Study for Steel, from America Today
Thomas Hart Benton’s study for the finished painting Steel, one of ten murals in his famed America Today cycle, depicts the rugged labor and powerful machinery used in processing iron ore. The dramatic background, with towering blast furnace, flaming bessemer converter, and molten metal spilling into ingot molds, demonstrates Benton’s familiarity with this industry. Likely developed from sketches he made at Bethlehem Steel in Sparrows Point, Maryland, Benton's study also captures the contorted bodies and mechanical gestures of the steelworkers, suggesting both the skill and exploitation of this workforce.
Now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the America Today murals were commissioned in 1930 for New York’s New School for Social Research. The project established Benton as the nation’s leading muralist, and he is credited with spurring the mural program of the Works Project Administration (WPA) in the mid-1930s.
-Hannah Blunt, Associate Curator, Mount Holyoke College Art Museum (Sept. 2017)