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.