DescriptionViktor Schreckengost (American, 1906-2008)
Birth of Boogie Woogie, 1942
23-3/4 inches (60.3 cm) high on a 2-inch (5.1 cm) high wooden base
Incised signature and dated to beveled neck: VIKTOR SCHRECKENGOST 42
Incised signature to back of figure's upper right thigh: VIKTOR SCHRECKENGOST
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, "24th May Show," April 29 - June 7, 1942;
Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio, 1943;
Syracuse Museum of Fine Arts, Syracuse, New York, "11th National Ceramic Exhibition," 1943;
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, 1946;
Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, New York, 1947;
Dayton Art Institute, Dayton, Ohio, 1947;
University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1947;
Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado, 1947;
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1947;
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California, 1947;
San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, California, 1947;
Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, 1947;
University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon, 1947;
Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington, 1947
Viktor's notes on this piece read: "Unique: Modelled directly in red clay. Head modelled separately. African style figure & small figure of negro beating drum. B-b [Blackbird] engobe; black, redbrown & white glaze. Mounted on wood base."
Viktor modelled and fired the head of the female figure separately from the body so that the neck of the figure would not be a point of fragility in this sculpture. He designed the head to insert into the neck for display and be removed for safe transport.
Viktor Schreckengost derived tremendous inspiration for his art, particularly his ceramic sculpture of the 1930s and early 1940s, from African as well as African-American culture. His teacher, Paul Travis, who personally visited Africa and returned with troves of photographs, experiences, and his own African-inspired artwork was one immediate and key source for Viktor's work with this theme. But Viktor's attraction to black subjects went beyond that, stretching into his own intense attraction to African-American music. During his childhood, he and his brothers used to sneak in and listen to the black preachers and gospel singers at the outdoor tabernacle just south of his hometown of Sebring, Ohio. As Viktor told his biographer, Henry Adams, "That's where I first heard a real Negro spiritual" (Adams, 2000, p. 59). As a young man, Viktor became an enormous jazz aficionado, and a nearly-professional level saxophonist. When he had the chance, during visits to New York, he frequented the Harlem jazz clubs-something he immortalized in his Jazz Bowl for Cowan Pottery.
In this work, Birth of Boogie Woogie, Viktor pays homage to the African origins of so much of the music that transformed-and is still transforming-modern musical culture in America. But this is where Viktor's work is the most challenging because ever the caricaturist, he represents the origin of Boogie Woogie as a highly-stylized black woman, complete with scarification of her body. She is shown as provocatively sensual, an earth-mother who is striking, fecund, beautiful, capable of giving birth to so many varieties of creation. Of course using a black figure to represent these issues, particularly when the artist was white and making use of caricature (as he did in all his work), raises certain challenges for the contemporary viewer. But it must be said that Viktor was emphatically no racist, and, in fact, was the principal mentor of the first black students at the Cleveland Institute of Art.
Professional restoration beneath the breast line, and to the arms of the drummer. Artist's own restoration of firing crack on back of female figure. Minor loss of glaze around the ears, presents well.
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