Test your knowledge with a quiz
Driggs, Blast Furnaces
- The 1920s was a decade of industrial growth and innovation in America. Plants like the one depicted in Elsie Driggs’s Blast Furnaces provided the necessary steel for many industries that prospered during these years. This economic expansion ended abruptly with the stock market crash of 1929.
- Manufacturing towns, like Pittsburgh, had been the site of labor struggles throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These were often violent clashes that pitted the workers against plant owners and managers.
- While Elsie Driggs brings a classical sense of order and geometry to Blast Furnaces, her dark color palette and dehumanized approach to the subject suggest her ambivalence about modern industry and progress.
This painting at The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Read more about American industrialization during the 1920s
Learn more about labor struggles around the turn of the century
Watch a short video about the Homestead Steel Strike of 1892 from PBS
Primary source documents about the Homestead Steel Strike at the Library of Congress
Explore primary source documents about the Homestead Strike
View photographs of the Jones & Laughlin steel plant where Driggs sketched
History of steel production in Pennsylvania
Listen to oral histories with steel workers
Explore a learning packet from the Michener Art Museum that contains a biography of Elsie Driggs and information about her process
More to think about
Elsie Driggs was not alone in bringing traditions of order and geometry to industrial subjects in the 1920s. Compare Blast Furnaces with Charles Demuth’s My Egypt (1927). What similarities do you notice? Do both paintings suggest the same feelings about modern industry? If not, what makes the difference between them?
Blast Furnaces and Pennsylvania Station Excavation by George Bellows both express ambivalence towards industry and progress. Look closely at the two paintings. How do they communicate this ambivalence? Are there differences in the way they depict modern industry?