December 12/05 7:42 am - Exhibition Honours U.S. Bicycle Designer
Posted by Editor on 12/12/05
The Viktor Schreckengost National Centennial Exhibition
New York, NY - A special event at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum on March 18th will kick off an unprecedented national exhibition of one of America's most important, influential, and inspired designers: Viktor Schreckengost. Over the course of the following 100 days, more than 100 different venues will showcase Schreckengost's art and design works, culminating in a 100th birthday celebration in Los Angeles. Ultimately, every state in the nation will offer a glimpse into the remarkable breadth of Schreckengost's accomplishments, which range from creating the iconic piece of Art Deco ceramics, to impressive works of architectural sculpture, to toys beloved by generations of children, lawn furniture that can still be found at homes across the country, and the first cab-over-engine truck design. This is the largest exhibition in U.S. history - and a fitting tribute to the man who has been called "America's da Vinci."
Among the venues showcasing Schreckengost collections or individual objects are major art museums (the Dallas Museum of Art, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the High Museum of Art), important design institutions (the Cooper Hewitt, Cranbrook Art Museum-Saarinen House), public buildings (The Cleveland Zoo, Lakewood High School), and an eclectic mix of other organizations dedicated to various disciplines in which Schreckengost's designs made an indelible mark (the Bicycle Museum of America, the Tallahassee Antique Car Museum, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame). The enormous variety of exhibition spaces reflects Schreckengost's role as an industrial designer at a time of remarkable industrial growth; his lengthy career was both influenced by and influenced many of the major currents in 20th Century American life.
Viktor Schreckengost is perhaps best known today as the creator of The Jazz Bowl, a seminal piece of American Art Deco ceramics that he created for Cleveland's Cowan Pottery at the behest of Eleanor Roosevelt. Drawing on his trips to Manhattan, where he took in shows at the legendary Cotton Club, Schreckengost etched the bowl with soaring buildings, musical motifs, and an ocean liner, then cast it with a cobalt blue glaze to capture the quality of city lights at night. The result was a striking vision of New York City in the Jazz Age. The Jazz Bowl's renown - and value - has only grown over time: in 2004, Sotheby's sold one for $254,000, and it is now part of the permanent collections of many of the nation's most prominent museums.
But as iconic as the Jazz Bowl is, it represents just one small part of Schreckengost's enormous contribution to American design - and perhaps a misleading one at that. Notes Chip Nowacek, Executive Director of The Viktor Schreckengost Foundation, "There is a misperception that Viktor's reputation was built on the Jazz Bowl. But in the Fifties, his heyday as a national design icon, the Jazz Bowl was mostly forgotten and Vik was far better known for other things. He was a true designer's designer, moving from company to company in the Northern Ohio area and adapting his genius to the particular needs of each." Among Schreckengost's most important designs were the first mass-produced dinnerware line (for American Limoges), the first cab-over-engine truck (for White Motors), and the first economical pedal cars for children. He also broke new ground with printing presses, electrical fans, lawn chairs, seated lawn mowers, and the many bicycle models he developed for the world's largest manufacturer, Murray.
Schreckengost's influence on American life was felt in other ways as well. When his career was interrupted by World War II, Schreckengost joined the U.S. Navy and developed a system for radar recognition that won him the Secretary of Navy's commendation. And in his 65-year career as a teacher at the Cleveland Institute of Art, whose Industrial Design program he launched, Schreckengost was a mentor to generations of students, among them the future designers of the Ford Mustang and the Crest Spin Brush. According to John Nottingham, who developed the latter product with partner and fellow Schreckengost student John Spirk, "Viktor's part of our DNAâˆ‘ He designed for the average person out there, and the genius of what he designed was figuring out how to give the sense of something, the quality, but give it an everyday price."
Says Nowacek, "Viktor's career truly reflects the last century of American life, so it's only fitting that America serve as the Å’gallery' for this exhibition. His ability to design for the needs and desires of the common man were unparalleled, which is why his legacy is so enormous. We're excited by this opportunity to provide a fittingly ambitious summation of that legacy, and to introduce hundreds of thousands of people across the country to the man who created so many of the products that were part of their lives."
In its expansive reach, tremendous variety, and pronounced eclecticism, The Viktor Schreckengost Centennial Exhibition will truly display the extraordinary impact of an astonishing man. As the Foundation sums it up:
Almost every adult living 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 rooms with, read about, printed with, sat on, placed a call 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.
For more on Viktor Schreckengost, his work, and The Viktor Schreckengost Foundation, log on to www.viktorschreckengost.org.