Charles Sheeler

(American, 1883-1965)

Charles Sheeler maintained a career long interest in revealing pure abstract structure in familiar objects. A methodical and painstaking craftsman, Sheeler developed slowly as an artist. His training began at the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia. The basic course, which Sheeler completed, sought to improve the artistic aspect of manufacturing and industry through classes in textile design, illustration, applied design, and interior decoration. This exposure contributed to Sheeler’s intense concern for elegant composition and the harmonious arrangements of line and shape throughout his career. He attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where he fell under the influence of William Merritt Chase, a charismatic teacher and master of a bravura style. While attending the Academy, Sheeler met Morton Schamberg, a fellow student with whom he formed an important personal and professional relationship—later sharing a studio in Philadelphia and a weekend retreat in Doylestown. When traveling with Schamberg in Europe, free of Chase’s direct influence, Schamberg introduced Sheeler to the modernism of Cézanne, Braque, Matisse, and others. His interest in European modernism and his choice of commercial architectural photography as a means of financial support combined to lead Sheeler toward an increasingly abstract idiom in his paintings and drawings Sheeler eventually embraced photography as an artistic medium and attracted the support of Alfred Stieglitz, which brought Sheeler into contact with other leaders of the avant garde in New York. By 1917 he was a quiet but regular visitor to the New York apartment of Walter and Louise Arensberg, where he met Marcel Duchamp and Francis Picabia. In 1918, Sheeler’s ties to his native Philadelphia gradually dissolved following Morton Schamberg’s death. By 1919, Sheeler had moved to New York City, where he continued to move in avant garde circles, becoming particularly involved with the Whitney Studio Galleries until eventually settling in rural South Salem, New York, by 1927. By then he was acclaimed for the spare elegance and pristine clarity of his orderly images of American industrial architecture. His work was critically acknowledged for its unique melding of the stylization of European modernism with the realism then perceived to be an inherent attribute of an “artist in the American tradition.”