Medium: Cast ceramic, black slip on white body with scraffito design, Egyptian blue transparent glaze
Signature: Signed and inscribed on the reverse by the artist in 2004: Viktor / Schreckengost / Cowan / Pottery
11 inch diameter
Celebrated industrial designer, ceramic artist, sculptor, and painter Viktor Schreckengost is perhaps best-known today as the creator of The Jazz Bowl, an American Art Deco ceramic masterpiece, which he designed in 1930. He was working for Cowan Pottery in Rocky River, Ohio at the time they had received a request from a female client of a New York gallery who specified she wanted a New Yorkish-themed punch bowl. Viktor was awarded the commission without knowing who the client was or having any other directives about the appearance the bowl should take. Having just returned recently a trip to New York, Viktor (a jazz aficionado who himself played the saxophone) had visited the Cotton Club and a show at the Radio City Music Hall. In considering what would be "New Yorkish" to him, he recalled, "It was this particular blue light that came over the city at night. With all the high buildings and the stop and go lights and the jazz bands that were playing... So, I started to put these ideas together." (Henry Adams, interview with Viktor Schreckengost, June 21, 1999, typescript p. 6-7, as quoted in Henry Adams, Viktor Schreckengost: American Da Vinci, Windsor, Connecticut, 2006, p. 17)
For the bowl's imagery, Viktor's bowl drew upon his memories of skyscrapers, figures in top hats, cocktails teetering on tiny tables, wine bottles, ships on the Hudson, stylized musical instruments, and stars since all of this, in the artist's mind, was occurring at 3:30 am in a city that never sleeps. The images jostle together, collage-like, on the bowl, like snippets of dreams, seen from above, below, sideways. To achieve the effects of the nighttime blue, Viktor used a novel method of covering the hard, white molded vitreous clay with a brown-black slip that was sprayed over the whole surface. The decoration was then sketched out by Viktor and cut through the slip allowing the white body of the vessel to show through. After a bisque fire a deep blue-green Egyptian glaze was applied and then the piece was fired again.
Once the finished gorgeous blue and black bowl was received in New York, the happy client wrote back. It was only then that Viktor learned she was Eleanor Roosevelt. As Viktor recalled, "The lady was crazy about the bowl and she wanted two more, one for Hyde Park and one for the White House-she was sure Franklin was going to win."
Thus began the so-called Jazz Series by Viktor Schreckengost, which Cowan put into production. In addition to the two body shapes of the Jazz bowls (straight lipped and flared) which were issued in a few different varieties of decoration, Viktor created a series of matching Jazz plates, such as the present example, to go with his punch bowls. They were designed to create sets. The plates were produced in the same technical manner as the bowls. However, as Henry Adams has noted, "While all of the Jazz bowls and plates were first sketched out by Viktor, and all of the designs have slight differences owing to the sgraffito that was done by hand, it seems that Viktor likely has assistance with the work of scratching the design on the bowls because they were so much larger. There was a lot more handwork to do. On the plates, which were smaller, Viktor likely did all the sgraffito work." (Personal correspondence with Marianne Berardi, March 28, 2021)
There are four known Jazz plate designs: Cocktails, Cocktails and Cigarettes, Danse Moderne, and New Yorker. While the plates were featured in a promotional flyer and in advertisements for Cowan Pottery, it seems that Cowan Pottery had folded before any of them were put into full production. All were issued in very small editions. With the exception of Danse Moderne, the present work, most of the Jazz plates have disappeared. There are only seven known Danse Moderne plates known today, including the present example.
Type of Work: Sculpture
Type of Work: Decorative Arts
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