“Schreck” Lives! at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
Viktor Schreckengost was one of the most prolific ceramicists/sculptors/painters/designers/Clevelanders for the better part of eight decades. And, while he passed away in 2008 at the age of 101, some of his work lives on in Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.
Victor Schreckengost was born in Sebring, Ohio in 1906. His father and two uncles were commercial potters, so Victor may have gotten something of a head start in ceramics by playing with the clay his father brought home from work. As a young man, Victor attended the Cleveland School of Art (which later became the Cleveland Institute of Art) where in 1929 he earned a diploma in design with a minor in ceramics. His studies then continued in Vienna, where he got used to the way they spelled his first name with a “k” – “Viktor” – deciding to adopt it as his own. By 1930 he returned as a faculty member to the Cleveland School of Art, where in 1933 he started the country’s first-of-its-kind industrial design program. He stayed on faculty for 78 years. His lifetime of creative work earned him our country’s highest cultural honor, the National Medal of Arts (2006).
Much has been made of his industrial design and his “function first, form after” philosophy. His influence on design is undeniable. According to Crain’s Cleveland Business, his impact on the U.S. economy is in the neighbor hood of about $200 billion. But we’d like to focus on some purely artistic local endeavors that you can examine close up.
Viktor Schreckengost created a series of terra cotta tiles displaying extinct birds to be displayed on the Cleveland Zoo’s new Birds of the World building, which opened in 1950. Over the next 50 years, the building began showing its age, but the art remained intact.
Birds of the World building
The live animals were relocated by 2002 and the building came down in 2004. According to our press release at the time, “Terra-cotta renderings of extinct birds, by renowned Cleveland artist, Viktor Schreckengost, are the building's last birds to be relocated . . . The terra-cottas are located high on the Birds of the World building's chimney so a crane will be used to lower artwork weighing 17,000 pounds.” After storing the renowned artwork for several years, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has repurposed some of Viktor’s tiles on two new buildings. The pavilion housing the Circle of Wildlife Carousel is adorned with 12 colorful ceramic tiles originally created by Viktor Schreckengost for 1950’s Birds of the World building.
Two of Viktor Schreckengost’s tiles adorn this support on the pavilion housing the Circle of Wildlife Carousel
And if you look around a little more, you can find several more tiles near the roof line on the adjacent Stillwater Place event center
And lest you think 17,000 pounds of birds were the heavyweights of Viktor’s animal artwork, we’d like to remind you of his work that greeted visitors to the former Pachyderm Building.
Viktor Schreckengost and an Asian Elephant considering Viktor’s sculpture
His “Mammoth” and “Mastadon” pieces came in at a whopping 32 tons. That’s 64,000 pounds! For comparison, an Asian Elephant, as pictured above, can grow to around 5.5 tons (11,000 pounds); and an African Elephant, as can be seen at African Elephant Crossing, can grow to around 7 tons (14,000 pounds).
Viktor Schreckengost goes to some heights to sculpt it right
Viktor Schreckengost makes sure his sculpture looks right, even for eyes closer to the ground.
“Mammoth” and “Mastadon” were in storage until it was determined where best to place them. At the time of their dismantling in 2008, prevailing thought was that the entrance to Cleveland Metroparks Zoo might be best for their relocation. However, you don’t want to consider the placement of 32 ton sculptures lightly, and with Cleveland Metroparks Zoo constantly updating and improving, the “elephant in the room” became where best to appropriately display the massive elephant ancestor sculptures.
Did you ever work on a project for so long that it seems you’re not getting anywhere? Something where you’re sure there’s an elegant solution, but you didn’t know what it was? And did you think that maybe not thinking about it for a while might help? Sometimes the answer lies as close as the end of your trunk. Consider the historic relationship between Cleveland Metroparks and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and just a couple of their familial dealings over the years: the first naturalist of Cleveland Metropolitan Parks (1930) was A.B. Williams, who was contracted from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History; and the city of Cleveland’s zoo was managed by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History from 1940 to 1957, meaning they almost certainly had input into the selection of Viktor Schreckengost as sculptor. With all the redesigns around University Circle, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History had some visible open space that people may one day say had been suspiciously devoid of prehistoric pachyderms . . . It became apparent that the natural thing to do would be to relocate “Mammoth” and “Mastadon” to their ancestral home at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. More of that story can be found here:
Artfully craft your own family stories by visiting Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, where you can spend time marveling at animals of the world and the world class art of Cleveland’s own Viktor Schreckengost. They’re all part of the wonders that can be found in your Cleveland Metroparks.
For more on Viktor Schreckengost, start here:
For more on A.B. Williams, play here: