Cleveland dealer brokers loan of Cleveland School work to Museum of Industrial History

The Steel Rougher (1826), by Max Kalish. Photo courtesy of Glenn Koehler / NMIH

The Steel Rougher (1826), by Max Kalish. Photo courtesy of Glenn Koehler / NMIH

One of the great challenges in museums is telling a story. The recently opened National Museum of Industrial History—a Smithsonian affiliate, located in Bethlehem, PA—gets some story telling help from sculpture by Cleveland Schooler Max Kalish. The piece is on loan there from a private collector in Chicago, via Cleveland-based Corcoran Fine Arts, until February, 2017. The loan sheds interesting light on how and why important works make their way from contemporary art into the realm of history, passing through the hands of collectors along the way. The scuplture—The Steel Rougher—is available for sale, but the Museum doesn’t currently have an acquisition fund

“The sculpture is on display in our Steelworkers exhibit and helps to capture a humanistic angle in our labor story,” says NMIH curator Andria Zaia. “Unskilled laborers were essential to the early iron and steel industry. Kalish’s sculpture showcases the worker as strong, proud, heroic in completing such repetitive, physical tasks. The sculpture also helps to give the visitor a sense of movement in the gallery space while providing an important context alongside the interpretive text.”

The Steel Rougher is a muscular figure, broad shouldered in a sleeveless undershirt, caught in action. A rougher on a steel manufacturing line would watch the color, and therefore the temperature of the steel as it moved along, and would operate the rolling mill, which would form the steel to a specific dimension. It was the kind of hot and hard physical work done by people who lived in Slavic Village.

“Working in industry is often backbreaking, difficult, and dangerous work., says Zaia. “The sculpture captures the pride our steelworkers feel when thinking back upon their careers. The bronze elevates the position of the laborer to that of a heroic, iconic figure.

“Kalish created his sculptures from real life, and most probably met and knew roughers in the steel mills of the Cuyahoga Valley in Cleveland,” according to James Corcoran.

The Steel Rougher was exhibited in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s storied May Show in 1926. it’s early in a series of about 60 sculptures of laborers Kalish cast between 1920 and 1937. The Lithuanian born, Cleveland School-educated sculptor was dividing his time between Cleveland and Paris in those years.

You can find Kalish’s works in museums up and down the East Coast, including his The End of the Day (1930) and Man of Steel (before 1933) at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington. Additionally, his Torso (1925) is in the Collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and his Abraham Lincoln (1927-1932) is at the Cleveland Board of Education. And for now, at least, at the National Museum of Industrial History.

National Museum of Industrial History
602 E 2nd St
Bethlehem, PA 18015

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