Charles Sheeler’s American Landscape c. 1930



“Works of art are more than mere ornaments for the elite, they are primary documents of a civilization.  A written record or a textbook tells you one thing; but art reveals something else. Our students and citizens deserve to see American art that shows us where we have come from, what we have endured, and where we are headed.” –Bruce Cole,  National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman.

This statement reflects American Precisionist artist Charles Sheeler’s work. In between the two World Wars, American artists began a new style loosely connected to Art Deco. Where Art Deco was more about high society, wealth and living the high life, Precisionism was more like the 19th century Realist art. Precisionism showed real people in real situations, real objects and architecture.

An artist strongly influenced by big changes of the new age, Charles Sheeler ‘s art revealed a love for contemporary urban life and the beauty of the machine.



Precisionists have been classified as a group of artist who began to depict the use of machinery using styles and techniques of the previous movements before them such as abstraction, cubism and Abstract Expressionism.

This movement came around shortly after World War I, when the use of machines began to boom within the United States. Art works in the 1920’s tended to show the rapidly growing nation along with its expansion of technology and industry that developed streamlining though mechanization and assembly lines. This was becoming an ideal everyday thing for Americans. Skylines going up in New York  City with  fifty to seventy story buildings and cities such as Cleveland, Memphis and Syracuse beginning to install twenty story buildings. Precisionism became an art movement more as a response to society and the production of new products like motion picture films, antifreeze and cigarette lighters.

Precisionism uses geometric shapes and uses them in abstract forms. It indicated both style and subject. In fact, the subject was the style: exact, hard, flat, big, industrial, and full of exchanges with photography. No expressive strokes of paint can be seen on the canvas. For the most part, anything live or organic, like trees or people, was kept out.  There was no such thing as a Precisionist pussycat.

American Landscape by Charles Sheeler c. 1930

American Landscape toys with our expectations. In a painting of that title, we hope to find a peaceful view of mountains and trees, or perhaps cottages and crops, in the manner of Thomas Cole or Albert Bierstadt. Instead, Charles Sheeler’s austere American Landscape gives us The Ford Motor Company’s Red River Factory with its silos, smokestacks, miles of conveyor belts, train tracks, blast furnaces, glass plants and famed assembly line. The only trace of humanity is a tiny figure scurrying across the railroad tracks. This plant mass-produced automobiles. Long conveyor belts moved materials within the factory. Raw materials and ores were transformed into cars.  Early twentieth-century Americans were proud of their country’s industrial development and appreciated the rise in their standard of living made possible by mass production.

March 15, 2011 PowerPoint Charles Sheeler American Landscape 1930

Today almost a century later, we can agree that industrialization has significantly improved our standard of living.  However, it has had a considerable impact to our environment that Charles Sheeler and his contemporaries may not have foreseen.  If they had been able to see into our future, would their art have taken on another dimension?

Students  should begin reading  Up From Slavery, By Booker T. Washington. Please have the book completed by April 12, 2011.  -Mrs. S


“You are God’s very own possession.  He called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light.”  1Peter 2:9






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