This work by Charles Sheeler shows several chimneys

Charles Sheeler

American, 1883–1965

Stacks in Celebration, 1954

Tempera on plexiglas

7½ x 9 inches

Signed lower right margin

Born in Philadelphia, Sheeler was trained in industrial drawing, decorative painting, and applied art before studying with William Merritt Chase at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. After traveling to Italy and Paris in 1908, he returned to the US determined to explore new directions in painting. He relied on photography as a means to experiment with these new concepts, and his paintings would come to exemplify the Precisionist movement — a crisp, clean, hard-edged style that combined aspects of cubist abstraction and the machine aesthetic.

In the late 1940s Sheeler began to develop new processes involving photomontage. He made photographic prints from layered negatives, which became the basis of a sketch. He then placed a piece of Plexiglas over the sketch and painted and repainted it until he was satisfied, using that study as the basis for an oil painting. Sometimes he would keep the Plexiglas studies and paint them further, calling them “the only paintings I can afford to keep.”

Stacks in Celebration is a study for an oil painting of the same name in the collection of the Dayton Art Institute. The subject is a power plant in New Bedford, Massachusetts, that Sheeler visited in 1939–40. He spent several hours walking the grounds of the deserted plant, documenting it through photographs. This tempera study conveys a sense of immediacy not present in the artist’s finished works and provides insight into the working processes of an early modernist master.

This work by Charles Sheeler shows several chimneys