Rolling Power

Tag writer: Lee Burns Professor of Art, Smith College

I thought that I remembered this painting from a textbook from my undergraduate days when I took my art history courses pass/fail and mostly just read the book and listened to the lectures.  I was impressed by the combination of image and title.  The work seems to convey, with photographic precision, the mechanical details of the running gear of a steam engine. I was surely attracted to the complexity of mechanical details, especially the wheels and their driving mechanisms, all precisely rendered, right down to the small “puff” of steam at the lower right of the composition.  I had never bothered to notice where the painting resided.  I came to teach at Smith in 1977, and was enthralled when I walked into the museum for the first time and saw the painting hanging on the wall.  From the label I learned that it has been here for practically all of its life.  Now shift to the present and see how memory is volatile.  I just checked in all of my text books from those school days, and the painting is not in any of them.  So I do not even remember where I first came upon it.  Memory can be so interesting. 

Image Information: Charles Sheeler. American, 1883–1965. Rolling Power. 1939. Oil on canvas. Purchased with the Drayton Hillyer Fund


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