In a period such as ours when only a comparatively few individuals seem to be given to religion, some form other than the Gothic cathedral must be found. Industry concerns the greatest numbers—it may be true, as has been said, that our factories are our substitute for religious expression. (Charles Sheeler)
Charles Sheeler, Steam Turbine, 1939
Charles Sheeler, the son of a steamer-line executive, was born in Philadelphia in 1883. His education included instruction in industrial drawing and the applied arts at the School of Industrial Art in Philadelphia (1900–1903), followed by a traditional training in drawing and painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1903–6). He visited Europe with his fellow students in 1904–5, and traveled abroad again in 1908–9 with his parents and his friend Morton Schamberg, another young artist. During this second trip, he developed a particular interest in the Italian painters of the late Middle Ages, particularly Giotto, Masaccio, and Piero della Francesca, and their simple, strong massing of forms. In 1909, he visited the Paris home of Michael and Sarah Stein, early patrons of Picasso and Braque; this experience inspired him to work in a Cubist style for several years.
Charles Sheeler, Clapboards, 1936
In 1910, Sheeler and Schamberg rented an eighteenth-century stone house in Doylestown, Pennsylvania; around this time, Sheeler taught himself photography. He worked as a freelance photographer, documenting local buildings for architects; a few years later, he began to photograph the interior of his own house. He shaped its rough-hewn spaces with light and shadow, drawing out their underlying compositions of solids and spaces. He also photographed and drew the local vernacular architecture, particularly barns, whose straightforward design he admired.