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Ralston Crawford

Steel Foundry, Coatesville, Pa.

1936–37

Ralston Crawford, Steel Foundry, Coatesville, Pa., 1936–37  37.10  
Ralston Crawford, Steel Foundry, Coatesville, Pa., 1936–37. Oil on canvas, 32 × 40 in. (81.3 x 101.6 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase  37.10  On view For Teachers

about this work

During the Depression, Ralston Crawford’s paintings of highways, grain elevators, and steel foundries captured America’s enduring optimism about technology and progress. Like the work of his Precisionist contemporaries, such as Elsie Driggs and Charles Sheeler, Steel Foundry, Coatesville, Pa. depicts the functional architecture of commerce and industry using bold geometric forms and crisp lines. In Crawford’s portrayal, the foundry becomes a looming silhouette devoid of human presence, its architecture reduced to an arrangement of flat, monochromatic planes. Two fences act as barriers that close off the structure from the street. Crawford exaggerates the size and severity of the building by contrasting it sharply with the flattened fences and telephone poles in the foreground, as well as the background of wispy clouds.

Audio

Audio guide stop for Ralston Crawford, Steel Foundry, Coatesville, PA., 1936-37

look closer

What do you notice first about this scene? 

How would you describe it?

What type of building do you think this might be? 

What do you think could happen inside it? Why? 

What details has the artist included? 

What do you think he might have left out?

Activities

Ralston Crawford’s paintings of the 1930s and 1940s depict the starkness and function of American industry in simplified shapes on smooth, untextured canvases. His work of this period captured America’s enduring faith in technology and progress. The buildings, pylons, and fences in Steel Foundry, Coatesville, Pa are depicted in sharp-edged, flat shapes with no visible brushstrokes.

Crawford wrote: “My pictures mean exactly what they say, and what they say is said in colors and shapes.” 1 Ask your students to think about that quote. What do the colors and shapes tell you about this place? How would you describe it? What type of building do you think this might be? What do you think goes on inside it? Why?

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