Thursday, April 13, 2006

Viktor Schreckengost's Jazz Bowl

Here are some answers to recent questions from docents about the Jazz Bowl.

These answers were provided by Patricia McDonnell and Zoe Donnell, who also works in Curatorial.


Everything you ever wanted to know about the Jazz Bowl:



Is the bowl that we have in GAT the exact bowl (the original) that he made for Eleanor Roosevelt?  

No. The bowl was made in multiples from the start. So there is no single, original bowl.


“A week after the bowl was shipped, the gallery called to say that the lady who ordered it was so pleased that she wanted to order two more. She said that her husband Franklin loved it, too. One was to be sent to her house in Hyde Park, New York, and the other was to the White House in Washington. The lady was, of course, Eleanor Roosevelt. So I knew, too, that FDR was running seriously for president.... We did two versions of the bowl. One was the famous bowl. It was expensive--$50, a high price then. The other, we referred to as the 'Poor man’s bowl' and was not etched, but just painted. ... And no, I don’t have one. Guy Cowan produced about 50 more after Eleanor Roosevelt’s order.”

-- Quoted in "Viktor Schreckengost: An American Design Giant," The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles (January 2001), pp 27-29 by Mark Favermann


How many copies/versions of the bowl did Viktor Schreckengost make?

We don’t know.

According to the above quote, it seems that about 50 bowls were produced initially, in the style we have in the Great American Thing – three different styles were eventually made at different price-points and using slightly different techniques.

Also, a reproduction of the Jazz Bowl is being made for Viktor Schreckengost’s 100th birthday this year (2006). See  


Were the bowls made by Viktor Schreckengost or did he just design them?

As far as I [Zoe] can tell from my brief research, the bowls were designed by Schreckengost but not necessarily made by him. The Cowan Pottery website seems to say that the artists designed the objects, and the pottery studio produced them.  


Cleveland Museum of Art – New Yorker or The Jazz Bowl

Viktor Schreckengost (American, 1906), made by Cowan Pottery Studio (American) ca. 1930.

Schreckengost produced the Jazz Bowl in 1930, when he worked for Cowan Pottery in Rocky River, Ohio. The first Jazz Bowl (currently unlocated) was produced for Eleanor Roosevelt to celebrate her husband's recent election as governor of New York. Ralph Cowan liked the design so well that he then produced a small edition of similar punch bowls. When Art Deco began to be rediscovered in the 1980s, the Jazz Bowl quickly emerged as one of the masterpieces of this 1930s style.

The design of the Jazz Bowl was created by scratching through a covering of black slip to reveal the white clay underneath, after firing, the whole bowl was covered with a rich glaze of Egyptian blue; and then fired again. The result is a design of amazing vibrancy that glows like a stained glass window. Rendered in a jazzy, cubist style, the images on the bowl were inspired by a visit Schreckengost made to New York. Included are skyscrapers, a luxury ocean liner steaming on the Hudson River, Times Square (with its neon lights), the Cotton Club, and Radio City Music Hall, with its magnificent Wurlitzer organ. A drumhead featuring the word "Jazz" prompted the bowl's popular name.

One note of warning, another website said that the Jazz Bowl was commissioned to celebrate FDR’s presidential (not gubernatorial) run. So there is some murkiness out there!


Cleveland Museum of Art – Cocktails and Cigarettes Punch Bowl

designed by Viktor Schreckengost (American, 1906), made by Cowan Pottery Studio (American) 1931.

Shortly after producing the Jazz Bowl, Schreckengost created a second punch bowl featuring cocktails and cigarettes. It was this bowl that Schreckengost exhibited at the Cleveland Museum of Art's May Show in 1931, where it won first prize in ceramics. The bowl was purchased from the show by S. Livingston Mather, a descendent of the famous 17th-century Puritan moralist, Cotton Mather.


About the “sgraffito” technique:

The sgrafitto technique – which R. Guy Cowan called "Dry Point" – involves covering a plain bisque-fired plate with black engobe, a mixture of slip and black pigment. Viktor then used a group of sharp tools to draw the design on this ceramic canvas by scratching away some of the engobe. When the drawing was complete, the piece was dipped into Cowan's brilliant Egyptian Blue crackle glaze.


Lastly, Zoe found this info on the Schreckengost website ( It gives more of an idea of quantities produced (and of the variations):

Viktor Schreckengost created The New Yorker (nicknamed The Jazz Bowl) at Cleveland’s Cowan Pottery at the behest of Eleanor Roosevelt. Drawing on his trips to Manhattan, Viktor etched the bowl with New York themes: from soaring buildings and jazz motifs to ocean liners and café scenes. He finished it with a cobalt blue glaze to capture the "funny blue light in New York in 1931 when Cab Calloway's band was playing." The result was a striking vision of New York City in the Jazz Age.

There are three different shapes of bowls within the New Yorker series of pieces. The wall of the original bowl is roughly parabolic, although, like the flared that followed, different decorations were applied. The flared bowls are slightly smaller than their parabolic predecessors. This design fit better in the kiln and was therefore more easily reproduced. The decorations for both were created using sgraffito, or hand-scratching the design through black engobe. The third style, called the poor-man's bowl, was significantly cheaper to produce because the designs were cast in relief and the engobe was removed on the production line by scraping. Recognized only recently as companions to the bowls, matching plates were decorated with the same themes as their mates.

While no one knows exactly how many Jazz Bowls were created, it is roughly estimated that fifty examples of each shape were produced. The Jazz Bowl’s renown – and value – has only grown over time: the most recent sale topped $254,000 at Sotheby’s. Bowls and plates are now found in the permanent collections of many of the nation’s most prominent museums.



Heide Fernandez-Llamazares

Assistant Museum Educator and Docent Coordinator



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