Buffalo Grain Elevators

Media - 1976.133 - SAAM-1976.133_2 - 133362
Copied Ralston Crawford, Buffalo Grain Elevators, 1937, oil on canvas, 40 1450 14 in. (102.1127.6 cm.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase, 1976.133

Artwork Details

Buffalo Grain Elevators
40 1450 14 in. (102.1127.6 cm.)
Credit Line
Museum purchase
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Landscape — New York — Buffalo
  • Architecture Exterior — industry — grain elevator
Object Number

Artwork Description

Beginning in the 1860s, vast reserves of Midwestern grain were shipped across the Great Lakes to Buffalo, where as many as 280 million bushels a year were stored and milled. Crawford intensified the monumental scale and severe beauty of the storehouses by simplifying what he saw into abstract forms. The solid blue tone of the sky becomes a shape all its own, interlocking with the silhouettes of roofs and elevators.
But this painting is more than an artist's exercise. Crawford grew up in the city and shipped aboard Great Lakes freighters with his father. In the late 1930s, Buffalo began to lose its central position in the grain business when Ontario's Welland Canal opened, providing cheaper freight routes to the East Coast. Crawford used chilly colors and raking light to suggest an industrial complex frozen in silence, signaling the end of an era in his hometown.