Art: Precision's Reward

Only once every five years does the American Academy of Arts and Letters give its Award of Merit Medal to a painter—a procedure that prevents hasty recognition of a talent that might turn out to be only one year's fad. Last week, as if underlining its case for judging in perspective, the academy presented the award and $1,000 to an artist who is three years retired from a careful half-century of working in a style far removed from the painting that dominates today's galleries.

Charles Sheeler, 78, was cited for the ''classical spirit, formal...

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