Musya S. Sheeler

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Musya S. Sheeler (1908–1981), born Musya Metas Sokolova, was a Russian dancer (1908-1981), who at age 15 fled with her family from the Revolution to the USA, where she became a photographer. Her work was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art three times and featured in magazines including Life and Vogue.


On April 2, 1939, Musya Metas Sokolova married Charles Sheeler (1883 – 1965), one of America’s leading Modernists, becoming his second wife six years after the death in 1933 of Sheeler's first wife Katharine Baird Shaffer (whom he married April 7, 1921). In 1942 Sheeler joined the Metropolitan Museum of Art as a senior research fellow in photography, worked on a project in Connecticut with the photographer Edward Weston, and moved with Musya to Irvington-on-Hudson, into the gardener's cottage that was the remaining building on what was the Lowe estate, some thirty-two kilometres north of New York.[1] Sheeler worked for the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of Publications from 1942 to 1945, photographing a wide range of works from the collection, including Assyrian reliefs, classical Greek and Roman sculpture, European painting, and Chinese objects.

Sheeler took many pictures of Musya, in the nude in both a black and white (3x4inch) series and in 35mm colour slides; other black and white prints show her laughing or leaning out of a window, or—on one occasion—sick in bed. She in turn made portraits of him with his Linhof camera, taking photographs and painting.[2] Quite different from each other in temperament–he cool and reserved, and she, warm and outgoing–they made good friends amongst the artistic community of New York.

A close friend was poet William Carlos Williams who in his writing on ‘projective verse’ explains the theory in terms of the marriage of Charles and Musya Sheeler.[3][4] A 1949 portrait by Musya shows Williams with a dog in dappled shade, Williams leaning from his chair to pet the dog and in that moment, both have their eyes closed as if in ecstatic contemplation.[5] Ansel Adams described his coming to New York to be welcomed by Musya, whom he described as “a vibrant Russian: a former ballet dancer who had an abundance of affection for their friends.”[6] Charles and Musya traded photographs for the pottery of their friends Mary and Edwin Scheier, whose marriage was nearly contemporary with theirs and as creatively abundant. The Scheiers’ photographs by Charles and by Musya Sheeler are now in the Currier Gallery of Art.[7] Through Williams, Charles and Musya knew professor of English John C. Thirlwall.[8] Edward and Charis Weston visited them in 1942,[9][10] Frederick Sommer in 1944, and also, as befitting Musya’s interest in dance, Martha Graham and Barbara Morgan.[11] In 1946 Bartlett H. Hayes Jr., an educator and art historian and director of the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy in Andover invited the couple to be artists-in-residence in an early instance of such programs.[12]


In 1950 Musya exhibited with Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Brett Weston, and Charles Sheeler in Plants and Plant Forms in Photography arranged by Victor Salvatore,[13] and also that year made flashlit photographs of Edward Steichen, curator of Photography at MoMA, Sheeler and painter John Marin toasting each other with tumblers of whisky at the Sheeler house[14] Steichen included her that year in Photographs by 51 Photographers, August 1–September 17, 1950, at the Museum.

In 1949 Musya had realised an ambition to make a series of portraits of nuns. Visiting a convent in Tarrytown, N.Y., she found an opportunity to make more than portraits and to exploit her particular interest in figurative imagery that later was to catch the eye of editors at Condé Nast.[15] The result was ‘Nuns at Play’,[16] a Life magazine essay on the religious novices in moments of relaxation from their training as teachers. One of the photographs shows the nuns, veils and habits flying, gleefully riding a schoolyard merry-go-round. Steichen selected it for the world-touring 1955 Museum of Modern Art exhibition The Family of Man, seen by 9 million visitors. For Vogue, in 1951, with journalist Edna Woolman Chase, Musya produced a slower-paced photoessay on a sleepy, conservative rural hamlet; classically illuminated with the available light, the series illustrates the timeless traditions and attitudes of small town life.[17]

Musya's Pool (1950) was included by subsequent curator of photography John Szarkowski in a third MoMA show From the McAlpin Collection, December 14, 1966 – February 12, 1967[18]

Late career[edit]

The monument of Charles Sheeler and Musya in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Despite her successes, Musya’s career trajectory was clearly affected when Sheeler suffered a debilitating stroke in 1959 and died on May 7, 1965 in Dobbs Ferry, New York. After Musya’s death in 1981, she was buried next to Sheeler in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, Westchester County, New York, USA.[19]



  1. ^ Westinghouse Broadcasting Corp. produced television series, "America: The Artist's Eye," 1961-1963; film of Charles and Musya Sheeler at home, and Charles Sheeler at work in his studio, ca. 1950
  2. ^ Brock, Charles; Sheeler, Charles, 1883-1965; National Gallery of Art (U.S.); Art Institute of Chicago; M.H. De Young Memorial Museum (2006), Charles Sheeler : across media, University of California Press, ISBN 978-0-520-24872-4CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Paul, Sherman; Williams, William Carlos, 1883-1963. Desert music. 1968 (1968), The music of survival : a biography of a poem by William Carlos Williams, University of Illinois Press, p. 57, ISBN 978-0-252-72572-2CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Williams, William Carlos (1951), The autobiography of William Carlos Williams, MacGibbon & Kee, pp. 332–4, retrieved 9 August 2018
  5. ^ Photo from the William Carlos Williams papers in the Yale Collection of American Literature
  6. ^ Adams, Ansel; Alinder, Mary Street, 1946- (1985), Ansel Adams, an autobiography, Little, Brown, ISBN 978-0-8212-1596-8CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ Komanecky, Michael; Currier Gallery of Art; Arizona State University. Art Museum (1993), American potters : Mary and Edwin Scheier, Currier Gallery of Art, ISBN 978-0-929710-12-9
  8. ^ Thirlwall, J. (1970). WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS AND JOHN THIRLWALL: RECORD OF A TEN-YEAR RELATIONSHIP. The Yale University Library Gazette, 45(1), 15-21.
  9. ^ Stark, A. (1986). Edward Weston Papers. The Guide Series, (13).
  10. ^ Stebbins, Theodore E; Sheeler, Charles, 1883-1965; Keyes, Norman; Whitney Museum of American Art; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Dallas Museum of Art (1987), Charles Sheeler, the photographs (1st ed.), Little, Brown, ISBN 978-0-87846-285-8CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ Leibowitz, Herbert A (2011), "Something urgent I have to say to you" : the life and works of William Carlos Williams (1st ed.), Farrar, Straus and Giroux, ISBN 978-0-374-11329-2
  12. ^ "Oral history interview with Charles Sheeler, 1958 December 9".
  13. ^ America, Garden Club of (14 August 2018). "Bulletin of the Garden Club of America". The Club. – via Google Books.
  14. ^ Mccoy, G. (1972). Photographs and Photography in the Archives of American Art. Archives of American Art Journal, 12(3), 1-18.
  15. ^ Sheeler, taped conversation with William H. Lane, February l , l 959 (The Lane Collection)
  16. ^ ’Nuns at Play: camera records their carefree, graceful moments of relaxation’ LIFE, 14 Nov 1949,  ISSN 0024-3019. Time Inc. 139-141
  17. ^ Woolman Chase, Edna. (1951). People and Ideas: Little Town: Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. Vogue, 117(2), 206, 207, 208, 209, 210, 211.
  18. ^ Bunnell, P. C. (1968). The David H. McAlpin Collection. Members Newsletter (Museum of Modern Art), (2), 7-8.
  19. ^ "Musya Metas Sokolova Sheeler (1908-1981) - Find A..."
  20. ^ "Currier Collections Online - "Portrait of Mary Scheier" by Musya Sokolova Sheeler". Retrieved 2018-09-01.
  21. ^ "Currier Collections Online - "Portrait of Edwin Scheier" by Musya Sokolova Sheeler". Retrieved 2018-09-01.
  22. ^ "Currier Collections Online - "Portrait of Mary and Edwin Scheier" by Musya Sokolova Sheeler". Retrieved 2018-09-01.
  23. ^ "New England Heritage".