George Ralston Crawford, who created images of the American industrial landscape in a precisionist style, was born in St. Catharines, Ontario, near Niagara Falls, in 1906; his family moved to Buffalo, N.Y. in 1910. Crawford's interest in docks, shipyards, bridges, and grain elevators stems from a childhood spent traveling around the Great Lakes with his father and also from several years as a young sailor. In the mid-1920s Crawford turned to art, studying until 1932 at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Barnes Foundation, Merion, Pa., and the Hugh Breckenridge School, East Gloucester, Mass. His exposure to the precisionist art of Demuth and, especially, Sheeler while a student at the Barnes Foundation from 1927 to 1930, fueled his interest in industrial subjects. During the early 1930s, at a time when many American artists were turning away from the wave of modernism that had swept the country since the early teens, Crawford adopted a precisionist style, creating smoothly painted images of subjects specifically associated with America, such as skyscrapers, industrial structures, and machinery. His work was characterized by flat geometric planes, well defined, and illuminated by shafts of clear light and shadow.
Crawford traveled in Europe from 1932 to 1933, and in 1933 attended Columbia University. He had his first one-person show in 1934 at the Maryland Institute of Art, Baltimore. Fascinated with rural architectural forms, he returned that year to Pennsylvania to paint, living in Chadds Ford and Exton until 1939. After a series of teaching positions, Crawford joined the army and was stationed in Washington, D.C., later China, Burma, and India. In 1946, he was sent by Fortune magazine to witness the atomic-bomb test at Bikini Atoll. An inveterate wanderer, Crawford traveled extensively in the United States and Europe to paint, produce lithographs, lecture, and teach. In 1950, he made the first of many trips to New Orleans, where he began to photograph black jazz musicians. Crawford died in 1978, in Houston, but was buried in his beloved New Orleans.