CLE classic: Viktor Schreckengost combined form, function and beauty (April 2017) Freshwater
“Viktor Schreckengost-The Exchange of Art with the Everyday” – winner of the 2016 Teaching Cleveland website award at History Day 3.5.16
Grace Lougheed, Individual Website – Shaker Heights High School
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First Lady Laura Bush, 100-year-old industrial designer Viktor Schreckengost, and U.S. President George W. Bush at the presentation of the 2006 National Medal of Arts in the Oval Officeof the White House on November 9, 2006
|Born||June 26, 1906
Sebring, Ohio, United States
|Died||January 26, 2008 (aged 101)
Viktor Schreckengost (June 26, 1906 – January 26, 2008) was an American industrial designer as well as a teacher, sculptor, and artist. His wide-ranging work included noted pottery designs, industrial design, bicycle design and seminal research on radar feedback. Schreckengost’s peers included designers Raymond Loewy, Norman Bel Geddes, Eva Zeisel, and Russel Wright.
Born and raised in Sebring, Ohio, Schreckengost was one of six children. His father worked at a ceramics factory from which he brought home material for his children to model. Every week he held a sculpture contest among the children, the winner of which accompanied his father on his weekend trip into the local big city, Alliance, Ohio. Only years later did Schreckengost realize that his father systematically rotated the winner. His younger brothers Donald and Paul Schreckengost also went on to careers as ceramicists.
Schreckengost graduated from the Cleveland School of the Arts (now the Cleveland Institute of Art) in 1929, at which time he earned a partial scholarship to study at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna. To make the trip, he borrowed $1,500 from two owners of Gem Clay, an industrial ceramics manufacturer in Sebring. When he returned six months later, Schreckengost paid back his loans—a lucky event for the men from Gem Clay, since separate bank failures during the Great Depression would have otherwise wiped them out.
|Wikinews has related news:Viktor Schreckengost dies at 101|
Schreckengost taught industrial design at the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) for more than 50 years and was a professor emeritus at CIA until his death. He was also the youngest faculty member ever at CIA (then known as the Cleveland School of the Arts). Schreckengost founded CIA’s school of industrial design, the first of its kind in the country. His notable students include Giuseppe Delena, chief designer at Ford Motor Co.; Larry Nagode, principal designer at Fisher-Price (father of Ryan Nagode); John Nottingham and John Spirk, founders of innovation firm Nottingham Spirk, inventors of the first Dirt Devil handheld Vacuum; Joe Oros, head of the studio at Ford that designed the 1965 Ford Mustang, Sid Ramnarace, designer of the 5th generation Ford Mustang and Jerry Hirschberg, designer of the Infiniti J30 and the 1971 boat tail Buick Riviera.
Schreckengost enlisted in the Navy at age 37 to help the Allies in World War II. He was flown on secret missions to Europe where he used his modeling knowledge to help improve the radar used in the Battle of the Bulge. Later he helped design prosthetics for wounded soldiers. He retired from the Naval Reservesas a Captain. Schreckengost was also good friends with Cleveland safety director Eliot Ness.
The Viktor Schreckengost Foundation homepage indicates:
Every adult in America has ridden in, ridden on, drunk out of, stored their things in, eaten off of, been costumed in, mowed their lawn with, played on, lit the night with, viewed in a museum, cooled their room with, read about, printed with, sat on, placed a call with, enjoyed in a theater, hid their hooch in, collected, been awarded with, seen at a zoo, put their flowers in, hung on their wall, served punch from, delivered milk in, read something printed on, seen at the World’s Fair, detected enemy combatants with, written about, had an arm or leg replaced with, graduated from, protected by, or seen at the White House something created by Viktor Schreckengost.
Schreckengost designed the Jazz Bowl for Eleanor Roosevelt during his association with Cowan Pottery. He created (at the time) the largest freestanding ceramic sculpture in the world, Early Settler at Lakewood High School in Lakewood, Ohio. He designed bicycles manufactured by Murray bicycles for Murray and Sears, Roebuck and Company. With engineer Ray Spiller, he designed the first truck with a cab-over-engine configuration, a design in use to this day. And he created simple, modern dinnerware designs that became popular throughout the United States.
Tributes and legacy
Schreckengost lived in Cleveland Heights, Ohio with his second wife Jean, and he celebrated his 100th birthday in June 2006. The Viktor Schreckengost Foundation planned more than 100 exhibits of his work, with at least one in each US state, to celebrate the milestone. The exhibits opened in March 100 days before his 100th birthday. Schreckengost attended an exhibit in New York City to open the shows. The night before his birthday he was honored at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights by a large and appreciative crowd. Also in 2006, Schreckengost was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor the federal government can bestow on an American artist. He and the nine other winners were feted in an Oval Office ceremony by President George W. Bush and the First Lady Laura Bush on November 9, 2006.
Schreckengost died on January 26, 2008 at age 101 while visiting family in Tallahassee, Florida — predeceased by his three sisters, Pearl Eckleberry, Ruth Key, and Lucille Jackson, and his two brothers, Paul and Donald Schreckengost.
In 2000, the Cleveland Museum of Art curated the first ever retrospective of Schreckengost’s work. Broad in scope, the exhibition included sculpture, pottery, dinnerware, drawings, and paintings. The centerpiece of the exhibit was the Jazz Bowl. The industrial design portion included many of his famous designs such as safer and cleaner printing presses, economical pedal cars, cab-over-engine trucks, banana-seat bicycles, electric fans, and lawn chairs. Then in his 90s, Schreckengost made many personal appearances at the exhibit. In April 1991, Schreckengost traveled with Henry B. Adams, then curator of the CIA, to Norfolk, Virginia to address the Hampton Roads chapter of the American Institute of Architects at age 93.
- “Related links”. East Liverpool, Ohio: The Museum of Ceramics.
- “The Ferchill Group”. Retrieved 2011-08-12.
- Makovsky, Paul (4 February 2008). “Industrial Designer Viktor Schreckengost dead at 101”. Metropolis Magazine.
- “Viktor Schreckengost Foundation”. Retrieved 2010-06-07.
- Rohrlich, Marianne (11 May 2006). “Belatedly, Stardom Finds a 20th-Century Master”. The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-01-28.
- “Viktor Announced as 2006 Medal of Arts Recipient”. Viktor Schreckengost Foundation. 2006-11-10. Retrieved 2008-01-27.
- Litt, Steven (2008-01-27). “Viktor Schreckengost has died at age 101”. The Plain Dealer. Retrieved 2008-01-27.
Issue Date: March 2006 Issue
A nationwide, 100-day exhibit kicks off this month, honoring legend Viktor Schreckengost.
At age 99, there are a few things that Viktor Schreckengost no longer does. Though renowned for creating the singular art icon of the Jazz Age, he has given up crafting ceramics. And Schreckengost – widely considered the greatest industrial designer ever – also has stopped revolutionizing products.
You will be glad, then, to learn that among the many things Schreckengost still does is plan for the future.
Later this month, those plans have Schreckengost flying from his home in Cleveland to New York City where he will oversee the opening of a nationwide exhibit of his varied work. When the exhibit ends its 100-day run on June 26, Schreckengost plans to celebrate his 100th birthday. In addition to the New York show, there will be at least 99 other simultaneous displays (making 100 in all) in the 49 other states.
As of late January, nearly 40 exhibits were planned for the Greater Cleveland area alone, including at Nighttown, the Cleveland Heights jazz club that is Schreckengost’s favorite hangout, and where we sat for our interview. It’s a struggle to transfer from his walker to just the right spot at the dining room table, but eventually he finds it. “Perfecto,” he turns to me and announces with a smile. Then, over his traditional Gibson and shrimp cocktail, Schreckengost and his wife, Gene, relay a few of the many achievements that mark him as a Renaissance Man of the first water.
Viktor and Gene employ a tag-team approach to telling the tale of Schreckengost’s first century. He remembers the events, she fills in the details that he used to share with her when they were fresher in his mind. As his story unfolds, it involves so many careers – he’s been a fine artist, professor, designer and Navy captain – and so many contacts with historical figures, including Eleanor Roosevelt and Eliot Ness, that he comes across as a modern-day da Vinci with a bit of Forrest Gump thrown in for good measure.
Born in Sebring, Ohio, in a family of six children, Schreckengost’s father worked at a ceramics factory from which he would bring home clay for his children to model. Every week he held a sculpture contest among the children, the winner of which was allowed to accompany his father on his weekend trip into the local big city of Alliance, Ohio. It was not until years later that Schreckengost realized his father systematically rotated the winner.
Win or lose, the contest developed Schreckengost’s talents as an artist. So did drawing in the margins of books, a practice of which his mother was less fond. When he was ready for college, Schreckengost chose Cleveland School of Art (now the Cleveland Institute of Art). Once at CSA, Schreckengost was inspired by a ceramics show at the Cleveland Museum of Art and began to put his childhood skills to work.
Upon graduation in 1929, Schreckengost earned a partial scholarship to study at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna. To make the trip, he borrowed $1,500 from two owners of Gem Clay, an industrial ceramics manufacturer in Sebring. When he returned six months later, Schreckengost paid back his loans – a fortuitous event for the men from Gem Clay since separate bank failures during the Great Depression had otherwise wiped them out.
Back in Cleveland, already widely recognized for his talent, a bidding war ensued for Schreckengost’s employ. Ohio State University wanted him to found a ceramics department, but R. Guy Cowan, the owner of Cowan Pottery and a part-time instructor at CSA, wanted Schreckengost to teach with him. Cowan offered Schreckengost a dual position at his factory and as a CSA professor that was more lucrative than OSU’s package. Thus, Schreckengost became the youngest faculty member ever at his alma mater.
These positions led to the two seminal events in Schreckengost’s career. The first began innocently enough when he was short of work one day at Cowan, and drew an assignment from the job jar. A woman had commissioned a punch bowl with a New York theme. The bowl Schreckengost designed was almost not fired in the kiln because his boss feared it was too ornamental. When it was eventually produced, the vessel was a such hit that the woman ordered another. Her husband, Franklin Roosevelt, was about to run for president and she thought the White House could use a punch bowl, too.
The bowls – eventually Cowan produced several versions of them, all in limited quantities – became known as the Jazz Bowls. In 2004, one sold at auction for $254,000. An aside: If the art world – where small paintings sell for large fortunes – was more rational in its irrationality, then the Jazz Bowls would fetch even higher prices. They are arguably the most arresting example of Art Deco design ever. Inspired by a visit to New York City, Schreckengost managed to distill both the magnificence of the Chrysler Building and the vitality of Manhattan into an object no bigger than a bread box.
The other seminal event in Schreckengost’s career occurred because he was unimpressed with the way students were taught to design products. Only one year into his teaching tenure, Schreckengost persuaded the administration to let him found a school of design – the first such program in the nation.
Schreckengost brought real-world experience to the classroom, which in turn prepared his students for jobs outside academia, says John Nottingham, a co-founder of the prestigious Cleveland design firm Nottingham & Spirk who graduated from CIA’s school of design in 1972.
Nottingham also raves about Schreckengost’s creative approach to design, which encouraged students to think about all possible ways to make a project. “The approach is so powerful that what he started in 1930 is still practiced today,” says Nottingham, who plans to host one of the 100 Schreckengost exhibits in his firm’s University Circle studios. Note, if Schreckengost still taught design, one thing that would not be practiced today is computers. “Who says it’s art at all,” he dismisses. “It’s make-believe.”
It is clear though that Schreckengost still observes manual design with a teacher’s eye. At dinner he happily critiques his water glass. (“Easy to hold, not easy to tip over. It gets by.”) And his eyes light up when he recounts his many students’ many achievements, such as founding Nissan’s design department. According to Nottingham, so highly revered is the school of design that Schreckengost founded and led for decades that CIA is one of only three schools from which today’s automakers recruit designers.
Schreckengost, however, was not content to just teach. Mid-20th-century Ohio was ablaze with manufacturing and Schreckengost’s designs lit the way to success. For the Murray Ohio Manufacturing Co. he reinvented pedal car production, making the children’s toys affordable for the masses. For Cleveland’s White Motor Co., he also designed the cab-over-engine design that is ubiquitous in today’s city buses. And he revolutionized printing presses so that they were safer and cleaner.
As if those achievements were not enough for one lifetime, Schreckengost also voluntarily joined the Navy in 1943 – at age 37 – where he flew on secret missions to Europe and used his modeling skills to improve the Allies’ radar capabilities. Later he designed prosthetics for wounded soldiers. After the war, Schreckengost joined the Reserves and eventually retired as a captain.
And though he’s retired today, he still does plenty. He helps catalogue his work for the eight-person Viktor Schreckengost Foundation, which is run out of his Cleveland Heights house – when he’s not vacationing with Gene in Florida. He also plans to judge a Gates Mills art show next summer. That would be after he celebrates his 100th birthday by attending the closing of one of the 100 exhibits (in either Los Angeles or San Francisco) honoring his work. Why so far away? “I love the California coast,” Schreckengost explains.
Oh, and that story about Eliot Ness? One evening while attending a party in Cleveland Heights where Ness was a guest, the famed safety director was called away by an urgent phone call and invited Schreckengost along for the ride – at 80 miles an hour down Euclid Avenue. Just another day in the extraordinary of life of Viktor Schreckengost. A life for which a 100-day celebration hardly seems long enough.
Metropolis Magazine article about career of Viktor Schreckengost
Back to the Future
Viewed from the street, there’s nothing extraordinary or unusual about the house in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, where Viktor Schreckengost has lived since 1952. Big, comfortable-looking, and Tudor-esque in inspiration, it’s typical of the expansive homes built in the Cleveland suburbs in the early twentieth century, when the city was a rising industrial powerhouse.
Inside, however, the house is a veritable museum of Schreckengost’s vast output as one of America’s most important—and under-recognized—industrial designers. It’s also the scene of an unusual family project aimed at perpetuating Schreckengost’s legacy and gaining the national attention that the exceedingly modest designer, now 99, has never sought for himself. The task is daunting: how do you build a reputation for an important creative thinker who largely has been absent from the history books?
Gene Schreckengost, the designer’s second wife, and Chip Nowacek, her son by a previous marriage, have come up with some answers. (Gene and Chip are the aunt and cousin of Metropolis art director Nancy Nowacek.) They’ve incorporated nonprofit and for-profit entities to preserve Schreckengost’s work and intellectual property, and hired a team of researchers to catalog and conserve the contents of his house. Nowacek, who heads the project, has also organized more than 100 small- and large-scale exhibitions across the country this year to celebrate Schreckengost’s 100th birthday, on June 26. He views their work as a way to tell a larger story about his stepfather, whom he sees as a brilliant designer and problem solver who has always been more interested in serving others than in receiving personal attention. “He sort of never got around to taking care of himself,” Nowacek says. “It’s that very attribute that we think is worthy of some notice. Where did all the heroes go? Well, maybe we found one.”
Schreckengost had an immense, if anonymous, impact on American life in his 70-year career. He designed everything: trucks, furniture, industrial equipment, dinnerware, military radar systems, printing presses, stoves, refrigerators, collators, machine tools, lawn mowers, lawn furniture, toys, tractors, streetlights, broadcast equipment, gearshift consoles, flashlights, artificial limbs, typesetting machines, coffins, calendars, chairs, electric fans, lenses, logos, bicycles, ball gowns, and baby walkers. But unlike his better-known peers, including Norman Bel Geddes and Raymond Loewy, Schreckengost never sought fame. Rather than move to New York, where he would have been more visible, he chose to remain in Cleveland and focus on work and teaching at the Cleveland Institute of Art—his real sources of joy. “He never went for self-aggrandizement,” Nowacek says. “I think he viewed it as a distraction.”
In 2000, the year of the first major museum exhibition on Schreckengost’s work, I interviewed him at his home. He showed me a citation he received from the American Institute of Architects when it awarded him a Fine Arts Medal in 1958. Other winners of the award have included Frederick Law Olmsted, Diego Rivera, and John Singer Sargent. “Look at the people on that list,” Schreckengost said modestly. “I just can’t imagine myself being with this group.”
Others, of course, have always seen Schreckengost in such company. Henry Adams, a specialist in twentieth-century American art, stumbled upon the designer in 1994 after moving to Cleveland. Following a hunch, Adams recorded six interviews with the designer, a project that led to a 2000 exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art. This year Adams is writing a 250-page catalog to accompany the centennial shows. “Viktor’s design is modern, but it also has a playful quality to it—almost an anthropomorphic quality,” Adams says. “He’s wildly creative.” The designer’s house, he adds, “is endless. It’s a scholar’s dream.”
After the Cleveland museum show Schreckengost’s loved ones realized they had to start thinking about the future. Gene, a retired pediatrician, attended a local panel discussion on estate planning for artists. She and Nowacek soon realized that they could face heavy taxes after Schreckengost’s death, forcing them or other family members to sell and scatter the contents of the designer’s house, which includes more than 500 artworks worth $3 million to $4 million. “It’s a concern,” Gene says dryly. “If we were hit by a Mack truck, it would be a big problem.”
Confronting the tax questions forced Gene and her son to think more broadly about how to preserve Schreckengost’s work and vision. They created the nonprofit Viktor Schreckengost Foundation to fund projects in education, research, and preservation—plus the for-profit Viktor Schreckengost Intellectual Reserve to earn income for the nonprofit ventures by licensing Schreckengost’s designs. (Not a bad idea: in 2004 Sotheby’s sold an original Jazz Bowl, which Schreckengost designed for Eleanor Roosevelt, for $254,400.) A third organization, soon to be created, will oversee ownership of the house and its contents, and carry out educational projects and exhibitions. The Schreckengosts also hired an eight-person staff—registrars, a photographer, a historian, a merchandising expert, and a graphic designer—to catalog and preserve the contents of the house.
When Nowacek took me on a tour of the house in March, the Schreckengosts were away in Tallahassee, Florida, where they spend the winter. But a painting crew was hard at work getting the house spruced up for the upcoming centennial festivities in June. In the dining room, where Schreckengost usually holds court when visitors come, plastic sheets covered scores of his creations, from mass-produced dinnerware to one-of-a-kind ceramic sculptures and watercolors. (As if he weren’t prolific enough, the designer had a parallel career as an artist.)
On the second floor, the office and library were jammed with personal records, correspondence, and boxes of slides. Other rooms had been given over to the archivists and their computers and files. On the third floor, where Schreckengost did most of his painting and drawing, the archivists had set up a small photo studio to document his paintings, drawings, photographs, ceramics, and sculptures. A skylighted studio at the head of the stairs was still intact—markers, pencils, and brushes lay neatly arrayed on a taboret next to a large drafting table. A 1930s-era Cubist still life of a fish and fruit bowl rested on an easel.
The Schreckengosts have yet to figure out what to do with the house and its contents in the future. Head archivist Craig Bara suggests turning the place into an archive and research center. “My vision is that it becomes Viktor’s legacy,” he says, “the place where his ideas, his techniques, live on, a place where young people would be able to come in and learn.” But the house could also become a public museum, like the Gropius House, in Lincoln, Massachusetts; Russel Wright’s Dragon Rock, in Garrison, New York; and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, in Oak Park, Illinois. Affiliation with the Cleveland Institute of Art is another possibility. The home could become the setting for residencies or other programs related to Schreckengost’s work at the institute, where he founded the industrial-design department in 1932 and influenced decades of designers.
Of course, establishing a house museum or a research center would mean dealing with visitors, traffic, parking, accessibility for the handicapped, and the potential objections of neighbors—not to mention the City of Cleveland Heights. The Schreckengosts’ approach to such questions has been the opposite of that other famous Cleveland native and designer—Philip Johnson. The man who claimed that immortality is “better than sex” donated his Glass House, in New Canaan, Connecticut, to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1986 while retaining the right to live on the property until he died. Today, a year and a half after Johnson’s death, the National Trust is negotiating with the Town of New Canaan about how to shuttle visitors in and out of the 44-acre estate without disturbing the neighbors. The house and related buildings on the site—including a library, a painting gallery, and a sculpture gallery—could open to visitors as soon as 2007.
The Schreckengosts, true to Viktor’s style, have followed a more modest course. For example, this year’s centennial exhibits will be held not only in predictable venues such as art museums and galleries but also in places that have personal meaning for Schreckengost, including Adam’s Barber Shop, in Cleveland Heights, and a restaurant in Captiva, Florida, called the Bubble Room. The family does have a perfect opportunity to create a public museum similar to the Johnson estate (though certainly on a smaller scale) because they still own Gene’s original home, two doors away, plus a large additional lot that links the two houses. When I telephoned Gene in Florida to ask whether she had considered the idea, she said it hadn’t occurred to her, but she was intrigued and might study its feasibility.
Such discussions raise the delicate question of what Viktor makes of all this. When I asked whether I could speak with him over the phone, Gene said he preferred not to because his hearing aid distorts sound. She also said his poor memory makes it hard for him to carry on a conversation.
But when I asked Nowacek what his stepfather makes of the project to preserve his work and perpetuate his legacy, he said, “He just shakes his head and says, ‘That sounds like a lot of work.’ He’s the same guy he’s always been. He doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about.” Nowacek feels differently: “The amount of work he accomplished—it stuns me. We have to pay attention to the things he churned out.”
Articles about Viktor Schreckengost from the Plain Dealer
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Excerpts from a documentary Directed and Produced by Ted Zbozien
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