Museum showcases a new gift to the Plains

Usually a name synonymous with all things outdoor activities, the Scheel family has recently donated something unexpected to the Red River Valley.

The Plains Art Museum is located at 704 First Ave. N

Gallery embraces local notable

The family has donated 266 photographs from Frederick B. Scheel’s collection to the Plains Art Museum. The exhibit is called A New Gift to the Plains, Part One, and it opened officially last night with a lecture by Christian Peterson, curator of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Of the photographs, 166 were taken by Scheel himself. The others were by some of the artistic greats of the century.

The exhibit will run until Aug. 12, 2011 and in March new photos will replace the ones hanging now.

Dynasty in the works

In 1902, Frederick A. Scheel, a German immigrant, opened a small hardware store in Sabin, Minn. He put a down payment on the store with the $300 he made on his first (and only) crop of potatoes.

Fifty years and a few stores later, grandson Frederick B. Scheel got home from WWII with an interest in photography.

Branching out and focusing in

Scheel immersed himself in the art, he attended classes, traveled widely and met many prominent artists. He made and accumulated the photography of others for 40 years.

“Photography was dad’s passion and obsession beyond the business of retail,” said son, Steve Scheel. “He studied tirelessly to learn to see what the great photographers saw and to capture what he saw on film.”

Plains Art Museum director and curator of the exhibit, Colleen Sheehy said that the opening reception had a good turnout and that local significance of the name likely helped pull people to the event.

“I’m sure the name recognition is with sports and hardware much moreso than art, but that’s often the case,” Peterson said. “You have business men who collect seriously because they have the wherewithal.”

Four museum members peruse the gallery

Scheel’s friends: famous and influential

“It’s always really nice to know that an exceptional artist has grown up in our community,” Sheehy said, “and that he worked with some of the most famous photographers in the world, that set the standards and forged the paths in photography as an art form.”

Scheel’s silver gelatin prints hang among those he collected, and the similarities between his work and that of the work he admired is evident.

“There’s a direct lineage,” Peterson said, “you can see influences in certain pictures of certain photographers, I don’t think Fred Scheel is ever going to have the same recognition in the history of photography as Ansel Adams or Edward Weston, but he was extremely serious at it and accomplished in the realm of what he was attempting.”

“If you look at the show, you’ll see that he really loves seeing a strong composition in whatever it is that he’s photographing,” Sheehy said. “Whether it’s a building or a plant, it’s beautifully composed, to look for the lines and the shapes and how they fit together.”

A collection worth sharing

What made his compilation of photographs so strong is that it is graced with the presence of his peers.

Of those donated to the Plains Art Museum were photos by Ansel Adams, Berenice Abbott, Brett Weston, Walker Evans, Ruth Bernhard, André Kertész, Barbara Crane and Mary Ellen Mark.

In 2007 the Scheel family donated 600 photos to the Minneapolis Institute of Art.

“Fred collected in depth, so he had enough work to give away to more than one institution,” Peterson said.

“It’s hard for a collector to let go of things, so it was only when he was getting older,” Peterson said. “He wanted a good home for them, where he knew they’d be cared for and studied and exhibited, which both of our museums have been doing and will continue to do.”

To see Scheel’s photography from the Minneapolis Institute of Art

Plains Art Museum’s exhibit information

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