At age seventy, Charles Sheeler may have seen a parallel between the abandoned mills of New England towns: the mills, like Sheeler himself, were becoming New England Irrelevancies. Sheeler’s subtle self-effacement in the titling of the work was nonetheless overstated: having been a dominant voice since the advent of American modernism, he was producing some of the most powerful work of his career. As with many works from this period, the composition was carefully transcribed from two or more photographs, which he then blocked out onto Plexiglas, building interpretive chromatic chords into flat planes. He took the photographs at the mill towns of Manchester and Ballardvale, Massachusetts, clearly finding a poignant, if opaque, resonance to the subject matter. The Plexiglas study for the present work is in the collection of the Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, not far from where the mills once stood.
Since at least the early 1940s, Sheeler had used multiple exposures to make photographic prints as compositions for his paintings. He used this process to express a new treatment of Precisionism. Sheeler began transferring photographs and drawings onto Plexi and glass as a means to rapidly simply forms into blocks of color—color that could be easily scrubbed off of the plastic support and replaced as he tinkered with the composition. He initially considered these transparent works as detritus of the process, but, by the mid-1950s, began to see the aesthetic value in these preparatory works and brought them to a finished state for exhibition.
Gallery, New York]; to
Dr. Helen Boignon, New York, 1954-1996; to
[Owen Gallery, New York]; to
Ted and Carol Shen, 1996; to
[Reinish & Associates, New York, 2003]; to
Private collection, New York, until the present
Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York,The Image of Modernism: Selections from The Karen and Kevin Kennedy Collection, April 3-May 10, 2008, no. 9 // Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado; Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo, New York, What It Meant To Be Modern, 1910-1965: American Works on Paper from the Karen and Kevin Kennedy Collection, August 21, 2016-June 23, 2017
Peter MacGill, ed., and Barbara Haskell, The Image of Modernism: Selections from The Karen and Kevin Kennedy Collection, Göttingen, Germany: Steidl and New York: Pace/MacGill Gallery, 2008, n.p., illus. // Nannette V. Maciejunes, What It Meant To Be Modern, 1910-1965: American Works on Paper from the Karen and Kevin Kennedy Collection, Denver, Colorado, 2016, p. 12, illus. in color p. 25
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