Ralston Crawford was born in 1906 in St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada near Niagara Falls. In 1910, his family moved to Buffalo, New York, where he remained until 1926. In his youth, he favored the water, sailing the Great Lakes, and later traveling to the Caribbean and Pacific shores working on a tramp steamer.
He studied at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles in 1927 and at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art from 1927 to 1930. Crawford also studied in Paris at the Academie Colarossi and the Academie Scandinave.
His first one-man show was at the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore in 1934. His years spent on boats, docks, bridges and shipyards were evident in his works. Crawford became associated with Precisionism, an art movement stressing a machine-like style. Subjects that interested him were New Orleans jazz, bullfighting, and the Easter procession in Seville, to name a few.
He joined the army at the onset of World War II and was stationed in Washington D.C., then in China, Burma and India. In 1946, he was sent by the magazine “Fortune” to witness the atomic-bomb test at Bikini Atoll. This experience prompted him to produce a color serigraph of the U.S.S. Nevada.
Following the war, he continued to travel in the United States and Europe, producing lithographs, painting, teaching and lecturing. He taught at the Cincinnati Art Academy, the Albright Art School in Buffalo, the University of Michigan, the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, and the University of Colorado. He died in 1978 in Houston, Texas.