Disaffected Prep

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Charles Sheeler & the Ford River Rouge Plant

As part of an marketing campaign for the new Model A, an advertising agency contracted the American artist and photographer Charles Sheeler to take photographs of Ford Motor Company's newly constructed River Rouge plant in 1927.  Enamored with the plant and the technological progress it foretold, Sheeler created a number of iconic images that survive today as as exemplars of the precisionist movement as well as genuine Americana. 

I first found these photographs as part of Aesthetics seminar I took in college, and I've been fascinated by them ever since.  It can be hard tracking down images of the Sheeler's River Rouge plant on the Internet, but quite a few are housed at the Detroit Institute of Arts website.

From Sheeler
"Criss Crossed Conveyors" recalls a Crucifix. That is not an accident.

Sheeler saw the River Rouge plant as a new industrial cathedral, America's version of Notre Dame.  He said, "Our factories are our substitute for religious expression." 

From Sheeler
His "Stamping Press" with a solitary worker dwarfed by machinery always reminded me of a priest at a magnificent altar.

From Sheeler
"Power House" has smokestacks like organ pipes.

From Sheeler
Within "Ladle Hooks" we have a lofting ceiling that recalls the soaring interior of a cathedral.

From Sheeler
"Stream Hydraulic Shear"

Beyond the beauty and awesome power of the images, they also highlight a moment in the American experience that imbued industrial machinery with an almost blind quixotic faith to improve our lives. Shortly after these photos were commissioned, the economy took a swan dive into the Great Depression and we would never view factories with the same sort of hope as Sheeler did.

But as they stand, Sheeler's photographs offer a unique and distinctly American view into the power of industrial machinery to transform our consciousness that are still relevant today.

From Sheeler
"Slag Buggy"

From Sheeler
"Ingot Molds"

From Sheeler
"Blast Furnace Interior"

More images at my Picasa page
and the Detroit Institute of Arts

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Great post! The DIA actually did a whole Sheeler exhibit a while back...it was great and featured a lot of these prints. Keep up the good work!

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