Plains Art Museum inherits work of native son

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Leopold Chamberland, Farmer, Riviere-Quelle, Quebec, 1977

black and white photograph by Fred Benedict Scheel

Earlier this year Plains Art Museum Director Colleen Sheehy was working with the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to borrow their collection of Fred B. Scheel’s photographs for a show in Fargo-Moorhead. After all, Scheel is a Moorhead native and his family is a pillar in the community, so it was only right for the Plains to show his work.

Then Sheehy got a call informing her that wouldn’t be necessary; the Scheel family had discovered a whole new set of photographs in Fred’s basement darkroom when they had to evacuate it in the spring flood of 2009, and had decided to give this set of photographs to the Plains.

Sheehy couldn’t be more thrilled. The 267 photographs include not only Scheel’s fine work, but many of his colleagues – Ansel Adams, Andre Kertesz, Berenice Abbott and Brett Weston, among others.

[Scheel] is a superb photographer who studied with the master’s of 20th century photoraphy and learned the highest level of aesthetics and techniques, in

some cases directly from them–as with Ansel Adams, Brett Weston, and Andre

Kertesz. While he photographed nationally and internationally, he also took

a lot of photos of North Dakota, Canada, and Minnesota. So he has created

some very beautiful and powerful images of this region.

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Plains Art Museum Director Colleen Sheehy stands in a gallery full of photographs recently gifted to the museum.

In Fargo-Moorhead, the name Scheel is synonymous with sporting goods, the family business. The giant Scheel Allsports is the local equivalent of the Mall of America, containing an entire ferris wheel in it. While professional photographers are aware of Scheel’s prowess with a camera, Sheey says many Fargo natives have yet to realize that he has been more than a local business leader.

With the Scheel name recognition in this region, the exhibition is bringing in a wide public who are curioius to see the work. The Plains Art Museum did an exhibition of his work in 1989, which is a long time ago now. We only had one of his photographs in our permanent collection before this gift.

Sheehy sees Fred Scheel as someone who was truly devoted to his art, even while he made a living at his sporting business. Born in 1921, Scheel is infirm but still with us, and has lived a full life.

Fred is really an inspiring person. He was an ace pilot and used to do flying stunts over Pelican Lake on the 4th of July to thrill all the kids and families there. He also published a book of poetry, In working through the photographs for this exhibition, I gained a sense of his poetic approach to life and the world. His work reminds me of the beauty of

black-and-white film photography and how it can help you to see the world more clearly in a strange way.

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Mt. Rundle, Sunrise, Vermilion Lakes, Canada, 1951

black and white photograph by Fred Benedict Scheel

Sheehy says that while Scheel may not be as well known a photographer as his contemporaries, she sees that changing as his work makes its way into museums like the Plains and the MIA.

She says the gift of 267 photographs adds tremendously to the museum’s ability to represent an important artist from the region and to tell the story of 20th century photography.

“The Frederick B. Scheel Photography Collection: A New Gift to the Plains” an exhibition displaying 67 of the 267 gifted photographs will be up at the Plains Art Museum through August 12, 2011. In March, the museum will rotate out some images and add others to the mix.

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