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Ralston Crawford

(1906 - 1978)
Ralston Crawford was born September 25, 1906 in St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada, near Niagara Falls. He is best known for his images of American landscapes, which he executed in a Precisionist style.

In 1910 Crawfords family moved to Buffalo, where he lived until 1926. He favored the water in his youth, sailing the Great Lakes, and later visiting Caribbean and Pacific shores while working on a tramp steamer in 1926 and 1927. Following these years as a sailor, he then turned to art.

From 1927 to 1933, he studied at numerous institutes, including: the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles; the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; the Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pennsylvania; the Hugh Breckenridge School, in East Gloucester, Massachusetts; the Academie Colarossi and Academie Scandinave in Paris in 1932 and 1933; and Columbia University, in 1933.

Crawfords first one-man show was in 1934 at the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore. His experiences from his years spent on boats and near docks, shipyards, and bridges were evident in his works. He was also intrigued by rural architectural forms, and moved to Pennsylvania to paint, living in Chadds Ford and Exton from 1934 to 1939.

Crawford was associated with Precisionism, an art movement stressing a machine-like style, which incorporated flat colors, sharp edges, little texture, and industrial images. At this time in the thirties, many American artists were turning away from modernism, and the Precisionists regarded industrial subjects as symbols of order and reason, and a part of America's cultural heritage.

His Precisionist works were smoothly painted and had subjects that could specifically be associated with America, reflecting the highly technological aspects of the day, including bridges, railroads, race cars, highways, grain elevators, ships, and factory scenes. Other subjects which fascinated him were bullfighting, New Orleans jazz, and the Easter procession in Seville. Towards the end of the 1930s, his work became increasingly abstract, with figures becoming cropped and tilted, influences perhaps resulting from his interest in photography.

With the onset of the Second World War, Crawford joined the army and was stationed in Washington, D.C., then in China, Burma, and India. He was sent in 1946 by the magazine Fortune to be a witness to the atomic-bomb test at Bikini Atoll, prompting him to create a color serigraph of the U.S.S. Nevada, meant to convey his concerns over some of the products of modern industry.

The destructive forces of World War II influenced Crawfords work, as might be seen in Nacelles Under Construction, depicting a part of an airplane engine under construction at the Curtiss-Wright aircraft plant in Buffalo, New York. He moved away from Precisionism in his art, and developed an increasingly fragmented, hard-edged style, perhaps an expression of his disillusionment with Americas war technology.

An inveterate wanderer, Crawford continued to travel extensively in the United States and Europe, painting and producing lithographs, lecturing, and teaching. He held a series of teaching positions, among them jobs at the Cincinnati Art Academy (1940- 41), the Albright Art School in Buffalo (1941-42), the University of Michigan, the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, and the University of Colorado. In 1947, he was guest director of the Honolulu School of Arts.

In 1950 he made the first of many trips to New Orleans, where he photographed black jazz musicians. He frequently painted in series; while during the 1940s his paintings were related to World War II, in the 1950s his life and interest centered in New Orleans, utilizing motifs found in the St.Louis Cemetery there. In 1971 Crawford was diagnosed as having advanced cancer and given only months to live. When he died on April 27, 1978 in Houston, his body was returned to his beloved New Orleans for burial.

The collections of several universities and corporations include his works, as well as many museums, among them The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., and also the Library of Congress.