Picturing Utopia

Picturing Utopia

Bertha Shambaugh and the Amana Photographers

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166 pages, 81 photos, 8 3/4 x 8 5/8 inches

“Like a time machine, the photographs in Picturing Utopia carry us back to a wondrous Iowa experiment in creating a kinder, more spiritual way of life. I recommend this book to all who are overwhelmed by the complexities of modern-day living.”—Jon Anderson, Chicago Tribune

“The photographs’ subject matter is the stuff of ordinary life: children and adults at work and play, seasonal celebrations, the interiors of old Amana churches, empty schoolhouse benches. Intimate and warm, the text evokes in style and tone the elegiac quality of the photographs. . . . This is a rare glimpse of a 19th-century utopian religious society, which is to say a unique document of a vanished way of life.”—Booklist

“Historians of the Amana Colonies have long been grateful that the leadership of Amana’s religious communal society did not strictly enforce its prohibition of photography: the images are essential resources that document our community’s past. With its wonderfully rich collection of newly discovered images, Picturing Utopia not only adds to our knowledge of the Amana Colonies’ history but also gives us a greater appreciation for the artistic expression of the photographers.”—Lanny Haldy, executive director, Amana Heritage Society

“A wonderful selection of photographs and an insightful account of one of America's great utopian societies. All those interested in photography and American history will find this book an invaluable addition to their library.”—Sylvia Wolf, Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography, Whitney Museum of American Art

More than 100 years ago, Bertha Shambaugh set out to photograph the Amana Colonies, the utopian religious community twenty miles northwest of Iowa City. Shambaugh brought to her project a clear social mission to tell the world mired in the upheavals of the 1890s about a kinder way of life. She easily won the trust of the community and began publishing photographs and articles about the society she so admired. Soon after, several Amana members ignored their community's prohibition on photography and took up cameras to record the people and events around them.

Picturing Utopia: Bertha Shambaugh and the Amana Photographers celebrates their artistic vision and offers a rare glimpse into a nineteenth-century religious utopia. Abigail Foerstner brings together this stunning collection of photographs along with the stories of the photographers who took them. Together the pictures and text fill in an untold chapter of American photographic history and provide an insider's view of life in Amana.

The photographs, preserved on glass plate negatives, provide an unbroken photographic record beginning with Shambaugh's work in the 1890s and continuing through the Colonies' transition to mainstream American life with the Great Change in 1932.