Artist: Charles Sheeler (American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1883–1965 Dobbs Ferry, New York)
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 48 x 36 in. (121.9 x 91.4 cm)
Credit Line: Edith and Milton Lowenthal Collection, Bequest of Edith Abrahamson Lowenthal, 1991
Accession Number: 1992.24.8
Born in Philadelphia, Charles Sheeler studied art at the Philadelphia School of Industrial Design (1900–03) and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1903–06) before traveling to Europe. In 1912 he took up commercial photography in order to earn a living while he continued to paint. Sheeler was a versatile artist who moved easily between painting, drawing, printmaking, photography, and film, and there are many correlations between his works in different mediums. In the 1920s and 1930s Sheeler and Charles Demuth, among others, worked in a style of painting called Precisionism. Sheeler's sharply focused depictions of buildings, machinery, and interiors were often based on his own photographs.
Between 1926 and 1934 Sheeler produced a series of seven paintings — among them "Americana" — that depict the interior of his home in South Salem, New York, and his prized collection of early American furnishings. "Americana," as well as the others, may have been based on one of the interior photographs that Sheeler took of his house about 1929. Filled with a profusion of precisely rendered objects — but no people — the painting seems oddly frozen in time and emotionally distant. The floor and furniture seem to tip upward toward the viewer, making them look off-balance and rather two-dimensional. The long trestle table and the two side benches hover like flat boards over the other furniture and the floor. The conflicting geometric and linear patterns of the four rugs, two pillows, woven sofa covering, backgammon set, and cast shadows add to our visual discomfort, as does the unusual cropping of objects. The verity of Sheeler's realism, however, makes us willing to accept these inconsistencies. The painting is as much a portrait of the artist's living space as it is a statement about national pride and the values of home and craftsmanship.