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Charles Sheeler was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1883. He studied at the Philadelphia School of Industrial Design from 1900 to 1903 and later studied painting with William Merritt Chase at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. While visiting Europe in 1908, he discovered the work of CÚzanne and the European modernists. Their influence became apparent on his return to America, and he developed a style emphasizing abstraction, through a precise rendering of line, surface, and shape to form dynamic compositions, inspired by the rural and urban American landscape.

By 1915 Sheeler learned photography as a way to support himself as a painter, but with encouragement from Alfred Stieglitz, a photographer and modern art advocate, he began to use the medium for artistic expression. Throughout the 1920s, he continued to take commercial assignments for Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines, and frequently photographed private art collections. In his personal work, Sheeler explored the roots of American culture and frequently chose rural preindustrial subjects, later turning to urban and factory subjects. He photographed barns and farmhouse interiors with their simple decorative arts and furniture. An early series from 1916 includes images from his modest country home in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. By 1927 he had turned his interest to American industry and accepted a commission to photograph the Ford Motor Company's Rouge factory. The series brought him high acclaim in artistic circles. By 1931 Sheeler's photographic contributions lessened, and he began to concentrate fully on his career as a painter.

Sheeler often exhibited drawings, photographs, and paintings together in the early years of his career. After 1931 he became one of America's most recognized modern painters. Sheeler took his last, most well known photographs as studies for a series of paintings on the theme of power in American industry. He continued to work throughout the 1950s until he suffered a stroke in 1959. His health deteriorated until his death in Dobbs Ferry, New York in 1965.