Cover image for Picturing Utopia : Bertha Shambaugh & the Amana photographers
Picturing Utopia : Bertha Shambaugh & the Amana photographers
Foerstner, Abigail, 1949-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Iowa City : University of Iowa Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xiv, 148 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
TR820.5 .F64 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Foerstner's collection offers a rare glimpse into the Amana Colonies, a utopian religious community of the 1890s. "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."--Jon Anderson, "Chicago Tribune." 81 photos.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Foerstner recounts the story of the photographers of the Amana colonies, a utopian religious community in Iowa, during the 1890s and the early years of the twentieth century. In particular, she celebrates the inspirational career of Bertha Shambaugh, one of the earliest social documentary photographers and the first outsider to photograph the colonies. Other photographers represented include Christian Herrmann, Paul Kellenberger, Rudolph Kellenberger, F. William Miller, William F. Noe, Friedrich Oehl, Jacob and Henrietta Selzer, Peter Stuck, and the author's great-uncle William Foerstner. 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. The mood of the whole book is best captured by the image of a pair of oval-shaped, dark-rimmed glasses resting on an open Bible and illuminated by a shaft of light from above. This is a rare glimpse of a nineteenth-century utopian religious society, which is to say a unique document of a vanished way of life. --June Sawyers

Choice Review

Shambaugh worked within the tradition of social documentary photography, which was just emerging in the 1890s. She chose to photograph the Amana Colonies in Iowa because for her they represented a model society characterized by "a more rational and ideal life." Her photographs illustrate a utopia rather than social ills or vanishing cultures as do most American social documentary photographs of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She was the first to photograph a community that disapproved of photography, and her work opened the door for other photographers within and outside the colonies to record the diversity of the culture from insider and outsider perspectives. (Author Foerstner's great-uncle William Foerstner was one of the Amana photographers whose work is included in the book.) The text includes biographical essays on Shambaugh and six other photographers as well as an account of the history, philosophy, and culture of the Amana Colonies. All levels. S. Spencer; North Carolina State University