Friday, March 17, 2006

Viktor Schreckengost

Some (very interesting) info that I researched on Victor Schreckengost, mainly because I was wondering if this painting was done by an African-American artist. (the answer is no)


Viktor Schreckengost
(born 1906, and turned 100 this year!)

“It is estimated that every adult alive in the United States today has handled objects designed by Viktor Schreckengost or one of his students.”

The son of a commercial potter in Sebring, Ohio, Viktor Schreckengost learned the craft of sculpting in clay from his father. In the mid-1920s, he enrolled at the Cleveland School of Art (now the Cleveland Institute of Art, or CIA) to study cartoon making, but after seeing an exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art he changed his focus to ceramics. Upon graduation in 1929, he studied ceramics in Vienna, Austria, where he began to build a reputation, not only for his art, but also as a jazz saxophonist. A year later, at the age of 25, he became the youngest faculty member at the CIA. In 1931, Schreckengost won the first of several awards for excellence in ceramics at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and his works were shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, and elsewhere.

By the mid-1930s, Schreckengost had begun to pursue his interest in industrial design. For American Limoges, he created the first modern mass-produced dinnerware, called Americana. Along with engineer Ray Spiller, Schreckengost designed the first-cab-over-engine truck for Cleveland's White Motor Company. By the end of the decade, he had designed the first Mercury Bicycle for Murray, Ohio. In 1939, the bicycle and The Four Elements in clay were displayed at the New York World's Fair.

In the 1940s, Schreckengost's designs for children's pedal cars (as well as bicycles and toys), helped Murray, Ohio become the world's largest manufacturer of pedal cars. His design and ceramic work was interrupted by World War II, when he was recruited by the Navy to develop a system for radar recognition that won him the Secretary of Navy's commendation. After the war, Schreckengost resumed his industrial design career creating products for Murray, Sears, General Electric, Salem China Company, and Harris Printing, among others. Approximately 100 million of his bicycles were manufactured by Murray, making it the largest bicycle-maker in the world. He retired from industrial design in 1972, but continues teaching at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

(The above information is from an exhibition, “Viktor Schreckengost and 20th-Century Design”, that was shown at the Cleveland Museum of Art from November 12, 2000 to February 4, 2001. An online version of the exhibition is still available and is very interesting: )


To see an interesting assortment of his art and designs:


About Blue Revel (1931), the painting that’s in GAT:

Jazz and African-American Themes

Visits to the Globe Theater, in Cleveland, where a group of faculty members from the Cleveland Institute of Art had rented a box, inspired this painting.

Some viewers may feel that this work uses caricature and racial stereotypes in a fashion that seems demeaning by today's standards. Although they touch a sensitive nerve, these works are worthy of our consideration. They not only present the complete picture of Viktor Schreckengost's career as represented by this exhibition, but they also carry significance as historical documents rooted in the era in which they were made. The 1920s and 1930s saw a growing awareness of the vital role of African-Americans in giving a distinct character to American culture. Jazz music swept not only the United States but Europe as well, and the African-American dance hall performer, Joesphine Baker, became the rage of Paris. Schreckengost recognized this and used works like Blue Revel to express his enthusiasm for jazz and other African-American themes.

There are many parallels between Schreckengost's work and that of African-American artists of the period, such as Archibald Motley in Chicago, whose images of African-Americans are very similar in character. Another key figure in establishing the style of these images, with its mix of caricature and cubism, was the New York-based Mexican cartoonist, Miguel Covarrubias, who published an influential book of sketches titled Negro Drawings in 1928.



Heide Fernandez-Llamazares

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