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Katharine Steele Renninger papers


Held at: James A. Michener Art Museum Archives [Contact Us]138 South Pine Street, Doylestown, PA, 18901

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the James A. Michener Art Museum Archives. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Katharine Steele Renninger (1925-2004) was a painter and printmaker in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. A self-described "abstract realist," Renninger was known for depicting architectural structures and everyday objects in her artwork, things that to her represented a disappearing way of life.

Katharine "Kay" Frick Steele was born in Jenkintown, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania in 1925 to John "Jack" Stewart Steele and Katharine Bux (Frick) Steele. In her youth, Kay's family moved to nearby Feasterville in Bucks County. Their neighbors were artists and encouraged Katharine to attend art school. In 1946, Kay graduated from Philadelphia's Moore College of Art and Design, where she also worked as a teacher. She spent several months studying abroad on a fellowship, during which time she filled sketchbooks with studies, experimenting with technique and approach.

In 1951 Kay married lawyer and future Pennsylvania State legislator John "Jack" Snowden Renninger (1924-2005). They settled in Newtown (Bucks County), where Kay set up an in-home studio and raised four children. Kay spent 1954-1955 in Caracas, Venezuela, where she continued to make art, and upon returning to Bucks County, noticed wide-open landscapes that had been built upon and the other effects of "suburbia" in her community. This led her to start capturing in her artwork architectural structures and everyday, often handmade, objects that represented a disappearing way of life. Kay worked for years to establish an arts center to document and support the significant art history in the Bucks County region, and became a founding trustee of the James A. Michener Art Museum. She also served on the Bucks County Council on the Arts. Katharine Steele Renninger passed away in 2004.

"Painter Katharine Steele Renninger was interested in objects: their structure, forms and patterns. The objects tended to be common, such as egg beaters, baby carriages, orange crates, or gingerbread molding on a Victorian house. Often the groupings created abstract patterns using the themes of repetition and the effects of light and shadow.

"Renninger worked almost exclusively in casein, a quick-drying milk-based medium that allowed her to depict intricate detail. Casein remained Renninger's exclusive medium for over forty years, helping to define her style. Her work can be compared with several important American realist painters including Charles Sheeler, Charles Demuth, Edward Hopper and with trompe l'oeil painters John Haberle and John Peto.

"She was an active supporter of the arts in Bucks County. She had a solo exhibition at the William Penn Museum in Harrisburg in 1975 and was honored [with a] Distinguished Pennsylvania Artist award the same year. She was awarded numerous prizes including Purchase Prizes at the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1978) and at the Woodmere Art Museum (1968); as well as four prizes from the National Society of Painters in Casein. Renninger was honored by a retrospective exhibition at the James A. Michener Art Museum in 1995. In 2016, the exhibition Katharine Steele Renninger: Craft, Commitment, Community opened at the James A. Michener Art Museum to highlight [a] from Renninger's estate to the Museum..."


Quoted text from: James A. Michener Art Museum. "Katharine Steele Renninger." Last modified 2016. Accessed September 14, 2016.

Sheehan, Liz K. "Katharine Steele Renninger: Craft, Commitment, Community." Resource Library, Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc. (April 15, 2016). Accessed September 14, 2016.

Katharine Steele Renninger papers, 1941-2003, consist of ledgers, scrapbooks, day planners, correspondence, photographs, press clippings, exhibition materials, awards, objects, and other materials that document Renninger's artistic and professional development.

Materials documenting Renninger's artworks include the artist's handwritten ledger of her entire body of work; ledger of accounting expenses and paintings sold, 1951-1974; invoices, receipts, and consignment and loan agreements; inventories and photographs, negatives, and slides of Renninger's artworks, some of which have been transferred to CD and DVD; exhibition records, such as advertisements, invitations, labels and catalogs, 1946-2003, including Phillips Mill exhibit catalogs, 1974-2003; artist's scrapbooks, 1942-1963; loose studies and sketchbooks, including travel studies, circa 1940s-1970s; copies of Renninger's illustrations for the cookbook entitled "A Pennsbury Manor Cookbook;" and other materials.

There are numerous art related magazines, as well as newspaper, magazine, and other press clippings documenting Renninger's career.

In addition to photographic materials related to Renninger's artworks, there are photographs of Renninger and her family, as well as images labeled "Porkyard Antiques" and "Nantucket." There are also two VHS cassettes, one is a recording about an award Renninger received and the other is a recording of "Art Beat" featuring Renninger and other artists.

Also included in the collection are Renninger's day planners, 1997-2003, and her personal and professional correspondence, including correspondence between Renninger and Bruce Katsiff, a longtime director and CEO of the James A. Michener Art Museum, and museum board members.

Other materials include a high school yearbook; resumes; personal stationery, some of which is labeled "Renninger for US Congress," and addresses and contact cards; brochures, newsletters, printed matter, and ephemera from organizations with which Renninger was involved or in which she was interested; and other materials.

Objects in the collection include a glass palette with paint samples and tools in a case engraved "Jack S. Steele."

A more detailed finding aid, biographical note, or inventory for this collection may be available on-site or on the Michener Archives finding aid page:

This collection consists of two donations. ARC2008.4 was gifted to the James A. Michener Art Museum Archives by Mary Renninger Rumsey, Sarah Renninger Henriques, Patrick John Renninger, and Katharine Ann Renninger on February 17, 2009. ARC2012.2 was gifted to the Museum on January 13, 2012 from the same individuals as ARC2008.4.

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact James A. Michener Art Museum Archives directly for more information.

James A. Michener Art Museum Archives
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Sarah Leu and Anastasia Matijkiw through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories using information provided by the James A. Michener Art Museum Archives
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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