Filed Under Art and Design

Viktor Schreckengost

Nottingham-Spirk Innovation Center looms high above University Circle, its stiletto-like tower visible from miles away. Originally built in 1930 as First Church of Christ Scientist, the classically inspired building that served as a model for Severance Hall later became home to a firm opened by John Nottingham and John Spirk, students of a man heralded as a pioneer of American industrial design.

The same year that the future home of Nottingham-Spirk opened, Viktor Schreckengost (“Schreckengost” translates roughly to “frightening guest” in German) began his career as an industrial designer. Born in 1906 in Sebring, Ohio, Schreckengost went on to attend what was then known as the Cleveland School of Arts, which became the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1948. Schreckengost's talents were many: At 26, he was an established artist/designer and working as a ceramics instructor at the Cleveland School of Arts. In 1933, he became director of the school’s (and the nation’s first) industrial design department. By 1934, Schreckengost's work was part of the permanent collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art. In the mid-1930s, he launched a pottery design studio in Sebring, where he produced sculptural works for galleries and art shows, and did freelance designs for local companies. During World War II, he worked at the Naval Air Corps Training Station in Rhode Island, developing, among other things, artificial limbs and voice-recognition and map-making equipment. Over the decades, his creations have graced several Cleveland May Shows, as well as countless area landmarks, theater sets, family dinner tables, and even backyards.

Schreckengost also designed bicycles and toys for the Murray Ohio Company. He created several "motorcycle" looks, including a tricycle. The first of his bicycles was the 1939 Murray Mercury, which was exhibited at that year’s New York World's Fair. Based on Schreckengost's education as a sculptor, it was natural for him to apply that training in his bicycle designs. His bicycles had functional purpose and they captured the fantasies of children. Schreckengost went on to develop a line of toy pedal cars for children—taking the shape of planes, fire trucks, or race cars.

Outside of the bicycle industry, Schreckengost designed wheeled steel machines for various companies such as Murray Ohio, White Motor, and Sears, Roebuck & Company. He developed the first cab-over-engine truck as well as double-decker buses, riding lawn mowers, streetlights, and printing presses. Not surprisingly, given his talents in sculpting and ceramics, Schreckengost also designed a line of dinnerware. Limoges China, in his hometown of Sebring, Ohio, employed him to design fine pieces for everyday use.

In his later years, Schreckengost added painting and print making to his resume—creating large and colorful works (often with a musical theme) and sophisticated designs for cards that were produced by American Greetings. A magnificent talent, Schreckengost passed away in 2007 at the age of 101.

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Tired of Writing His Name Virgene Schreckengost, Viktor's wife, recalls the many art projects he was a part of, but specifically an event in 1980. At this event he was asked to autograph over a hundred prints, by the end he wished he had a shorter name. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

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Viktor Schreckengost at Age 32 Viktor Schreckengost was one of the most influential industrial designers of the twentieth century. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he returned to the Cleveland School of Arts where he continued to master his talents as painter and ceramist. Some of his larger-than-human scale sculptures can be found at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, on the Pachyderm building. Source: Viktor Schreckengost Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Schreckengost at Cleveland Institute of Art Schreckengost attended the Cleveland School of Arts, and later joined their faculty. One of his instructors was Guy Cowan, who later employed Schreckengost for his ceramics. Schreckengost was the youngest instructor ever hired. He founded the industrial design department at the art institute. Source: Viktor Schreckengost Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Sckreckengost on Bicycle The bicycles varied in design for children and adults and were made for Murray Ohio and Sears. Schreckengost's bicycles resembled the look and sleek style of motorcycles. He added appealing features like double-beam, and triple-beam headlights. Source: Viktor Schreckengost Collection, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Schreckengost's Toy Pedal Cars, 1948 Schreckengost's pedal cars included a Fire Chief Car, Pursuit Planes, Speedway Pace Car, and the Champion, which were all designed for the Murray Ohio Company. Through diligent research, and speaking with auto designers, Schreckengost developed good designs for low cost production. Schreckengost's pedal cars were introduced in the early 1940s. Children could use their imagination to the fullest, fantasizing about their next mission, car race, or fire rescue while riding in their pedal cars. High quality and affordable prices allowed for even average families to enjoy the adventure. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
Schreckengost's Murray Mercury Design, 1939 Featured at the 1939 New York World's Fair, Schreckengost's Murray Mercury bicycle was only one of many bicycle and tricycle designs he conceived over the years. As this ad suggests, his designs bespoke "tomorrow"--the future. Source: The Online Bicycle Museum
Murray Mowers, 1973 Schreckengost designed the standard push lawn mower in addition to the riding lawn mower, as shown in this advertisement for Murray Ohio. The line of riding lawn mowers came in various sizes suitable for men and women. They came in different colors, such as red, yellow, and green. Source: Cleveland State University Library Special Collections
The Jazz Bowl As a master painter and ceramist, Schreckengost created the New Yorker, or the Jazz Bowl, in 1930. The Jazz Bowl is a glazed ceramic with sgraffito design. There were three versions of the Jazz Bowl, all different in shape and in the method of production. Each was made by hand, drawn slightly differently, and varied in color. Inspired by a trip to New York, the bowls tell a story of a night out on the town. The design was greatly appreciated and enjoyed. Cowan Pottery put the design into production. Source: Dallas Museum of Art Uncrated, https://uncrated.wordpress.com/2011/04/04/jazzbowl/
Schreckengost's Dinnerware Schreckengost's lines of dinnerware included details of colorful designs in themes of potted flowers, garden herbs and fruits, baseball, and animal figures. Also, he designed plain designs in colors of creme, white, and black. Some lines featured gourd-like shapes or animalistic shapes. Schreckengost implemented tripod feet, indentations for fingers, and saucers that served a dual purpose as a cake plate. His creativity mixed with sensibility and desire to create for the masses introduced designs that both women and men could enjoy. Image courtesy of Viktor Schreckengost Foundation, on display at Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
Future Home of Nottingham-Spirk Viktor Schreckengost's many illustrious design students included John Nottingham and John Spirk, founders of Nottingham-Spirk Design Associates. Located in the former First Church of Christ Scientist on Overlook Road, which was a prototype for Severance Hall, Nottingham-Spirk was responsible for designing the first Dirt Devil Bagless Vacuum and the Crest SpinBrush. Source: Nottingham-Spirk Design Associates Date: Ca. 1931

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Metadata

Cindy Ciulla, “Viktor Schreckengost,” Cleveland Historical, accessed January 29, 2023, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/454.