Collection of the University of Pittsburgh Art Gallery, Pittsburgh, PA. Gift of The Gimbel Brothers, Inc.
1959.GIMBEL.44
William Gropper (1897-1977)

Joe Magarac

1947 (Date created)
October 1 1947 (Date published)
Medium
Oil
Technique
Painting
Type
Paintings
Dimensions
44 in W x 54 in H (Image)
57 in W x 63 in H (Frame)
Culture
American
Description
Steel workers folk hero, giant Joe Magarac in blue pants grins in triumph while bending a molten rod of orange steel, looming over fellow workers and a smokey mill behind.
Exhibition Label
"Folk heroes loom large in the affections of Pennsylvania steelworkers. From the Scotch-Irish of the era of forges to the southern Europeans who labor today in gigantic steel mills, men have told tall tales of superbeings as hard and big as the mills themselves. Such a character is Hungarian Joe Magarac who never sleeps, and can turn out 2,000 tons of steel a day. Here he is shown bending a molten rod with his bare hands." (D. Grafty, "Pennsylvania as Artists See it: The Gimbel PA Art Collection", 1948);"Inspired by the creative freedom offered by the Gimbel Brother's commission, Gropper chose to portray the Pittsburgh folk hero, Joe Magarac. A legend born of Hungarian immigrants working in Braddock, Pennsylvania, Magarac stood over seven feet tall and was literally made out of steel. A goliath working machine, good old Joe would turn out 2,000 tons of steel per day. Dedicated to industry and his work, Magarac eventually ended his years of service by melting himself down in the furnace. This way Magarac ensured that each new plant would be constructed of only the best steel. A figure of heroic proportions, Gropper's Joe Magarac towers over his fellow workers and the viewer. Pointing at Magarac in pure disbelief, the workers in the background are amazed by the brute strength of the man behind the industry, as Magarac looms over the canvas he bends a rod of molten steel with his bare hands. An artist with sympathetic Marxist views, Gropper envisioned Magarac as a symbol of the triumphant worker ("SLAG", Fall 2010). ;"Pittsburgh's Legendary Hero: Joe Magarac Joe Magarac - Made to make steel. Part of him legend, part of him real. Born out of Braddock, earth, rock, and hill. King of the Ignots, Pride of the Mill. Joe Magarac, over seven feet tall. Nothing about him was timid or small. He gathered the scrap iron, the limestone, the ore, He fanned the white heat to angry red roar. He poured liquid fire in each ingot mold, And taking a handful before it got cold, He squeezed through his fingers and watched it congeal From taffy-like ribbons to straight rails of steel. They talked of improving the steel that they made And Joe overheard them and went to their aid By throwing himself in the steely soufflé And smiling, Joe Magarac melted away. A true Pittsburgher, legend or real? Joe Magarac is the symbol of steel." (Pennsylvania History & Landmarks Foundation);"Joe Magarac was a necessary hero to the thousands of ethnic immigrants who came to work in the Pittsburgh steel mills from the 1880s on. The work was hard, the hours long, and Joe Magarac symbolized the pride steelworkers felt in being part of America, employed in the 'Workshop of the World.' Steel was the foundation of Pittsburgh's greatness; Joe Magarac personified that greatness." (Pennsylvania History & Landmarks Foundation)
Status
In Collection
Provenance
ca. 1959, University Art Gallery Gift of Mr. Steve Osterweis, President of Gimbel Brothers, Inc., Pittsburgh, Pa. ca. 1946-1959, Gimbel Brothers, Inc.
Bibliography
Catalog of October 1, 1947 (first publication of the paintings) D. Grafty, "Pennsylvania as Artists See it: The Gimbel PA Art Collection", 1948 R. Gigler, "Pittsburgh's Man of Steel", Pittsburgh Press Roto, August 12, 1979. O. Francis, "The Saga of Joe Magarac Steelman", Scribner's Magazine, nov. 1931. Roy Kahn, "Real Pittsburgh: Just an Average Joe", Pittsburgh Magazine, nov. 1985, 17-18. Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, Feb. 25, 1948 John Oliver La Gorce, "Artists Look At Pennsylvania", National Geographic Magazine Catalogue from March 1959 when the collection was presented at the new University Student Union at Pitt (formerly Schenley Hotel).

Please note that cataloging is ongoing and that some information may not be complete.


Related Terms
Corporate commissions
Western Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh
Industry
Social