowninshield in September, 1939.
Portions of Sheeler's papers that were originally loaned for microfilming were not included in the later gifts and are available only on microfilm reel NSH-1. A watercolor study microfilmed on reel 1811 was later transferred to the Smithsonian American Art Museum. These materials are not described in the container list of this finding aid.
Charles Sheeler's wife Musya initially loaned the papers to the Archives of American Art for microfilming in 1958, 1965, and 1966. In June, 1966, she donated most of the earlier loaned materials. In 1964, Sheeler's friend Howard Lipman donated three photographs of Sheeler with Edward Steichen and John Marin. The third accrual was transferred to the Archives by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery Library in June 1979.
The collection is open for research. Use requires an appointment.