Made in America: Celebrating Charles Sheeler’s “American Landscape”


Top row (l-r): airplane maker, derrick man on the Empire State Building, millinery apprentice, man on a hoisting ball on the Empire State Building. Middle row (l-r): linotyper in a publishing house, welder on the Empire State Building, coal miner, riveters on the Empire State Building. Bottom row (l-r): powerhouse mechanic, railroad track walker, textile worker, man guiding a beam on the Empire State Building.

We’ve been reminding folks this week about the upcoming release of the Made in America: Building A Nation stamps. Each pane of stamps showcases 12 images of early 20th-century industrial workers, whose contributions were essential to the growth of the modern United States.

Artist Charles Sheeler, who happens to have been born on this day in 1883, was just as fascinated by the growth of American industry in the early 20th century as we are. His photographs and paintings, many rendered in a flat, hard-edged style known as Precisionism, reflect his interest in technology and streamlined architecture.

During the 1920s, commercial photography provided Sheeler with a good living. In 1927, he received a commission to photograph the Ford Motor Company plant in River Rouge, Michigan, a few miles west of Detroit. Those photographs became successful as both advertising and fine art.

No cars appear in the images. Instead, Sheeler concentrated on the power of the machines and the architecture of the industrial plant, emphasizing the impersonal grandeur of the enterprise. He went on to present this idealized view of industry in several paintings, including American Landscape (1930), that celebrate the company’s—and the nation’s—strength and productivity.

CharlesSheeler-Forever-single-v3By calling his painting American Landscape, Sheeler explored the relationship between rural traditions and his modern subject matter. He presents an industrial world as the equivalent of the natural world. Even the water in this landscape is a man-made canal. To emphasize the modern quality of his vision, Sheeler worked to eliminate signs of brushwork from his painting. The tiny human figure on the railroad track in the lower left quadrant indicates the scale of the enormous smokestack and other industrial apparatus. Sheeler is commenting on the way human culture was coming to dominate nature. Painted at the height of the “machine age,” Sheeler’s painting celebrates the order and rationality of industry.

DCP Keepsake

This collectible package includes a sheet of 12 Modern Art in America Forever® stamps and a set of 12 Digital Color Postmark First Day Covers. Click the image for details.

In 1939, Fortune magazine commissioned Sheeler to make a series of paintings on the theme of power. He visited marvels of modern engineering such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Boulder Dam. The resulting paintings were reproduced in the magazine and exhibited in New York.

Late in his career, he made a series of paintings of abandoned mill buildings, reflecting his longstanding interest in architecture. Some of his interiors depict both antique furniture and modern appliances, joining the handmade past and the industrial present.

The Charles Sheeler stamp can be found on the Modern Art in America stamp sheet, which was issued on March 7, 2013. The sheet is available online, by calling 800-STAMP24 (800-782-6724), and at Post Offices around the country. The Made in America stamps will be issued on Thursday, August 8. We will post more details about the official dedication ceremony soon.

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About USPS Stamps

The Postal Service™ is proud of its role in portraying the American experience to a world audience through the issuance of postage stamps and postal stationery. Each year the Postal Service issues commemorative stamps reflecting subjects of national significance and appeal. More than 160 years of stamp development has yielded an incredible archive of imagery and commentary reflecting American culture and society. Even in this fast-changing world, stamps are still a versatile and convenient method of postage. And stamp collecting is a lifetime hobby that is fun and educational for all ages. Stamp collecting is easy to start without a big investment. It is also a great way to learn about the world and its many wonders, opening the door to an exciting universe of history, science, geography, the arts, technology, and sports. Our mission is to provide universal service that is prompt, reliable, efficient, affordable, and self-sustaining. Throughout its history the Postal Service has grown with the nation, binding it together by ensuring that everyone, everywhere, has the same ability to communicate regardless of technological change.