Stephen G. Williams' exhibit "A Place in Time: The Shakers at Sabbathday Lake, Maine," on view at the Michener in Doylestown, makes a valiant attempt to cover the subject with 22 black-and-white photographs from the many he took between 1972 and 2005.
This Berwyn photographer is best known as the founder in 1970 and codirector for 12 years of the esteemed Photography Place center and workshop in Berwyn and Philadelphia.
Williams acknowledges that over a long period he has drawn spiritual strength and artistic inspiration from the Shakers of Maine. So he intends that these photos should define such ideals of Shaker life as its simplicity, beauty and grace. Consistent with this, Williams himself became an early proponent of picture-taking done from within a situation rather than as a detached outsider.
He thus has photographed Sabbathday Lake indoors and out in a spirit of emotional, physical and sensual empathy that conveys an intense identification with his subject.
Whether it's a single object such as a cloth hanging from a rack, casual table settings, freshly baked bread or empty wooden armchairs arranged for sociable indoor gatherings in the parlor, the deep personal attraction Williams feels to the Shaker way of life is as much his theme as are the things photographed.
The current display is also an occasion to trace the extraordinary trajectory of Sabbathday Lake, founded in 1797 as one of 19 original Shaker sites in America - and today the sole survivor of them as the small but fully functioning active center of Shaker faith nationally. Some other Shaker communities are historical re-creations.
Steeped in this subject matter since childhood, Williams often traveled to this thriving Shaker village with his father, who was then collecting thousands of the Shaker tools and artifacts now housed at Sabbathday.
Shakers are known for their strong habits of work and prayer. Yet the show pictures only one Shaker, whereas nine such photos grace Williams' book accompanying this exhibit.
Just as the book's nine images of residents give eloquent testimony of the ongoing vitality of this resourceful and rugged New England community so genuine in its Shaker character, so too would the Michener display benefit from having included more of these. For in the portraits Williams took, these residents entrusted their poignant vulnerability to a close friend.
This important and insightful show deserves a wide audience.
James A. Michener Art Museum, 138 S Pine, Doylestown. To July 8. Tue-Fri 10-4:30, Sat 10-5, Sun noon-5. Adults $6.50. 215-340-9800.
Langman Gallery. Judy Henn's dog portraits at Langman stare out at us point-blank. And this Lambertville painter's interest in interior design, antiques and folk art is evident as well.
Such oils afford considerable pleasure in the interplay between her patterned, complex handling of space and painted surfaces featuring dog likenesses in outrageous juxtaposition with bold florals, furniture or copies Henn made of her favorite master paintings.
The predominant characteristic of Henn's attractive work seems to be a buoyant, peculiarly visual "wit."
Langman Gallery, Willow Grove Park, 2500 Moreland Rd, Willow Grove. To May 31. Mon-Sat 10-9:30, Sun 11-6. Free. 215-657-8333.
Art Trust Gallery. "Splash of Color" at Art Trust in West Chester goes to the very edge of abstraction in soft-focus clayprints by Mitch Lyons of New London with a twilight demeanor.
Robert Murray of Unionville crafts mute, inglorious, rigid teepee-like shapes of sheet metal. These are of two kinds: wigwams when furled, flat and painted half-circles when unfurled.
Sutton Hays of Kennett Square sketches airy decorative complications of thin line, as though she were trying to make up in agitation what's lacking in expressive depth or true fervor.
Art Trust Gallery, Meridian Bank, 16 W Market, West Chester. To May 28. Mon-Fri 9-4:30. Free. 484-467-1664.