As a native New Yorker the city described by Walt Whitman in his 1860 poem “Mannahatta” is as familiar to me as my own face in the morning mirror. To me it’s skyscrapers and bridges are as beautiful as the Rocky Mountains and as majestic as the Grand Canyon. Where evolution took its time over billions of years to form the Continental Divide, engineers, architects, and hundreds of thousands of immigrant laborers and craftspeople of every discipline made swift work of building the great American cities out of abundant natural resources, and unparalleled ingenuity.
The 19th and early 20th Century ushered in the Industrial Revolution and the Machine Age. Mass production demanded monumental factories and power plants. America was then yet a young nation building for a grand future unhindered by the traditions that weighed heavily upon much of the rest of the world. In the northeast a number of artists were inspired to create work which reflects these ambitions.
Artists Charles Demuth and Charles Sheeler share much more than a first name and birth year. Contemporaries, both were born in Pennsylvania; the center of American steel production in the 19th and 20th Centuries. It was Pennsylvania steel that built the Empire State Building, the gates of the Panama Canal, railroads, and heavy machinery of this dynamic era.
Today the balance has shifted and now America is a nation known for mass consumerism – and the once pulsing factories and steel mills are all but abandoned, ghosts of an optimistic past. What survives intact from that era is art, prose and poetry. In contrast to the rusting industrial relics, the creative work remains still vital, still modern and above all – timeless.
For anyone just beginning to learn about the American Precisionists I encourage you to follow these leads…
BIBLIOGRAPHY / CREDITS: WHERE TO LEARN MORE
1.) “Mannahatta.” New York Herald 27 February 1888: 4. Reprinted in the “Sands at Seventy” annex to Leaves of Grass (1888).
2.) Manhatta A film by Paul Strand and Charles Sheeler, 1921
Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York
© Aperture Foundation Inc., Paul Strand Archive
3.) The Great Figure. William Carlos Williams. Collected Poems, Volume I: 1909-1939. 1938 New Directions Publishing Corporation.
4.) Charles Sheeler / Across Media. National Gallery of Art.
5.) Charles Sheeler art gallery: http://www.museumsyndicate.com/artist.php?artist=516
6.) Art of Our Century: The Chronicles of Western Art, 1900 to the present. Jean Louis Ferrier. Prentice Hall Press. New York 1988.
7.) The Demuth Museum: http://www.demuth.org
8.) Oral History Interview with Charles Sheeler, 1958: http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-charles-sheeler-12883
9.) America in Poetry: With Paintings, drawings, photographs and other works of art. Edited by Charles Sullivan. Harry N. Abrams Publishing. New York. 1988.
COVER ART: AMERICAN PRECISIONISTS by Victoria Gladstone after Demuth